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- The Fourth of July, 2008
- Winter Soldier Two
- Feeling the love in Iran
- Potholes on the Super-Highway
- Coffee, Computers, and Clear Skies
- Merry Micro Christmas
In 1971, a hundred Vietnam Veterans Against the War gathered in Detroit to share their stories with the public. One of those veterans was Navy Lieutenant John Kerry. Three months later, Kerry testified before a packed Senate Committee hearing, in which he delivered one of the most famous anti-war speeches of the time.
This weekend, in recognition of the value of the first Winter Soldier hearings in 1971, veterans of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are gathered in a Washington, DC suburb to testify to their experiences. The four-day event is being broadcast live on radio, satellite television, and the Internet. What I have already heard today is difficult, emotional, and important. The picture is in stark contrast to the propaganda coming out of the Pentagon and the White House.
The name “Winter Soldier” is a play on the words of Thomas Paine. In the winter of 1776, trying to lift the spirits of the Revolutionary Army, defeated in most battles against the British, he wrote: “These are the times that try men’s souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it NOW deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”
Veterans from the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq are sharing their experiences, backed up by video and photographic evidence. In addition, panels of scholars and specialists are there to give context to the testimony. The organizers have done their homework, and all participants have been vetted via independent research to ensure the witnesses are genuine. All of this is important, to establish the credibility of the hearings.
Security at the hearings is tight. A sometimes violent rally of people opposed to these hearings threatens to disrupt the proceedings. Incredible as it may seem, many of those most vocal in insisting Americans must “support our troops” oppose the rights of these troops to bear witness to their truth.
Today I listened to panels on the Rules of Engagement; the crisis in Veteran’s Health Care; and Corporate Pillaging and Military Contractors. I also heard evidence from some Iraqi civilians— this despite the difficulty of bringing Iraqis to the U.S., as the State Department regularly refuses entry visas for them. I’m not sure what’s ahead for the weekend.
I can only echo what that other Englishman said, over 200 years ago: “These are the times that try men’s souls.”
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