Teaching Peace: We Are Not Your Soldiers Visits NYC High Schools to Reveal Devastation Caused by U.S. Military

World Can't Wait National Office Staff | June 3, 2016

Visit We Are Not Your Soldiers for more information or to schedule a speaking engagement at your school.

Have you killed before?” a wide-eyed student asked him. Jeremy answered that he never pulled the trigger, but he does regret every day, every hour, the role he played in death and suffering.

Jeremy is a young, tall, green-eyed ex-Marine officer. His life was very good; his Connecticut town wealthy, educated. On his way to a college class in 2001, he saw everyone crying. A large screen showed the second tower falling. At that moment, he felt a powerful solidarity with other Americans. His grandfather was an Iwo Jima veteran. After 9/11, Jeremy experienced national pride, and in 2006, he signed up.

For the week of May 9, We Are Not Your Soldiers hosted a series of talks by veterans opposed to war in NYC high schools. Most of the students knew someone in the military, some came from military families and some wanted to join up. One student asked, “How did your family react?” Jeremy said they were shocked and did not want him to go, terrified when he signed the contract. His grandfather was shot in the head during the war and still lives with a plate in his skull. He discouraged Jeremy from enlisting, and warned him war is not what he thought it was. When Jeremy was asked how his experience differs from what the students believe, he told them that in their generation the US has always been at war: “America’s war-making haunts me. It should haunt our politicians too. I was part of operations that led to death and severe injuries. I have tremendous guilt.” He has a perspective that doesn’t appear in the historical record.

People die; limbs are blown off, half their faces blown away. He’ll live with it the rest of his life but others can’t live with it. There are lots of suicides, homeless vets. He saw lots of kids crying for water, food. He saw one Marine stop another Marine from throwing a rock at one of these kids. The Marine was angry his friends had died. These are not evil people, Jeremy insisted. It was all a shock, every day. The enemy of WWII was clear — there were two sides with empty fields between them. Marines patrolled down streets where people were trying to go about their everyday routine. The same was true in Vietnam, same farmers with small green plots, walking through chaos, every one was civilian.

Jeremy was a Signals Intelligence Officer in the Marine Corps and trained at the NSA. His job was to intercept, analyze, and exploit communications, particularly of those involved in attacks on American forces. He asked if students know Edward Snowden. He spent six months touring various units on the front lines, supervising his men in getting real-time intelligence. He saw many explosions where people lost limbs or half their face, almost always at a distance. He went on foot patrols with squads through villages. They’d give the children candy, food, or water and the same day they might blow up their homes. It will stay with Jeremy forever. It has little to do with what we read or see on TV. Through training and the nature of the war, we come to believe all villagers are the enemy, Jeremy said. There can be an explosion any given moment and you have to assume everyone is involved, everyone becomes the enemy, it’s not trench warfare. In Afghanistan the Marines constantly patrolled through villages and backyards, seeing little kids begging for water. They didn’t know who theenemy’ was. Jeremy said they were not evil people who were planning terrorism against New York City, just families who wanted to put food on the table. “Baltimore has higher infant mortality than many parts of the developing world, but I never saw kids thirsting for a drop of water.”

Combat units, particularly intelligence units, are required to field-test new gear before it can be sold. Jeremy quoted Eisenhower‘s forewarning of the military industrial complex. He told a story of being involved in an attack on a village that involved a vast array of powerful weaponry and in which civilians were killed. He thinks of that event often, and is burdened with tremendous guilt.

He observed detainees in cages, blindfolded, handcuffed - “a kid your age” - those who lost fathers, mothers, sons, sisters from our operations. It’s why they volunteered, innocent people who lost relatives caught up fighting against us, defending their villages. A never-ending vicious cycle of fighting.

A student asked if war is like gaming. Jeremy said more soldiers are willing to pull the trigger because of gaming, dehumanization, winning points, and recruiters focus on gamers. Our culture glorifies war as heroic and romantic. Jeremy encouraged the students to read the fine print: you don’t get a free education if you smoke pot, disobey, get a less than honorable discharge. It stays for life, you can‘t get a job. He also warned that the GI Bill is being exploited by for-profit schools.

Jeremy talked about how most of the officers are white. He didn’t remember serving with any officers of color on the front lines, while many of the enlisted troops were poor or working-class as well as black or brown. The military goes after people without options who need to join for an education and career. In an unequal society, the top will always figure out ways to exploit the bottom or get them to fight our wars. Throughout history, the officer class came from wealthy or educated sectors of society and gave the orders while the enlisted — mostly poor or working class — executed the orders and did the killing.

For the students curious about boot camp, Jeremy described a system that cultivates aggression, a chaotic, brutal and violent experience designed to create killers, to make guys want to pull the trigger. When he first arrived, there was an investigation taking place concerning a recruit who died during pool training. They repeat cadences to develop killer identities, address each other as “killers,” do pull-ups while yelling “kill,” greet each other with “how’s it going, killer?” Notorious Vietnam cadences like “napalm sticks to kids” were chanted, along with verses about raping grandmas or babies.

He knows he’s lucky because he came back unscathed, and he’s guilty for coming back when others didn’t. There are ups and downs, unbelievable anger and rage. He had panic attacks that felt like heart

attacks. At one point he ended up in an emergency room. He came back to a country where people are always playing on their cell phones or worshipping this or that celebrity. He saw everyone enjoying themselves and to him it felt like everyone was dancing on graves. He was always aware that war was still happening. People were dying.

As Jeremy argued, the official US purpose in Afghanistan was to apprehend or kill Osama Bin Laden, dismantle Al Qaeda and bring freedom and democracy. But we did not bring democracy at all. The economy is devastated, along with the infrastructure — the water, plumbing, or medical systems. Lots of fathers gone. Jeremy said he disagreed with many of his other vet friends politically, but they all would agree the the US didn’t bring democracy. There are kids left without parents and women without husbands. Jeremy survived. He has his face and no physical injuries, he said. But he still took part in unnecessary death that has left internal scars.

A student asked what Jeremy’s advice is for someone wanting to join. Jeremy said there are other ways to get an education, secure a job, or raise a family. It’s a risk physically and morally, and there are a lot of strings attached. He also urged the students to study their government’s track record. We have to be skeptical, he said. We have some power. The students can challenge their government’s militarism through antiwar events and by electing politicians less likely to send us to war.

Visit We Are Not Your Soldiers for more information or to schedule a speaking engagement at your school.