We Are Not Your Soldiers had a very active year in New York City, touring as many schools as we have done anywhere around the country during the height of the war on Iraq. We did four full weeks of school visits – two in the fall semester and two in the spring semester. A week of visits means that we went to at least one school each day, either going from class to class in one building, seeing several classes combined together or doing two schools in one day. The presentations were made by recent veterans of the war of terror. In one school, we also did a presentation on Vietnam by a Vietnam veteran and in another school, a combined presentation by both the Vietnam veteran and the Afghanistan veteran.
During the year, we visited 11 different schools – some we returned to for two or more visits. All together, we spoke to some 45 classes. We visited traditional high schools, alternative high schools, an all boys high school, two JROTC classes, schools with primarily immigrant populations to schools that had student bodies from all kinds of backgrounds, several colleges – both public and private, and, new to us, two middle schools with very well-prepared eighth graders – one public and one a progressive private school.
We work closely with participating teachers to make presentations fit in with their curricula and be as relevant as possible to the needs of their students. For example, if a class is studying poetry and activism, Miles Megaciph, one of our participating veterans, can do his presentation via hip hop. Among the comments received from this year’s teachers are the following:
“Thank you so much for the incredible work you do to bring awareness of what is happening with the military. It’s so important.”
“Just wanted to thank you AGAIN for spending a truly engaging, thought-provoking day with us. The work you do is incredibly vital for young people like my students, all of whom were enthusiastic, moved, and grateful in their responses when I asked them for their thoughts on your visit in class the next day. I’m constantly trying to raise consciousness (and consciences…), but it is often a tough, uphill trek, so I’m happy to have your help in the mission. I would love to have you back next year sometime to meet a new batch of students! In the meantime, please keep doing the work you’re doing — I know how exhausting it is but I promise you it is worth it!”
What was striking — after seeing this range of students in terms of diversity and age level and types of schools — is how little they know about U.S. military policies, of the wars in which this country is engaged and of what is being carried out in our names. What these students heard was, for the most part, new and impactful to them.
Although a lot of the students had family members and/or friends who have served in military, either in recent years or a while ago — few, if any, had talked with those relatives or friends about what they had experienced. This is generally due to the traumatic nature of those experiences which make them so difficult to talk about and why it is so important that the veterans who work with the We Are Not Your Soldiers project are willing and able to do this, which is not at all an easy thing to do. In some college classes, for example, where there were a few veterans, the former military members didn’t say very much but nodded their heads in agreement through much of the presentations.
The veterans tell their own stories and how their experiences affected them very personally. For a written example, read this article by Lyle Rubin, one of the We Are Not Your Soldiers presenters, about his memories from Afghanistan.
Formulated originally to convince students not to join the military, the perspective has broadened. While not as many students are considering enlisting at this point, all of us living in the United States bear a responsibility for the policies being carried out in our names and, while it is a positive step to decide not to take part directly in the military, there are also many other ways in which we are implicated and it behooves all of us to be publicly visible in opposition to these wars of empire. We often discuss PTS (post-traumatic stress) and its connection with “moral injury.” As noted in a recent New York Times article, “moral injury is as much about society’s avoidance and denial as it is about the ethical burdens that veterans bear,” especially in illegal immoral wars such as the current ones. We try to bring that understanding to the students, along with its implications for them and our society at large.
This report, so far, has been about our achievements this year. On the downside, although we did so much in New York City, this was the first year where we did no visits in any other part of the country. Our goal for the coming 2018-19 school year is to grow our project country-wide through further outreach. We need your help to do that by hooking us up to educators in your communities. Introduce us and we’ll do the rest.
This work must continue and expand but can only happen with your support! With the whole world in the cross hairs of the Trump/Pence Regime, now more than ever students need to be reached with substance both on why they should not enlist and also why they should join the struggle to stop the wars. $5,000 is needed to kick-off the Fall semester with veterans and educator-activists reaching high school and college students on the east coast. With more, we can increase our reach to other parts of the country. Donations are needed to provide veterans with stipends, to cover transportation costs, to produce brochures and other materials for students and teachers. Can you donate today to help youth today tell the Trump/Pence Regime: “We Are Not Your Soldiers”?
Here’s an opportunity to meet the veterans sharing their stories.
John Burns, veteran, U.S. Army
I do the We Are Not Your Soldiers visits because I feel it’s important for students and young adults to have information to make well-informed decisions. The fact that these kids are usually exposed to only one side of the story with countless movies and media glorifying war in general is an extreme disservice to the people of the United States. Given that I use these speaking tours as my own therapy should say a lot about how much the military affects you. I want to say on record that I do not hate our military. I hate what our military is being used for. I love my country and that’s coming from a Haudenosaunee Native American whose own ancestors were slaughtered by the very institution I enlisted in.
Lyle Rubin, veteran, U.S. Marines
I do the We Are Not Your Soldiers school visits because I believe I am obligated to do something like this as someone who took part in wars that I now believe are unjust. I really do believe that the kinds of classes or sessions that I am involved with in these schools makes an impact on these students. It might not convince them immediately to agree with me on everything I am saying but I really do believe I am planting a seed of doubt in most of their minds. What we need now in our society, more than anything else, is for the people in the United States, particularly our young people, to start seriously questioning the politics and policies of our government as well as all powerful corporate institutions.
Miles Megaciph not only speaks to the students of his experiences in the US Marines but, as a spoken word artist, raps about it in via a hiphop approach.
Joe urgo, a veteran who was in the US Air Force in Vietnam, speaks to classes that are studying the US war on Vietnam or doing a comparative study of current US wars with past wars in Southeast Asia. He wrote this article on the 50th anniversary of Tet during the historic year of 1968 and the Winter Soldier Investigation, which he helped organize. The Winter Soldier Investigation made known to the people of the United States, through the heartfelt testimonies of the veterans themselves, the criminality of the actions of the US military in Vietnam.