2/8/07, San Francisco State University, given as part of a panel in the Appeal For Redress tour organized by World Can’t Wait and sponsored by the SF Students Against War
I am Russell Kilday-Hicks, an information technology consultant working at SF State in the Capital Planning, Design and Construction department. I am also chapter president of the second-largest staff union on campus after the faculty, the California State University Employees Union (CSUEU/SEIU 2579). My son Matthew Kilday is currently serving as a military policeman in the U.S. Army in Iraq.
Like most Bush speeches, I start this tale with 9-11-2001. My son Matthew was 17 (now 22, almost 23) when the terror supposedly all began in the neo-con fairy tale version soon to be a major animated film by Disney, no doubt. He was in high school in a conservative, rural Connecticut town (an old money town, you know, where our president comes from before oil made him a Texan). He was enticed with the “early enlistment buddy system” (where you can go through boot camp with your best friend from Podunk high; I don’t know if they are together still or not). He said he was also looking for help with college, which I suspect was intended as a slight against me for not being able to offer him a fully funded college ride on my state salary. I did offer for him to come here because as a CSU employee he can attend the CSU for half price but I guess that wasn’t enough of a draw and besides there was a world, or at least a country to save. By the way, this money-for-college program is not like the GI bill under which my father went to school following WWII. It’s a bit of a sham as the aid you get is dependent on matching funds, so they have to pay you enough to be able to save to get the match, which they don’t do of course. I would like to see some statistics on usage of this program. Does it actually work? I have a better program. How about we stop wasting oodles of money overseas on questionable nation-building projects and adequately fund our schools and universities and provide free tuition to all qualifying youth? There is a direct connection between the war on and occupation of the world (with over 700 military bases worldwide) and your tuition increases, and the way faculty and staff are treated in the CSU system and the quality of the education found here.
The story I heard about my son signing up was that he wanted regular Army and his mother talked him into the National Guard. When he told me he signed up he said he joined the Guard so that he wouldn’t have to go overseas. My wife and I, his step-mom, said we didn’t think that was correct. When you sign up you belong to them, we said. We all like to be right, but I would rather have been proved wrong in this instance. The way the nation’s National Guard is being used is wrong on many fronts. For one, young men and women are attracted to the idea of serving the country and defending our borders in our post-9/11 climate. (For example, under this climate we are told to ask questions like: “What color are we today?” and “Look around you, are there any terrorists among us?”) If you have a poor sense of history, which, I would argue, our nation’s high schools as a whole are designed to deliver, you have little understanding of the aggressiveness of our military in “defending our national interests” outside our borders. Defending our borders was always a very small piece of that project. More importantly, the National Guard has been used as an emergency force for governor’s to save lives during real natural and often miss-named natural or other man-made disasters. Examine Katrina, and then imagine a major earthquake here in the Bay Area. Former State Treasurer Phil Angelides tried to make that point when he was running for governor but it seems to have fallen on deaf ears.
After boot camp he was assigned to the 144th Military Police unit, 4th platoon. After being sent to Germany for something or other, and down to Katrina, they sent him overseas to Kuwait and then over the border to Iraq. He is stationed somewhere north of Baghdad. I don’t know where exactly but I hear it is a very mixed area with all three main groups in Iraq (the Sunni and Kurdish minorities and the Shi’a majority), but according to him, it’s quiet there and he is bored most of the time. I think boredom in this case is a good thing. I don’t get to communicate much with him. He apparently has limited e-mail access. I also heard that when a soldier is killed they cut off all e-mail because they don’t want anyone notifying relatives of the deceased before the military can perform their rituals around these awful events. I do get some word through his sister and his girlfriend. But the family has warned me not to send any “subversive” materials that could get him into trouble. So I send him homemade all-organic chocolate chip cookies. Does anyone get the idea from this what a strange world we live in? He is supposedly fighting to liberate Iraq and bring them such rights as free speech but neither of us can speak freely about it. A free citizen in a supposed free country is reduced to sending Berkeley-style cookies into the war zone.
Just after he joined the Army I sent my son the Chris Hedges book “War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning” by a war correspondent who realized after a colleague was killed covering a conflict that he was hooked on the thrill of war and argued that nations do that too. I had a few criticisms of the book but it’s a worthwhile read to take a step back and examine some of the wider issues involved in war. I explained to Matthew that when he was little it was my job to hold his hand and teach him to look both ways before crossing the street. I said this book was just that. Apparently, he took great offense from the gesture and somehow got the idea I was trying to make him feel bad about his decision.
I had heard through other family members that he wants me to be proud of him. Of course every child wants this from his or her parent, but that’s a tough thing for me to do in this instance. I want to be proud of him but not for going overseas and holding a gun to support a lie piled on top of many supportive lies, helping to terrorize a people into being more like us instead of more like who they are. I don’t blame him for believing the lies for they run deep in our culture, and they are very persuasive. Thinking about this, I wrote an e-mail message to Matthew just after he was sent over. I told him that the toughest task facing him was to keep his humanity when all sides around him were going to try and strip it from him. I will be very proud of him if he can do that, but if he can, he will be in a very small minority in the world. I like to think that things are changing and I remain hopeful. I’m reminded of the father whose son was beheaded in Iraq and the media called him up when the supposed killer was summarily executed to ask him if he will now sleep better, and he replied: No, didn’t this man have a family too? When will the violence end? The media tried to bait him further but to his credit he kept his humanity and didn’t want anyone dying in his son’s name, even his son’s murderer. One of our great American heroes said, “The most important thing we have to do is to prove that in a time of stress we can live up to our beliefs.” That was Eleanor Roosevelt.
So Matthew has been about three months in Iraq on a one-year tour. I guess he signed for eight years and that time will be close when he comes back, But, I don’t know when he’s coming home really as things seem to be pointing to some action against Iran. His time was supposed to be eight years of “part-time” soldiering, you know, one weekend a month and a few weeks in the summer is all they require. Do you think we can sue the Army for false advertising? The “economic draft” (like my son, many American victims of the war/occupation fit the rural, small town profile) and policies like stop-loss put the lie to our supposed all-volunteer military. The military’s stop-loss policy says even though your time may be up we can keep you or bring you back because it’s a “national emergency.” Read the small print in the contract. Basically it’s now the you-are-ours-until-we-let-you-go military. We need to do all we can to support the troops in a real sense.
What are the real costs of war and why don’t we have a balance sheet implanted in the psyche of our people? Look to our history. Mother’s day started as a protest to the cost of war following our American Civil War. How many of you know this? How and why has that meaning been lost? More soldiers who served in the Vietnam/American War and returned “safely” from hell committed suicide in the ensuing years then are in the official statistic of 59 thousand dead Americans. And some are still dying today from the affects of the WMDs we used there, the chemical warfare we waged with horrors like Napalm and Agent Orange. What are the real costs of war? In business they teach about “externalities” that don’t factor into the bottom line. These are costs that someone else pays. I ask you, who is paying for this illegal and immoral sham of a war on terror? There are some among us who think he or she can escape from paying, but unless you live on another planet, there is no escape.
Remember the anti-war novel “Catch 22”? As a soldier you could be sent home if the military determined you to be insane. But if you wanted to get out that’s grounds for determining sanity, because you would have to be crazy to want to fight in a war. So you had to pretend you wanted to stay in so that they could then determine you were insane and send you home. But, if they believed you really wanted to stay in, you were a hero and they weren’t about to let a hero go home. We are trapped in the Bush Administration’s Catch 22 of “support the troops.” Watch the movie “Sir, No Sir,” a powerful documentary on the untold story of GI resistance to the Vietnam/American illegal and immoral police action (Congress never officially declared war as required by our Constitution), started with a lie called the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. Then support our troops for real through one of the organizations listed on my handout, and don’t fall for the nonsense that says ending this horror is somehow not supporting our troops.
The late journalist Molly Ivans suggested we leave Iraq before we kill more people than Saddam Hussein did. We are probably drawing close to his numbers; so let’s go already. Let’s end the insanity of war and the neo-colonial, corporate re-occupation of Iraq and the much larger project for American empire in the world once and for all. Do it for Matthew, and all the sons and daughters involved in all aspects of this insanity. Do it for the earth. A different world is possible, we have to believe that and we have to work for it. Peace.