Why They Fight -- From Within; Two Navy Men Create an Outlet For Military Protests on the Web
(By Linton Weeks , Originally published in The Washington Post , January 16 2007)
For Jonathan Hutto and David Rogers, life has become something of a surreality show. The two Navy men, comrades in arms, are waging a war against a war.
Working from within, Hutto, Rogers and others have established AppealforRedress.org, a Web site that enables active-duty, reserve and National Guard troops to appeal directly to Congress to withdraw military personnel from Iraq. On Monday, the group held its coming-out news conference in Norfolk, announcing that more than 1,000 people have signed appeals. On Tuesday, the pleas will be presented to Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio) on Capitol Hill.
All of this comes at a time when President Bush is sending even more troops to war.
"Just because you joined the military doesn't mean your constitutional rights are suspended," said Hutto, a petty officer third class and 1999 Howard University graduate. "True patriotism is having a questioning attitude about the government."
Redress in this situation means relief, he said. "Relief from this war."
Hutto, 29, works in communications on an aircraft carrier. Rogers, 34, is quartermaster on a frigate. They've been friends since boot camp three years ago. Neither has served in Iraq. But they say 60 percent of the signers have served in the war. The signers are not lawbreakers, deserters or conscientious objectors, Hutto says. They believe in obeying orders.
Some, however, are reticent to appear in public. Organizers estimated that about two dozen active-duty members showed up at the Norfolk event, in a church near the naval base here. They were expecting 50. Hutto pointed out that many of the signers do not live in the Norfolk area.
The Appeal for Redress group has its critics. "The military's job is to carry out and implement foreign policy, not influence it," said Wade Zirkle, the executive director of Vets for Freedom. "That's what separates our country from military dictatorships. That's why we don't have military coups and military people running our country."
For military folks to appeal for redress "is un-American in principle," Zirkle said, and he pointed out that some of the organizers haven't even been to Iraq. A first lieutenant in the Marines, Zirkle served two tours there and was injured by a car bomb.
In between fielding phone calls and hanging banners for the rally, Hutto and Rogers paused for a moment in a downtown park on Sunday. A memorial to Martin Luther King Jr. loomed in the sunny distance. Both men wore Martin Luther King Jr. pins.
The idea for the within-the-ranks antiwar group came after Hutto read "Soldiers in Revolt: GI Resistance During the Vietnam War" by David Cortright. Hutto showed the book to Rogers. They invited Cortright to come to Norfolk.
"I was so impressed by the seriousness of the discussion," said Cortright, who teaches peace studies at the University of Notre Dame. He said it takes guts for active military members to speak out. "But they do it respectfully."
A specialist 4 during Vietnam, Cortright said there were hundreds of active-military antiwar groups by 1970. "They published underground newspapers, ran coffeehouses, organized demonstrations and protests," he said. He recalled that in 1969, a petition signed by more than 1,300 active-duty military people -- calling for a national protest against the Vietnam War -- ran in the New York Times.
A widely circulated appeal for redress is a new wrinkle made possible by the Internet. The plea is simply stated. Here is the nut: I respectfully urge my political leaders in Congress to support the prompt withdrawal of all American military forces and bases from Iraq. Staying in Iraq will not work and is not worth the price. The site is also sponsored by Iraq Veterans Against the War, Veterans for Peace and Military Families Speak Out.
Hutto launched the Web site in October. Signers include:
Kevin Torres, 23, from Brooklyn, a sergeant in the 101st Airborne who has served two tours in Iraq. "I felt like with our being there, we were making more enemies," he said. "The people hated us. They wanted us out of the city."
And Liam Madden, 22, a Marine sergeant from Vermont. He spent seven months on the ground in Iraq. "I saw Iraq struggling to get on its feet and failing to do so -- despite the best efforts of American military," he said. "I have nothing against the military or my experience. It's the policy I oppose."
Though Madden was braced for some sort of retribution, formal or informal, after he went public with his opposition to the war, "it never came," he said. "I give credit to my chain of command. After all, the appeal for redress is legal."
Madden helped to launch the site last fall. A portion is devoted to the rights and responsibilities of people in military service. A Defense Department directive allows members of the military to send a protected communication to a member of Congress on any matter without blowback.
Kucinich will meet today with representatives of the group to receive the appeals for redress and present them to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
"I think it's important for the troops to have a vehicle by which they can address Congress," Kucinich, a vociferous opponent of the war, said in a phone interview. "We need to hear from them."
He said warriors have the right to question their mission and not be like the cavalry in Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poem "The Charge of the Light Brigade": Theirs not to reason why /Theirs but to do and die.
Hutto and Rogers are aware that the Navy could become more directly involved if the United States turns its attention toward Iran. "I would go, with serious questions," Hutto said. "And with a bit of sorrow."
And, he said, "I would go because I'm in solidarity with the men and women I serve with."
Rogers agreed, though he said the whole affair -- being an antiwar warrior -- reminds him of the novel "Catch-22."
Neither sailor will be in Washington on Tuesday for the presentation of the appeals. Following previous orders, they both are headed to sea.