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The Byrne Report

Is War Fun?


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IN LATE FEBRUARY, 50 bedraggled fighters from Sonoma County's 579th Engineer Battalion made it back from warring on Iraq. Hit harder than most National Guard units, the 579th has racked up three dead and 17 wounded. The Press Democrat heralded the unconquering heroes without mentioning the statistical inevitability of posttraumatic stress syndrome ruining more than a few homecomings. The reporter quoted soldiers uttering such regrettable blurbs as "Evil hides in the dark" and "Sometimes it was fun."

The scribe forgot to ask what it's like to watch a pal bleed to death in 125 degree weather surrounded by starving children who, justifiably, loathe American invaders. Nor did the Press Democrat ask the returnees what it's like to murder Iraqi women and children as you panic to save your own precious butt and fire at random, even at your own troops.

Not that our brave men and women from the 579th necessarily did that--nor did they necessarily torture prisoners, or summarily shoot wounded Iraqis whose only crime was fighting American aggression, as other U.S. soldiers have done.

No, our local soldiers did not necessarily commit those particular types of war crimes. But the very act of invading Iraq on false pretenses, carpet-bombing homes and hospitals and killing by some estimates as many as 100,000 civilians is, according to the international laws adhered to by most civilized nations, prosecutable as a war crime.

In essence, our soldiers are being ordered--not asked--to participate in a war crime. Their only option is to refuse to follow orders and face military "justice," or desert with honor.

Naturally, most members of the 579th did not know they were going to be sent to slaughter Iraqis when they signed on to serve their country. Nor did they know that the Guard would make up such a large percentage of the dead in a war that has, so far, claimed the lives of more than 1,500 American troops.

If they could speak today, the dead of the 579th--Sgt. Patrick McCaffrey, Sgt. 1st Class Michael Ottolini and 2nd Lt. Andre Tyson--would not be telling the Press Democrat that invading and brutally occupying Iraq is "fun." In fact, according to his mother, Nadia McCaffrey of Tracy, Sgt. McCaffrey would not be telling you that the Iraqis who killed him were "evil." By all accounts, his combat experience had turned him against the war. He was as much concerned with the plight of the children our soldiers are orphaning as he was with getting out of hell alive.

McCaffrey didn't make it out alive, and he only speaks to us today through the voice of his mother, who has become nationally prominent as an antiwar, pro-people activist.

Last week, Nadia told me, "When I heard that [the 579th] were coming home, my first reaction was to go and greet them. But I stopped and thought about it. I would have been too emotional. And there are so many things that I disagree with the military about the war."

Unlike most Americans, Nadia has actually been to the Persian Gulf.

"Last December, I went to Jordan with other mothers who lost sons in Iraq, to take medical supplies to the people of Fallujah. There is no aid, no Red Cross, no Doctors without Borders in Fallujah. And the refugee camps outside it are filled with hundreds of thousands of dispossessed women and children and elderly people living without shelter, food, and medical supplies.

"The war is about oil and greed. Iraq is literally being sold to huge American companies. It's all about money, people do not count." Nadia, like many people, is repulsed by the militarist slogan, repeated ad nauseam on those ubiquitous magnetic yellow ribbons: "Support the Troops."

"The best way to support the troops is to bring them home now. We have no business over there. Patrick told me that over and over. What we are doing is killing people for no real purpose. Most of the soldiers don't want to be there. Many are running away.

"The Iraqis are a peace-loving people. They do not want to kill us. But it is their country and they want their homes. They want to start over again and forget the past. But first, they need for the troops to get out of there."

So folks, throw away your tired old Press Democrat, replete with jingoism and disrespect for the dead. Check out the March issue of Harper's, which features "AWOL in America--When Desertion Is the Only Option." Or study the January-February issue of Mothering, with "Help Your Peace-Loving Child Avoid the Draft."

If you are in imminent danger of being sent abroad to murder and torture people, run--don't walk--to the Peace and Justice Center of Sonoma County in Santa Rosa, which runs a program to help people who wish to avoid becoming war criminals.

And peel off those poisonous yellow loops.

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From the March 16-22, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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