Aaron Glantz and Iraq Veterans Against the War have produced an essential book on the United States’ occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan–so much so that writing a review almost seems superfluous. My first inclination is to simply tell people to just go and get the book–it’s that important.
This past March–in commemoration of the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq–Iraq Veterans Against the War organized a series of hearings in Washington DC on the US occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. While much of the antiwar movement has remained stagnant and struggles to remain relevant, Iraq Veterans Against the War looked back to one of the pivotal moments of resistance to the Vietnam War, the Winter Soldier hearings. That event exposed the atrocities being committed daily in Vietnam and captured the attention of both the government and the media, thereby contributing to the end of the war.
Unfortunately, the Winter Soldier hearings on Iraq and Afghanistan received next to no media attention. This is despite the fact that they should be seen as every bit as important. In the hearings, active duty soldiers and veterans describe a systematic effort by the US military to dehumanize the Iraqi people while also dehumanizing and neglecting the soldiers that it relies on to support the occupation.
With the media blackout of Winter Soldier, this already important book is made even more so. Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan: Eyewitness Accounts of the Occupations is the only offline source documenting the historic hearings. The soldiers’ testimony is divided into seven sections–“Rules of Engagement,” “Racism and the Dehumanization of the Enemy,” “Civilian Testimony: The Cost of the War in Iraq,” “Divide and Conquer: Gender and Sexuality in the Military,” “The Crisis in Veterans’ Health Care and the Costs of War at Home,” “Corporate Pillaging and the Breakdown of the Military,” and “The Future of GI Resistance.” All of the sections contain striking testimony, whether it is veterans talking about the military’s racist disdain for Iraqi life or the military’s unwillingness to help veterans once they get home. Its almost hard to write about any of the stories in particular because they all are compelling and powerful, yet we were particularly struck by many of the stories talking about veterans’ health care, especially the suicide of a solider who returned from Iraq and a Veterans Administration that went to great lengths to make sure that he would not receive the mental assistance that he so desperately needed.
Winter Soldier is essential reading for anyone who is interested in what is truly happening in Iraq as well as those who are looking for more effective ways of organizing to stop the war. It joins books such as Dahr Jamail’s Beyond the Green Zone and Riverbend’s Baghdad Burning in giving a critical glimpse into what is happening on the ground in Iraq. Moreover, with the change in the presidential administration–and the likely debate (however minimal) over what to do about Iraq–we would do well to consider what some in the military are demanding:
An immediate, unconditional withdrawal of all occupying forces from Iraq;
Health care and other benefits for all veterans and service members;
Reparations to the Iraqi people.
We owe it to those who have risked their lives in Iraq and the Iraqi people to consider what those who have served are saying. They have lived–and continue to live with–the horrors of these occupations.
Aaron Glantz and Iraq Veterans Against the War, Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan: Eyewitness Accounts of the Occupations, (Haymarket, 2008).