Will We Hear The Winter Soldiers?

Media Rants

By Tony Palmeri

From the March 2008 edition of The Scene

March 20th marks the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. The staggering costs of this unnecessary and immoral experiment in preemptive war boggle the mind: almost 4,000 U.S. soldiers killed and more than 60,000 wounded; 700,000 Iraqis killed and 4 million fleeing the country as refugees; a $500 billion price tag (approximately $4,100 per household).

For journalists, Iraq stands as the most deadly war zone in history. According to Reporters Without Borders, 209 journalists (the majority Iraqi) and media assistants have been killed in Iraq since March of 2003. That depressing statistic compares with 66 journalists killed in Vietnam from 1955-1975, 68 in World War II, and 17 in Korea.

History will show that the Bush Administration’s failed war policy was aided and abetted every step of the way by a docile corporate media that failed to play any kind of meaningful watchdog role. From even before the start of the conflict, big media repeatedly failed to hold government officials to account for false or misleading statements, timidly acquiesced to military censorship of reporting, and systematically minimized or silenced voices of anti-war critics.

From March 13-16, the corporate media giants have an opportunity to redeem themselves. In Silver Spring, Maryland, veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will be participating in a “Winter Soldier” exercise designed to reveal the truth about what’s been done in those lands in the names of the American people. The major sponsor of Winter Soldier is Iraq Veterans Against the War (http://ivaw.org/). According to their press release: “The four-day event will bring together veterans from across the country to testify about their experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan - and present video and photographic evidence. In addition, there will be panels of scholars, veterans, journalists, and other specialists to give context to the testimony. These panels will cover everything from the history of the GI resistance movement to the fight for veterans' health benefits and support.”

The 2008 Winter Soldier resurrects an event first carried out by Vietnam veterans in 1971. Organizers derived the name Winter Soldier from 18th century revolutionary Thomas Paine’s American Crisis #1 (1776): “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 their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.” Guided by Paine’s spirit of resistance to unjust authority, 109 veterans testified about war crimes they had witnessed or participated in from 1963-1970. The proceedings became a 1972 documentary film that was largely ignored by the mainstream press.

Local Iraq War veteran Jason Moon plans to testify at Winter Soldier 2008. His story is emblematic of just about everything wrong with the conduct of the war. Moon joined the National Guard in the early 1990s and served eight years in a variety of domestic roles such as helping citizens cope with floods and other natural disasters. In July of 2002 he rejoined, signing up for a “Try the Guard for one year” program. In March of 2003 Moon was deployed to Iraq with a cold weather Guard unit that had neither the training nor equipment necessary for desert conditions. Though his enlistment contract ended on July 30, 2003, Moon was “involuntarily extended” until March 14, 2004.

Jason will testify to observing two types of war crimes. First, in Kuwait convoy drivers were told that insurgents commonly use children as decoys. Therefore, convoy drivers could run over the children and keep driving. When Moon protested this order, he was placed in the rear of the convoy, the part most commonly attacked.

Second, Jason will testify that soldiers were empowered to kill thirty civilians or less--without having even to ask for approval from a commanding officer—if the soldier was convinced that the thirty were being used as “human shields” by an insurgent. Scores of veterans will testify to similar actions. Why? Because they know that silence is consent.

Winter Soldier participants recognize that their testimony will be controversial, but is necessary because “we are fighting for the soul of our country.” They claim to be demonstrating patriotism by “speaking out with honor and integrity instead of blindly following failed policy. Winter Soldier is a difficult but essential service to our country.”

While Iraq Veterans Against the War hope that Winter Soldier wakes up the average American, their desired audience is other veterans. They want all the troops to know that they are not alone in their silent rage about what they were asked to do in battle, and that if they choose to speak out they will have a support network.

Sponsoring Winter Soldier and testifying to atrocities while the war lingers on is a great act of courage on the part of our veterans. Will the corporate media act with some courage and write about and/or broadcast the Winter Soldier proceedings? Will the press finally take its watchdog responsibility seriously and provide anti-war dissent with the space necessary to allow Americans to make informed judgments about the war?

Probably not. But thankfully you can listen to the Winter Soldier proceedings live on the KPFA radio website (www.kpfa.org) from March 13-16.

Tony Palmeri (www.tonypalmeri.com) is an associate professor of communication at UW Oshkosh and holds a seat on the Oshkosh Common Council.