During the month of April We Are Not Your Soldiers traveled remotely to educational institutions in three states: New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. Our speakers – Joy Damiani, Miles Megaciph and John Burns – also were located in three different states but all our “voyages” worked well via Zoom.
We spoke to students in two NYC high schools – one a large traditional school, with presentations to four classes, many of whose students are first and second-generation immigrants; the other a small alternative school with special ed students. We went to three community colleges, speaking to a total of 7 classes in both Long Island and Manhattan NY, and also in North Carolina. And, speakers presented to two university classes in NYC and in Philadelphia.
A number of students came from families and/or communities with a lot of military ties. Some had heard similar experiences recounted before while others hadn’t.
When John visits a college class, we usually start the presentation by showing “Collateral Murder.” We want to share with you some of the comments made by students after viewing that film – this is of special interest right now as we’re seeing so many of the horrific war crimes committed by Russia in the Ukraine. However, the public in this country has not been exposed to the horrific war crimes the U.S. has committed during the “War on Terror.” Seeing this film is always quite surprising to the viewers. We point out that no one involved in the incident (the commanders in charge or the helicopter crew) was penalized in any way. Those who revealed the footage to the public – Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange – suffered tremendously with extensive prison time that has been described by independent sources as torture and, it should be noted, Julian Assange is still being held in solitary and may be extradited to the U.S.
“It’s a very conflicting experience or situation in the military. The actions of the soldiers aren’t technically their own. They have a strict code to follow their commanding officers’ orders. As a result, they tend to feel conflicted from it, conflicted from their mistakes and their orders that they were forced to partake in. Therefore, it can lead them to having regrets and lots of psychological conflicts within themselves, leaving them to lash out at other people and even themselves.”
“Right off the bat, thank you guys, for being here. I definitely started tearing up a bit when Ethan McCord started describing his situation with the children and it hurts to hear that. He was told by his superiors to stop caring about these kids and to do what he’s told. That’s something that really hurt to see and, John, I noticed that you have a puppy on your lap and while we were watching I started tearing up and I needed my dog as well.
I also don’t think many people understand the the reality that a lot of soldiers go through when it comes to seeing a lot of things that go on, especially in war times and war situations and it’s really important for us to seek mental mental health. I’m trying to advocate for my brother to do so, but it’s hard to when you know he’s also a stubborn man. It’s difficult because you look at yourself as, ‘I’m a strong man, I’m in the military, I was trained to do this, I’m not going to seek mental health.’ I think my brother definitely sees it as him being weak and less and less as a man. It’s definitely hard to come to terms with.”
A Third Student:
“Yes, thank you. I just wanted to add that the point that really got me is when Ethan was told to just take orders and just suck it up. It’s ironic because back in World War II, that’s what the Nazi soldiers were saying – we’re just taking orders. Back then we realized that the more you say that to yourself, the more you lose your humanity and you become essentially a robotic killing machine. This military industrial complex is like the most evil thing that the U.S. has ever made.”
And Another Student:
“One of the two things really stood out to me was, of course, the kids. The age group that I work with is two and a half to four years of age. All I could think was like what if it were my babies that were in that situation, I could never imagine. You know, that’s something that sticks with children, that sticks with anyone, for the rest of their lives. But especially children being as innocent as they are – nobody should have to go through that, especially them.
Another thing that I noticed, when they were shooting it kind of seemed like they were just playing a video game. Probably at home that’s what it felt like – shooting that car and seeing those people die is really alarming. If you value human life that’s not the reaction that you would have – so that stuck out to me a lot.”
And, a big shout out and thank you to our friends – two dozen activists from 8 U.S. states – who converged, for the thirteenth year of bi-annual protests, at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada to “Shut Down Creech.” Read about it and find videos here.