'Bring us home': GIs flood US with war-weary emails - Guardian, UK
- 'Bring us home': GIs flood US with war-weary emails
An unprecedented internet campaign waged on the
frontline and in the US is exposing the real risks for
troops in Iraq. Paul Harris and Jonathan Franklin
report on rising fears that the conflict is now a
Sunday August 10, 2003
Susan Schuman is angry. Her GI son is serving in the
Iraqi town of Samarra, at the heart of the 'Sunni
triangle', where American troops are killed with grim
Breaking the traditional silence of military families
during time of war, Schuman knows what she wants - and
who she blames for the danger to her son, Justin. 'I
want them to bring our troops home. I am appalled at
Bush's policies. He has got us into a terrible mess,'
Schuman may just be the tip of an iceberg. She lives
in Shelburne Falls, a small town in Massachusetts, and
says all her neighbours support her view. 'I don't
know anyone around here who disagrees with me,' she
Schuman's views are part of a growing unease back home
at the rising casualty rate in Iraq, a concern coupled
with deep anger at President George W. Bush's plans to
cut army benefits for many soldiers. Criticism is also
coming directly from soldiers risking their lives
under the guns of Saddam Hussein's fighters, and they
are using a weapon not available to troops in previous
wars: the internet.
Through emails and chatrooms a picture is emerging of
day-to-day gripes, coupled with ferocious criticism of
the way the war has been handled. They paint a vivid
picture of US army life that is a world away from the
sanitised official version.
In a message posted on a website last week, one
soldier was brutally frank. 'Somewhere down the line,
we became an occupation force in [Iraqi] eyes. We
don't feel like heroes any more,' said Private Isaac
Kindblade of the 671st Engineer Company.
Kindblade said morale was poor, and he attacked the
leadership back home. 'The rules of engagement are
crippling. We are outnumbered. We are exhausted. We
are in over our heads. The President says, "Bring 'em
on." The generals say we don't need more troops. Well,
they're not over here,' he wrote.
One of the main outlets for the soldiers' complaints
has been a website run by outspoken former soldier
David Hackworth, who was the army's youngest colonel
in the Vietnam war and one of its most decorated
warriors. He receives almost 500 emails a day, many of
them from soldiers serving in Iraq. They have sounded
off about everything from bad treatment at the hands
of their officers to fears that their equipment is
The army-issue gas mask 'leaks under the chin. This
same mask was used during Desert Storm, which accounts
for part of the health problems of the vets who fought
there. My unit has again deployed to the Gulf with
this loser,' ranted one army doctor.
Some veterans have begun to form organisations to
campaign to bring the soldiers home and highlight
their difficult conditions. Erik Gustafson, a veteran
of the 1991 Gulf war, has founded Veterans For Common
Sense. 'There is an anger boiling under the surface
now, and I, as a veteran, have a duty to speak because
I am no longer subject to military discipline,' he
A recent email from Iraq passed to Gustafson, signed
by 'the Soldiers of the 2nd Brigade of the 3rd
Infantry Division', said simply: 'Our men and women
deserve to see their loved ones again and deserve to
come home. Thank you for your attention.'
Another source of anger is government plans to reverse
recent increases in 'imminent danger' pay and a family
separation allowance. These moves have provoked
several furious editorials in the Army Times, the
normally conservative military newspaper. The paper
said the planned cuts made 'the Bush administration
seem mean-spirited and hypocritical'.
Tobias Naegele, its editor-in-chief, said his senior
staff agonised over the decision to attack the
government, but the response to the editorials from
ordinary soldiers was overwhelmingly positive.
A further critical editorial is planned for this week.
'We don't think lightly of criticising our
Commander-in-Chief,' Naegele said 'The army has had a
rough couple of years with this administration.'
Mainstream veterans' groups too are angry about cuts
being proposed at a time when politicians have heaped
praise on the army's performance in Afghanistan and
Iraq and want to launch a recruitment drive.
Veterans plan protests to highlight the issue. 'We are
going to show them that veterans are people who know
how to vote,' said Steven Robinson, a veteran and
executive director of the National Gulf War Resource
Centre, one of the websites where veterans' issues are
Susan Schuman too is planning a protest. This week she
plans to join members of a new group, Military
Families Speak Out, who will travel to Washington to
make their case for their sons, daughters, husbands
and wives, to be brought home from Iraq.
With soldiers dying there almost daily, comparisons
have already been drawn with the Vietnam war and the
birth of the protest movements there that divided
America in the Sixties and Seventies.
Political scientists, however, think the war will have
to get much worse before anything similar happens over
Iraq. 'To put it crudely, I think the country can
accept this current level of casualties,' said
Professor Richard Stoll, of Rice University in
That is little comfort to Schuman, who says she just
wants to see her son, Justin, return alive from a war
she believes is unjust. 'It is a quagmire and it is
not going to be easy to get out,' she said. 'That's
where the parallel with Vietnam is.'
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