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'Bring us home': GIs flood US with war-weary emails - Guardian, UK

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  • Zafar Khan
    Bring us home : GIs flood US with war-weary emails http://www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/Story/0,2763,1015711,00.html An unprecedented internet campaign waged on the
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 10, 2003
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      '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
      desert Vietnam

      Sunday August 10, 2003
      The Observer

      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,'
      she said.

      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
      Houston, Texas.

      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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