'Criminals for Peace' – Chapter 1 of 'Radical Peace: People Refusing War' By William T. Hathaway (USA)
325 presents the first chapter of the inspiring book ‘Radical Peace: People Refusing War’, which, according to the author, William T. Hathaway, one of our regular readers enjoying our site, is “the true stories of anarchists who have moved beyond demonstrations and petitions into direct action, becoming criminals for peace by defying the government’s laws and impeding its capacity to kill”. The author is a US special forces combat veteran turned anarchist peace activist. Whilst it shouldn’t need to be repeated that 325 embraces not only revolutionary violence but a diversity of tactics, we “can understand those who hate violence to the point of wanting to banish it from their life; would never kill, would never use force to make themselves felt; those who, because of their own character and aptitude, prefer not to have recourse to it” [see Escalation].
Criminals for Peace
Introduction to the book
RADICAL PEACE: People Refusing War
By William T. Hathaway
How do we defuse an aggressive culture? How do we end an endless war?
A new group of war resisters, deserters, and anarchists from the USA, Europe, Iraq, and Afghanistan offers a variety of answers to these conundrum questions. In opposing militarism we’ve moved beyond demonstrations and petitions into direct action, flouting the government’s laws and impeding its ability to kill. As criminals for peace, we’re defying the PATRIOT Act and working underground in secret cells to undermine the US military empire.
I’m the spokesperson for the group because I live outside the “homeland” and as a Special Forces combat veteran I’m used to being under attack.
We’ve become outlaws out of despair. Obama’s morphing into a war president was the last straw. By continuing the aggression he’d promised to stop, he’s shown himself to be just another imperialist killing thousands of people to maintain US power. He portrayed his latest plan for Afghanistan as progress towards peace, but it really paves the way for long-term fighting as we now have in Iraq: US bases and support troops will stay indefinitely to prop up the local army. The killing will continue, but mercenaries and local soldiers will be doing most of it while the USA provides back-up. Just as many people will die, but far fewer will be Americans, so the war will disappear from the news and people’s minds. This is not a plan for peace but for endless war.
A similar betrayal of democracy occurred in 2006 when the Democrats gained control of Congress by pledging to end the war. Instead those same politicians then voted a huge increase in military spending and supported US troop surges.
The sad fact is that American voters don’t control our government. Corporations do. The government represents business, not us. If business needs cheap oil, the president and congress will make war to get it for them, with time-out every few years for some campaign rhetoric about peace. It’s obvious now their rhetoric is lies.
Both parties are designed to prevent basic changes, to divert the public’s demand for change into dead-end streets that don’t challenge the power structure. The Democratic Party exists to drain our potentially radical energies off into superficial reforms that actually strengthen capitalism.
Since changing the system from within has failed, our program has become sedition, subversion, sabotage: direct action to bring the system down. We’re helping soldiers to desert, destroying computer systems, trashing recruiting offices, burning military equipment, and sabotaging defense contractors.
In doing so, we use only nonviolent methods. Violence means harming living creatures. It’s only because our society sees property as more important than people that it labels destroying property as violence. We are destroying the government’s means of violence, the equipment it uses to kill people. And we’re very careful not to injure anyone while we’re doing that. In other words, we’ll throw a rock through the window of an army recruiting office, but we won’t throw a rock at the recruiter. We don’t have anything against him as a person. And we don’t have anything against the police as people. It’s the system we’re trying to break, and breaking its windows, burning its trucks, and zapping its electronics helps with that.
Setting bombs and burning buildings where people could be inside can’t achieve anything worthwhile. It just reproduces the same mentality we’re trying to change.
Rather than randomly smashing windows and torching autos, we restrict our activities to institutions that support or profit from the war. Our goal is to make the war too expensive to continue, to convince the politicians they don’t have enough money to conquer Iraq and Afghanistan. A few acts of sabotage won’t do that, but thousands can. Government and corporate resources are limited. Taxes and the deficit are already so high that they’re crippling the economy. Every dollar the government has to spend keeping things running here is one they can’t spend killing people overseas.
We believe that direct actions like these aren’t a substitute for traditional organizing, but in critical situations like the present they can supplement it and reenergize it. Sedition, subversion, and sabotage won’t build a new society, but they can help weaken the old one so the new one can be built.
Some of the members of our group:
A woman soldier who was raped by a fellow GI in Iraq. Her commanding officer refused to prosecute the rapist and threatened her with disciplinary action if she “made trouble.” With the help of the group she deserted and is now living with a female partner in the Netherlands.
Trucker, the code name of a man who is committed to aggressive forms of resistance such as destroying government property. He classifies his sabotage as nonviolent because it doesn’t harm human beings, only things. His specialty is burning military vehicles.
An Iraqi student whose family was brutalized by American soldiers. She tells how this turned her into a pacifist and her brother into a resistance fighter.
A high school teacher who was fired and blacklisted for teaching her students how US foreign policy has provoked terrorism. The experience changed her from a Republican into a radical activist.
A gay Afghan refugee who describes the similarities between the Taliban and the US Army.
A Granny for Peace who found young allies in her struggle against military recruiting.
A janitor who destroys computers at defense contractors with electrical surges.
A young woman whose friend returned home from Iraq crippled. She hurled a rock through the window of the local recruiting office … and discovered she likes the music of shattering glass.
A seminary student who was assaulted by soldiers at a peace demonstration. She decided to learn to love her enemies by becoming a military chaplain and subverting from within.
A woman soldier who deserted after being sexually harassed by both male and female colleagues.
A sailor who went on weekend pass to a Buddhist retreat and came back a pacifist.
A wounded soldier who escaped from military detention and deserted rather than being sent back to combat.
We’ve written a book about our efforts, Radical Peace: People Refusing War, published by Trine Day and serialized here on 325. Not surprisingly, it has aroused controversy. Conservative critic Joanne Eddington described it as, “Loathsome … further evidence that the hatred of America is reaching hysterical dimensions.” On the other side of the political spectrum, Noam Chomsky described it as, “A book that captures such complexities and depths of human existence, even apart from the immediate message.” You be the judge.
The Real War Heroes
Chapter 1 of the book
RADICAL PEACE: People Refusing War
By William T. Hathaway
“That must be them.” Petra took one hand off the steering wheel and pointed to a group of soldiers about two hundred meters away, standing along our road next to a high chainlink fence topped with barbed wire.
Traffic was light, but Petra said, “I don’t want any other cars around.” She pulled off the road and stopped. “Get everything ready.”
I crawled into the back of the car and opened the rear hatch to give access to the interior and to raise the license plate out of sight. We wore caps and sunglasses to be less recognizable.
When the road was empty, she started driving again. We approached the soldiers, who were walking in the grass, stopping often to pick things off the ground and put them in sacks they were dragging.
“There’s Rick.” Petra slowed and drove along the shoulder. A man turned his head at the sound of our car crunching gravel, dropped his bag, and ran towards us with a slight limp. While the guards shouted for him to stop, I thrust my arm out, grabbed Rick’s hand, and pulled. He lunged forward and dived into the open hatch, banging his leg on the edge. A guard was swearing and groping at the holster on his belt. Rick scrambled in, knocking off his glasses, and Petra floored the gas. Our spinning tires hurled gravel behind us then squealed over the pavement. The car slid halfway across the road before Petra brought it under control, and we sped away.
One guard was waving his pistol at us but not aiming it, and the other was punching buttons on a cell phone. Some of the detention soldiers were clapping and shouting in envious congratulations, others just stood staring.
I closed the hatch as Petra rounded a corner and headed for the autobahn. Rick lay on the floor trembling and gasping, holding his leg in pain. I gripped him on the shoulder to steady him. “Way to go! You’re on your way out of the army.”
His tension exploded into laughter, then tears. “Thanks, thanks,” he spluttered.
“It’s not over yet,” Petra said.
Rick breathed deeply, scrinched his eyes to block the tears, and clenched his fists. “Not going back.”
I tried to calm my own tremors.
Petra drove away from the base through a section of fast-food franchises and striptease bars that bordered it. Rick put his glasses back on; bent at the bow, they sat crookedly on his nose. We put up the rear seat so we could sit without attracting attention, then waited at the stoplight by the autobahn entrance for thirty seconds that seemed like ten minutes, surrounded by other cars full of American soldiers and German civilians, none of whom noticed us. Finally Petra roared up the onramp. German autobahns have no speed limits, and soon the Volkswagen was going flat out at 160 kilometers per hour.
From a small suitcase I pulled out civilian clothes for Rick, and he started stripping off his uniform. “Last time I’ll ever wear this thing.”
As he took off his shirt, I got a whiff of the sour stench of fear, which I knew well from my own time in the military. He stuffed the fatigues into a trash bag, then put on corduroy pants and a cotton sweater. Now he looked like a young German, but with the buzz cut hair, almost like a neo-Nazi. I set my cap on his head.
At the first rest stop we pulled in and parked beside a van. I gave him the suitcase and a wallet with a thousand euros in it. We shook hands, then hugged. I clapped him on the back. He got out of the car and kissed Petra on the cheek, crying again as he thanked us. With a combination of a glare and a grin, he pushed the bag with his uniform into a garbage can. I got into the front seat of the VW; Rick got into the back of the van, giving us a V sign. The van pulled away, headed for Sweden, where Rick would apply for asylum.
Petra re-entered the autobahn, much slower now because she too was crying, quietly, on a resolute face. “He’s out of the war,” she said in her throaty German accent. “No one’s going to kill him, and he’s not going to kill anybody.” She took the next exit, then wended back over country roads towards her home. “Now I’m exhausted.”
“Me too, all of a sudden,” I said. “This one was hairy. We broke more laws than usual.”
“Good. Such laws need to be broken. I’ll make us some coffee.”
Petra had been the first of our group to meet with Rick. She worked in Caritas, the German Catholic social agency, and a priest had brought him to her office. Rick was absent without leave, AWOL, from the army, determined not to go back, but didn’t know what to do. He’d heard from another soldier that the Catholic Church sometimes helped, so he went there.
The priest was in too public a position to personally do much, but he introduced him to Petra because she was active in Pax Christi, the Catholic peace movement. The priest and the social worker had a tacit “don’t ask, don’t tell” agreement about her counseling work with soldiers. She didn’t volunteer information, and he didn’t pry.
Petra had various approaches to freeing soldiers. She could help them apply for conscientious objector status, but these days CO applications were usually turned down by the military. She had a degree in clinical psychology and was skilled at teaching GIs how to get psychological discharges, to act the right amount of crazy and handle the trick questions the military shrinks would throw at them. But now those too were usually denied. The military needed bodies, didn’t care if they were crazy.
If neither of these methods worked, and if the soldiers were desperate to get out, she would help them desert, a drastic step because it risked years in prison for them and major hassles for her.
Petra has never been arrested, but based on experiences of others in our group, she could expect to be charged with accessory to military desertion and with aiding and abetting a fugitive. The court process would be a severe drain on the energy and finances of both her and our group, but it was unlikely that she’d actually go to prison. With public opinion already so opposed to this war, the German government wouldn’t want to risk the protests. But she’d probably get a year on probation, lose her job, and have trouble finding another one.
Why did she take the risk? Petra’s grandfather had been an SS trooper, the kind of Christian who unquestioningly supports authority. His children reacted by becoming atheists. Petra became the kind of Christian who opposed authority, including the church hierarchy. She felt stopping war was more important than her personal security.
When she met Rick, she was impressed by his sincerity and also his desperation. He told her he’d got married after high school to a co-worker at a restaurant, an illegal immigrant from El Salvador who was a few years older. They wanted to have children but couldn’t raise them on minimum wage. He wanted to become an electrical engineer but couldn’t afford college. The army’s offer of tuition aid and electronics training was better than life at Pizza Hut, so he enlisted in 2001.
The plan was that she’d work in the towns where he was stationed. After his four-year hitch, he’d go to college while she continued to work, and after college when he had a good job, they’d have kids. Eight years seemed like a long time to get started in life, but by then he’d have a real career.
After 9-11, the army needed infantry troops more than electronic specialists, so they took away his needle-nosed pliers, gave him an M-16, and flew him to Afghanistan. First they made him excavate corpses from the collapsed caves of Tora Bora, full of the reek of rotting meat, hoping to find bin Laden’s. Then they sent him on night ambush missions along the Pakistan border: staring out from a machine gun bunker with goggles that made everything glow green and yellow, shooting anything that moved after dark, shipping the bodies out in the morning on the supply helicopter, still hoping to find bin Laden. Finally he was assigned to round up men from the villages around Kandahar and send them to interrogation camps. But there weren’t many men in the villages. They were either dead or in the mountains, and the army didn’t have enough troops to comb the mountains.
After eight months his wife divorced him.
In one of the villages an old woman walked by them with her goat. The goat wore a pack basket. The woman reached down, patted the goat, and blew them all up.
Rick woke up lying in a helicopter surrounded by dead and wounded friends. He felt he’d become one of his ambush victims being shipped out. The army would be disappointed to find out he wasn’t bin Laden.
It turned out later the woman was the mother of two sons who had been killed by the Americans.
With shrapnel wounds, a fractured leg, and a twisted spine, Rick was evacuated to the US hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, where after five months of treatment he was pronounced fit for active duty and given orders for Iraq. By then he’d heard about Iraq from other patients. He panicked, went AWOL, then met Petra.
She helped him clarify his options. He could apply for conscientious objector status or a psychological discharge, but with orders into a combat zone, his chances of success were nil. But if he deserted, there was a good chance that Sweden would accept his application for asylum.
Rick told Petra later that what finally settled his decision to desert was learning that in Sweden the state helps pay college expenses. You don’t have to join the military and kill people just to get an education.
But before our group could make arrangements, Rick got arrested for AWOL and assigned to the detention barracks. If they’d known he was planning to desert, they would’ve locked him in the stockade, but simple AWOL has become too widespread for that. He was busted down two ranks and assigned to sixty days hard labor, at the end of which he’d be sent to Iraq still under detention.
After visiting him in the detention barracks, Petra told us he seemed like a man on death row. His psychological condition was deteriorating so rapidly that she was afraid he would kill himself rather than go back to war. He begged her to try to get him out.
The current work detail for the detention soldiers was twelve hours a day of picking up trash along the fence at the boundary of the base. They’d finished inside the base and had just started working on the outside, a group of ten detainees with two guards.
Petra and I wouldn’t have risked the snatch inside the base, but we were pretty sure the guards wouldn’t fire their pistols outside the base for fear of “collateral damage.” Shooting the local population is bad for public relations.
I alerted our sanctuary network in Germany and Sweden and arranged the logistics to get Rick into a new life.
Since I’m a US citizen, if I got arrested for helping soldiers desert, I’d be sent back to the homeland for trial and probably to prison. It’s worth the risk to me, though.
I do this work because my past is similar to Petra’s grandfather’s. I served in the US Special Forces in Panama and Vietnam. I’d joined the Green Berets to write a book about war. During our search and destroy operations, I kept telling myself, “I’m just here gathering material for a novel.” But our deeds have consequences that affect us and others regardless of why we do them. I’m still dealing with the repercussions from my involvement, and my work in the military resistance movement is a way of atoning for it.
I’ve met many veterans who never saw combat but still feel a burden of guilt. Just being part of an invading force and abusing another country pollutes the soul. Under the hyperbole, there’s some truth in Kurt Tucholsky’s statement, “All soldiers are murderers.” The military exists to kill people, and everyone in it contributes to that. Even as civilians, we finance it.
Having got medals for combat, I know that the real heroes are the people like Rick who refuse to go, who stand up to the military and say no. If they’re caught, the government punishes them viciously because they’re such a threat to its power. Deserters and refusers are choosing peace at great danger to themselves. I wish I’d been that morally aware and that brave.
When this book is published, I’ll have to stop actively participating in desertions and will have to break off direct contact with our group. Once I go public, my e-mails and phone calls will probably be routed through Langley, Virginia, and that would endanger our whole operation.
Ironically enough, when I left the Special Forces, the CIA offered me a job. If I had accepted it, I could now be that G-13 civil servant who is perusing the messages of dissidents, trying to find ways to neutralize us. The road not taken.
Now living in Germany, I can see how important it is to resist such things in their early stages. In the 1930s many Germans were afraid to oppose their government as it became increasingly vicious, hoping it wouldn’t get too bad, hoping they’d be spared, hoping it would end soon, but then bitterly regretted their passivity after it was too late.
Better to go down resisting. Better yet to change it while we still can. It’s clear now that neither major political party will make the necessary changes, so we must do it ourselves.
“The Real War Heroes” is the first chapter of Radical Peace: People Refusing War, which presents the experiences of activists who have become criminals for peace, defying the government’s laws and impeding its capacity to kill: http://media.trineday.com/radicalpeace. William T. Hathaway is an adjunct professor of American studies at the University of Oldenburg in Germany. His new book, Lila, the Revolutionary, is a fable for adults about an eight-year-old girl who sparks a world revolution for social justice. A selection of his writing is available at www.peacewriter.org.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, May 27th, 2015 at 1:46 pm and is filed under Library.