| | MR Online Veterans mobilize in front of the White House on June 8. (Photo: Mandy Wilkens)

Current and former U.S. military personnel build a movement for Palestine within their ranks

Originally published: Peoples Dispatch on June 17, 2024 by Natalia Marques (more by Peoples Dispatch)  | (Posted Jun 21, 2024)

On February 25, U.S. Air Force member Aaron Bushnell became the first active duty U.S. soldier to earn the title of “martyr” among oppressed people worldwide. The 25-year-old set himself on fire in front of the Israeli embassy in Washington DC in protest of the U.S. government’s complicity in the genocide in Gaza, declaring, “this is what our ruling class has decided will be normal,” before self-immolating.

Bushnell’s sacrifice was the most high-profile action by member of the U.S. army in solidarity with Palestine and signaled an enormous sea change among active duty military as well as veterans—who are increasingly taking a bold step to denounce their government’s involvement in genocide.

According to Mike Prysner, who was an active duty soldier during the Iraq War and has been organizing veterans and active duty military ever since, the momentum among current and former members of the U.S. military “hasn’t been this high since the Bush era.”

Prysner recently authored an article for Empire Files on the dozens of active duty U.S. soldiers quitting the U.S. military over Gaza.

“The sector of service members who have turned against the U.S./Israeli policy in a profound way is undoubtedly much bigger than we can see at the moment—one the Pentagon is no doubt aware of as well,” Prysner wrote.

As Prysner told Peoples Dispatch, although the anti-war veterans movement is not as big as it was during the Iraq invasions, it is significant that veterans are organizing at such a high level today because unlike Iraq, the genocide in Palestine is “not a direct U.S. war.”

“Most service members haven’t had direct experience with supporting Israel,” Prysner said.

They’re just disgusted by the fact that the military they served in and are serving in is playing a support and a propaganda role.

However, Prysner notices significant anti-war momentum in the U.S. Air Force in particular, which “does have more of a direct role in the other branches” in Gaza, in terms of “all the logistics that Israel needs” to carry out genocide. “I have noticed the active duty of the Air Force becoming more engaged because of their direct role,” Prysner says, including Bushnell.

“The potential for there to be unrest within the military is historically something that plays a major impact in adding to the pressure on Washington to end the war,” Prysner told Peoples Dispatch.

Shortly after Bushnell’s self-immolation, Prysner worked with other veterans of the Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan wars to organize an action in Portland in which former U.S. military members burned their uniforms collectively in protest. This type of action was later repeated throughout the country as other veterans and active duty military drew inspiration from the momentum.

Veterans in Portland, Oregan also recently organized a massive projection of anti-war imagery on a U.S. Navy warship docked for “Fleet Week”. The images had slogans such as “Stop the U.S. war machine” and “Blood is on your hands”.

Not only do veterans organizing within the anti-war movement inspire active duty military to take further action as well, but they also galvanize the entire anti-imperialist movement, says Prysner. He references the contingent of veterans who attended the recent 100,000-strong protest in front of the White House on June 8. Prysner noticed “a lot of excitement among the attendees” of the protest that veterans had mobilized.

On June 8, Peoples Dispatch spoke to two of the veterans who attended the mass mobilization in front of the White House to declare a “people’s red line” against genocide. Adrian served in the Air Force from 2002 to 2009, and went to Iraq. He now openly identifies as both an anti-imperialist and Marxist, organizing with the Party for Socialism and Liberation, and credits his time in the military as contributing to his shift in consciousness.

“War ir a profit-making business,” U.S. vet declares

“As a person who served in the United States Air Force, I’m very familiar with how the imperialist war machine works. Naturally, this isn’t something that one joins the military knowing. It was part of the whole radicalization process for me, being in the military, realizing that it functions very much like a corporate entity, and that war is a profit-making business,” Adrian told Peoples Dispatch.

It was part of my being a working class person in the military, coming from the background that I came from, going to a foreign country to fight other poor and oppressed people, that created such a cognitive dissonance in me, that I had to address it in some sort of way.

Adrian continued,

there are many things that active duty people, reservists and guardsmen can do. They can conscientiously object and thus separate from the military, but they can also organize outside of the military. They can attend rallies. They can organize with professional revolutionary organizations such as our own. They can do many other things to raise consciousness and awareness among their fellow servicemen.

Chris Stevens, who was an infantryman in the U.S. Army from 2007 and 2013, told Peoples Dispatch what his message is to prospective, current, and former service members who are disgusted by U.S. complicity in genocide.

“Don’t be seduced in the first place. If you’ve yet to sign a contract, you should turn the other way. Your recruiter’s lying to you about everything, whether it be the job that you can have or the life that you’ll lead, the benefits that they promise you are not cast in stone and they will take anything they can from you,” Stevens said, referencing the predatory U.S. military recruitment process.

Military recruiters in the U.S. notoriously prey on working class and oppressed youth to lead them into military careers, luring them with promises of free college education. This phenomenon is part of what anti-war activists dub the “poverty draft,” in which poor young people have few opportunities apart from joining the U.S. military, risking life and limb, and participating in the imperialist machine.

“For those who are already involved, my message is that you don’t have to listen to what they tell you to do,” Stevens continued.

There are significant historical examples from the Vietnam and Iraq wars, where entire units have decided to say no to their orders. As long as it’s not you alone resisting, if you can get a squad or a company together to say, we will not participate in this, there’s not much that the army can do.

“So if you’re in a position where you are actively supporting this genocide that’s happening in Israel, you don’t have to,” Stevens said.

The issue of Palestine was particularly galvanizing, as Adrian mentioned:

I don’t want to see children murdered anymore. This is beyond the pale of what can be justified in the name of nationalism, in the name of anything that would be any semblance of what one would call the sovereignty of a so-called nation. The self-determination of the Palestinian people is paramount to humanity. And their fight is our fight.

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