May 19, 2013
War Is Betrayal
Posted on Jul 13, 2012
By Chris Hedges, Boston Review
At first Millard liked the National Guard. He was able to enroll in Niagara County Community College as a business major, where he signed up for an African American studies class thinking it would be an easy A. He read The Autobiography of Malcolm X. He read Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. He read Frederick Douglass.
“It was the first time I’d really started to read,” he says.
He was in the African American studies class when the attacks of 9/11 occurred. His wrestling coach came into the room to tell him he had been activated. He went home. He packed his bags. He thought about combat.
“I was pissed,” he says. “I was like, they attacked us. I was ready to go to war.”
“I really wanted to go to war with somebody, because we were attacked,” he says. “But the one question I couldn’t answer was, who were we going to go to war with?”
At first he did military funerals. Then he was called up for Iraq. He was by then a sergeant and was assigned to work in the office of a general with the 42nd Infantry Division, Rear Operation Center. He became, in military slang, a REMF—a rear echelon motherfucker. He was based in Tikrit, where he watched the cynical and cold manipulation of human life.
He relates the story of a traffic-control mission gone awry when an eighteen-year-old soldier made a bad decision. He was sitting atop an armored Humvee monitoring a checkpoint. An Iraqi car approached, and the soldier, fearing it might be carrying a suicide bomber, pressed the butterfly trigger on his .50 caliber machine gun. He put two hundred rounds into the car in less than a minute, killing a mother, a father, a four-year-old boy, and a three-year-old girl.
“They briefed this to the general,” Millard says. “They briefed it gruesome. I mean, they had pictures. And this colonel turns around to this full division staff and says: ‘If these fucking Hadjis learned to drive, this shit wouldn’t happen.’ “If you lift your rifle and you look through the sights and you see a person, you can’t pull the trigger,” Millard says. “But if you lift your rifle and you look through the sights and you see a fucking Hadji, then what’s the difference.
“That’s a lot of what I saw in Iraq,” he says. “These officers, high-ranking officers, generals, colonels, you know, the complete disregard. They knew all the stuff that happened. They got all the briefings. They knew what happened. And they either didn’t speak up, they didn’t say anything about it or they openly condoned it. When Iraqis got killed, to them, it was one less fucking Hadji around.”
Millard’s thirteen months in Iraq turned him into a passionate antiwar activist. He is the cofounder of the Washington, D.C., chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War and served as its president for three years. He has taken part in numerous antiwar demonstrations around the country, was one of the organizers of the Winter Soldier hearings, returned to Iraq on a humanitarian aid mission in 2011, and now directs a homeless veterans initiative.
The briefing that Millard and his superiors received after the checkpoint killing was one of many. Sergeant Perry Jeffries, who served in the Fourth Infantry Division in Iraq after being called out of retirement, said the killing of Iraqi civilians at checkpoints was routine.
“Alpha troop and Balad Ruz shot somebody at least once,” he says, referring to a troop detachment and to the soldiers manning a checkpoint in a small Diyala Province village. “Somebody else on what we called the Burning Oil Checkpoint, they shot somebody with a .50 cal, shot a guy once, and then several times.”
Killing becomes a job. You do it. Sometimes it unnerves you. But the demons usually don’t hit until you come home, when you are lying alone in bed and you don’t dare to tell your wife or your girlfriend what you have become, what you saw, what you did, why you are drinking yourself into a stupor, why you so desperately want to forget your dreams.
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