Scott Camil
September 2005

Recently, I was asked to speak at a teach-in built around the Downing Street Memo, a secret British document that shows that the public was lied to to get our support for Bush's war against Iraq. This "Memo" is actually meeting minutes transcribed during the British Prime Minister's meeting on July 23, 2002--eight months prior to the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. (The Sunday Times in London printed the text of this document on May 1, 2005.)

I was asked to speak about what it feels like to be a U.S. veteran who voluntarily served in war, only to come home and learn that my government had lied to, manipulated and betrayed me. I thought to myself, "This will be a real easy speech: It sucks." The question made me think about the many similarities between the war in Vietnam and the war in Iraq.

During the Civil War in the U.S., combat units were organized by cities and towns, so when a unit from a certain place would take heavy casualties, it impacted that place in a much more detrimental way than had those soldiers been split up from around the country. We changed the way we organized combat units so this wouldn't happen anymore. Because Bush has bitten off more than the regular army can chew, this war has to be fought with a large percentage of reservists and National Guard, so again, as these units take casualties, certain towns and cities are taking a disproportionate share of the losses.

When I think about occupation, I think about how would I feel if the United States were occupied. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that another nation decides that we need regime change in the United States. They present their justifications to the world before they unilaterally and preemptively attack us. Their reasons are as follows:

There are many things I could add to this list, but I think you get my point. I agree that all of the above is true and I agree that we need regime change, but I would never accept that change--as important as it might be to the world--if it came from the barrels of the guns of foreign troops occupying my country. Occupation only gives you control--and limited control at that--while you occupy. The occupier becomes a prisoner of his own policy. There's no way to get out and save face. We have to have the integrity to admit our mistakes in Iraq and try to correct them. The longer we draw it out, the worse it will be for us.

It is very clear that the majority of the people of Iraq were much better off under Hussein than they are under Bush. Under Hussein, they had reliable electricity, running water and telephone service, their children could walk to school without fear, their wives could go shopping without fear, their fathers could take public transportation to work, their daily routines were safe. Those politically opposed to Saddam, members of Al-Qaeda, or a religious fundamentalists had problems. Under Bush, the regular people, the overwhelming majority of people, do not have the services or the safety they had before we invaded.

The U.S. war in Vietnam lasted 10 years. We are now hearing that our military commitment to Iraq may also take 10 years. There are a few bottom lines here for me:

1) Ten years from now, the only ones who will be thinking about Iraq will be those who have lost family members and friends and those who have lost parts of themselves physically or mentally. The rest of America will go on, just as it did after Vietnam.

2) There will come a time when we leave Iraq and the Iraqis will choose for themselves what they want just as the Vietnamese did. So the real question is how many must die and suffer before that happens. I don't believe that more deaths and suffering will change the outcome. There are those that say if we "cut and run now," all those who have suffered and died will have done so in vain. I ask those people how many have to die before it's okay to cut and run? When there are 58,000 names for a wall of American veterans who have died in Iraq, will it then be okay to cut and run? Is that how many lives have to be thrown away before it's okay to admit that we've made a mistake and do what's right?

What should we do?
1) Withdraw all American troops and support services from Iraq immediately.

2) Turn over all responsibility except financial to the international community.

3) Pay the cost of repairing all the damage we have done. We broke it, we should have to pay to fix it.

4) Recognize the World Court and turn over to them everyone who is responsible for starting this war. Let them face justice.

5) Many American corporations are profiting mightily from this war. In return, they provide the economic support that allows these irresponsible and sometimes criminal politicians to hold onto their power. We must take the ability to profit out of war. If the troops are asked to show their patriotism by sacrificing life and limb, then let the corporations show their patriotism by sacrificing their profit.

6) Vote out of office every congressmember and senator that supported this war. There are those who say it's not the fault of Congress, that there are many members of Congress who are good, decent people who got swept up in the politics of patriotism. But it is the responsibility of Congress to provide a check and balance to the executive branch. To allow the executive branch carte blanche because they wrapped a criminal policy in the flag is an abdication of their responsibility. Why would we allow them to stay in office when they have not been responsible? We need to set a precedent so that future congresses will take their responsibility seriously.

The argument that Congress has to support the troops allows the executive branch to commit the troops and then demand support for the policy, no matter how wrong. This puts the cart before the horse, keeps the troops in a place they do not belong, and mandates useless suffering and death.

For those congressmembers who argue that they were misled into starting this war, they allowed themselves to be misled. There were many voices against this folly of ours, including many of our citizens and most of the countries on this planet.

If we fail to take a stand that punishes those responsible for this crime, it will only be repeated again.

During the American war against Vietnam, we marched on Washington to confront our government, express our dissatisfaction with their criminal policies, and call for an immediate end to the war and the return of our troops. On September 24th, we will be marching on Washington for the same reasons. I urge you to join us.

Scott Camil is a Vietnam veteran. He testified about U.S. war crimes in Vietnam at the Winter Soldier investigation in 1971 in Detroit, a tribunal which is captured in the recently re-released film "Winter Soldier." Currently he serves as a counselor for the GI Rights Hotline and on the executive committee of The Suwannee St-Johns Group Sierra Club.

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