[Marxism] Christian Parenti reports on New Orleans march
lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Mar 21 08:38:27 MST 2006
In the Path of a Storm, Vets Protest a War
by CHRISTIAN PARENTI
[posted online on March 19, 2006]
A column of American military veterans of wars in Iraq, Vietnam and points
in between, as well as parents and families of soldiers, marched into New
Orleans Sunday chanting radical cadences and flying a 1776 version of the
Young Iraq vets led the column of roughly 250 through the grey wrecked
landscape, many wearing their desert camouflage uniforms, with upside-down
American flag patches on their shoulders, sporting shades, beards,
kaffeeas, and chests full metals. At night and along the roads the
conversation frequently turns to PTSD, poverty, depleted uranium-caused
cancer, unpaid student loans, Ramadi, Tikrtit, IEDs and the intense
camaraderie of this new movement.
Older veterans, mostly from the Vietnam war, who helped a younger
generation of soldiers to launch Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) are
still as angry as they were thirty years ago, but their once-youthful anger
and grief has been tempered by a generation of struggle. And it is upon
this platform that the young Iraq vets are now building their piece of the
"Our motto is that never again will one generation of veterans turn their
back on another," said Dave Cline a long-time activist and early member of
Vietnam Veterans Against the War.
The column spent the six days prior to arriving in New Orleans tromping and
caravanning from Mobile, Alabama through the devastation that is, still,
the Gulf Coast. Along the way the vets and their supporters left teams to
help "muck out" some of the trashed homes along the small towns of the Gulf
Coast. But the protest's larger aim was to make the connections between the
devastation here and the ruin of Iraq. The protesters say corruption,
incompetence and inhumanity mark both.
"All the money that is going to Iraq could be going down here," says former
Army sniper and IVAW member Garrett Reppenhagen.
According to the IVAW, the invasion and occupation of Iraq could cost $2.65
trillion. Other numbers mentioned along the march were the more than 2,400
American troops and 100,000 Iraqis killed.
At times the connections between Iraq and the Gulf Coast became all too
real, or even surreal. The ruined homes, lack of water and sporadic
electricity along the way reminded many vets of the war zones in Iraq and
Afghanistan that some had left only months before.
"In Gulfport I heard a pop or a snap and looked back and one of my guys
took a knee," said Navy corps and combat vet Charles Anderson, referring to
the common military position of kneeling on one knee in preparation for
action. "I went back to him, put my hand on him and told him: 'It's OK,
we're in Mississippi now.' "
On Thursday, the thirty-eighth anniversary of the My Lai massacre, the
marchers were camped deep in the wrecked bayou country east of New Orleans
and the mouth of Lake Pontchartrain. In a clearing by a brackish creek,
among a forest of dry, ashen-colored, half-toppled pine trees, the vets
listened to the stories of local residents who spoke from a small plywood
stage about the horrors of the storm and the abandonment that followed.
Bereft of state or federal aid, many of the people there were still in bare
A local man named Raymond Couture broke down in tears as he told his story
of finding thirty-four corpses in a local nursing home. "They ain't done
nothing for us here yet, so I know they ain't done nothing for them people
in Iraq." Then the vets and military families spoke. Tina Garnanez, a young
Navajo, lesbian and vet, spoke of her experiences in Iraq. She described
the track record of lies, broken promises and rising violence in Iraq as
mirroring the history of broken treaties, genocide and poverty that shape
reservation life in the United States.
Dinner in the broken forest was alligator gumbo; the IVAW kids partied out
and then slept under the stars.
Later, in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, Demond Mullins, who returned
from heavy combat in Iraq only five months ago, looked out at the ravaged,
filthy wreckage in a quiet fury. "I can't believe this. This is worse than
Baghdad. What my country has become sickens me."
The march from Mobile to New Orleans marks a new stage in organizing among
Iraq veterans and thus a new stage for the peace movement. A year ago IVAW
was, in reality, mostly just a good idea and a small speakers bureau. Now
it is a real organization and a key piece in the larger coalition of groups
like Veterans for Peace and Military Families Speak Out that make up the
heart of peace movement.
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