Truth to Power

Henry David Thoreau was jailed in 1846 due in part to his refusal to pay a poll tax, because of its use in funding the Mexican-American War. From this experience he wrote The Rights and Duties of the Individual in relation to Government or as it is known today, Civil Disobedience. I wonder what Thoreau would have to say about this CNN op-ed, by Paul Rieckhoff, Iraq veteran, and the founder and executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, entitled The Iraq war is mine, yours, ours. In it Rieckhoff writes:

Whether one agreed with the Iraq war or not, we all own it now. That’s how our country works. Every single brave man and woman who wore the uniform overseas went over there wearing the American flag, representing us and our nation’s ideals.

I’m not Thoreau, just someone touched by his message. I find it reprehensible the statement “…representing us and our nation’s ideals.” My ideals do not include the invasion of a country based on lies. My ideals don’t involve regime change based on the whims of defense contractors. My ideals -and my flag- don’t include murdering innocents because of their religion and/or their geographic relationship to oil. My ideals cannot tolerate Abu Ghraib, the war crimes of Fallujah, or the endless destruction and loss of life that our debacle in Iraq continues to cause.

In Civil Disobedience Thoreau writes:

How does it become a man to behave toward this American government today? I answered that he cannot without disgrace be associated with it.

162 years later, and the disgrace continues. There is no reason to debate the Iraq war again. It was a mistake, a tragedy, and a farce- but I had nothing to do with it, because I had no input in the decision. I voted for no one who wanted to continue it, I marched against it before it began, and I wrote about the horrors and the depravity as it was on going. As much I as could- short of not paying my taxes- I resisted. When I see the “Support Our Troops” stickers I cringe. For those who were forced by our economic system of inequality to enlist, and then suffered brain injury and more because of it, I can understand, somewhat, the rational behind the action, and I feel for you.

But those who convinced themselves that “America’s Way Of Life” needed defending in the sands of some Middle East desert by waging a war against Islam and any other dark-skinned people we could find, fuck that. My nation’s way of life wasn’t impacted – except in the propagandist media – by Iraq. No one sent a scud or piloted a drone remotely so I could vote. Or exercise my free speech. Iraq didn’t threaten me or my country, and anyone who says different is either paid to say it, or a stooge for American Exceptionism, which is even worse. In fact, I’m 49 years old, and no war fought by my country in my lifetime has been a legitimate use of the American war machine. Not Vietnam, not Iraq, not Afghanistan. They were fought because men made money doing it. No other reason. So Paul Rieckhoff, you can keep the war. You made it possible, I didn’t. You made a salary fighting it, I didn’t.

Thoreau said: Any man more right than his neighbors constitutes a majority of one.

It’s not my war.


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