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Monday, June 13, 2005

Aidan Delgado: "We're exactly the same"

From Alternet, War makes beasts of men:

Watch this video (part 2 here) of an Arabic-speaking former soldier, Aidan Delgado, who faced abuse and attacks after filing for Conscientious Objector status. His compassionate and powerful talk includes detailed Geneva Convention violations and shockingly personal accounts of the inhumanity he witnessed and experienced, all of which, surprise surprise, is available for TV and print journalists in the Taguba Report, Red Cross reports or the stories of brave young men like him.

I watched the video and was most struck by Delgado's description of his awakening:
When I saw the faces of the people I was hurting...that I was assisting in hurting, I really began to change on a spiritual level. I looked at these guys and I thought, man, these are young, poor, uneducated guys who didn't have a lot of choices in their lives, and are forced to fight us; and I looked at the guys in my own unit and I thought man, we're exactly the same. All the guys in my unit were young, poor, didn't have the best education, didn't have the best choices in life. But when I came to that realization, I felt all my fighting spirit just sort of bleed out of me. I looked at these people and I thought why in the world would I ever hurt them? Why would I do that? What is the purpose of my being here?

I'd been a Buddhist for almost two years before I arrived at this point, in the Iraq War. But my spirituality, like most people's spirituality, was just kind of on the back burner, something you don't really think about, you don't really act on. But being in Iraq forced me to take a moral stand and to decide whether I was going to be a person who sits back and thinks about Buddhism or whether I'm going to be someone who makes it a statement publicly and actively chooses to uphold their beliefs.

The recognition of our common circumstances with our supposed foe, makes it difficult for a moral person to continue fighting them. This is why in war after war it is necessary for the military culture to dehumanize the "enemy", with words like "gook", "charlie" or in Iraq, "haji":
In English, or in army usage it has the exact same meaning or connotation as 'gook' or 'charlie' or 'nigger.' it's very very prevalent in the military. only on a handful of occasions did i every hear iraqis referred to as iraqis. The rest of the time it was haji this and haji that...and all of this contributed to an atmosphere that brutalizes civilians and ultimately brutalized the prisoners that we had under our thumb at Abu Ghraib.

As you can probably imagine, Delgado's speaking out has drawn the ire of the "soldiers can do no wrong" crowd. They claim that by speaking out, he is somehow shaming all the troops who serve in Iraq. But these are the same reality-deniers who claimed that the atrocities revealed in the Winter Soldier investigations of the Vietnam era "never happened." I wasn't, but I've spoken to people who were in Vietnam. And I can tell you - it happened. Perhaps not exactly as described - peoples' memories play tricks - but the essential facts are indisputable, despite the deniers. But, I don't blame the troops. It's not the troops that create the situation where they know no other response to the problem of daily survival. It's not the troops that create the culture that aims to dehumanize the "other." It's the leaders who set the stage and provide the props.

I have a nephew who will probably serve in Iraq. He is an MP in the Army Reserves. Just as much as I fear for his physical safety, I fear for his soul. I only hope that he will open his eyes and see, "We're exactly the same." And have the courage to live by his convictions, and preserve his honor. Then I know he'll be okay; whether he chooses to lay down his arms as Delgado did, or instead walks the difficult path of using those arms with restraint and responsibility at all times.

Related Links

In Good Conscience: An Interview with Concientious Objector Aidan Delgado By Scott Fleming, Counterpunch.

On Abu Ghraib: One sergeant's courage a model for US leaders, By John Shattuck, Christian Science Monitor, May 16 2005 edition.

The Abu Ghraib Supplementary Documents

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