This is another ZNet Free Update. Please visit the site:
ZNet is updated daily, of course. One current focus of ZNet is the war
in Iraq and opposition to it. Today I wanted to send out an interview
with Patrick Resta, New England organizer for Iraq Veterans Against the
War (www.ivaw.net). Military resistance to this war, like past and
future wars, is and will be critical to concluding it, redressing it,
learning from it, and avoiding replications of it. IVAW is a big part of
"We've Seen the Inner Workings and Felt the Consequences":
Iraq War Vet Pat Resta Speaks Out About the War and Occupation
Patrick Resta Interviewed by Derek Seidman
I want to discuss Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), but first a
little background on you. Can you tell us about your service in Iraq?
When were you in Iraq?
I served as a medic in a tank battalion in Iraq from March to November
of 2004. I went over there with the North Carolina Army National Guard's
30th Brigade Combat Team and we were assigned to the regular Army's 1st
Infantry Division. I had two main jobs while I was there. I was either
working in our clinic where we saw everything from the cold and flu to
sports injuries and gunshot wounds, or I was going out with platoons on
patrols of towns, roads, or to get supplies
Were you critical of the war before you were sent to Iraq? How did your
feelings toward the war and occupation change while you were there?
I was definitely critical of the war before it began and I protested it
during the build up, after it started, and until I left. When I first
got to Fort Jackson (South Carolina) in October of 2001, I was meeting
all of these people being called out of the Individual Ready Reserve and
they were telling me that an invasion of Iraq was next. I was skeptical
at first, but when it hit the papers I realized that those people
warning me had honestly known.
Once I got there, what I saw was a lot worse than what I could have ever
imagined. All of the things we had been told that we were going there to
do were shown unequivocally to be lies. We were told we weren't supposed
to treat Iraqi civilians unless they were about to die and only if that
injury was a result of an attack directed at us or inflicted by us. Our
supervisor told my platoon that "the Geneva Conventions don't exist in
Iraq and that's in writing if any of you want to see it."
He really said that? What did he mean? How did this make you feel?
Those were his exact words in front of about eight soldiers. I think it
caught us all initially by surprise, that someone in command would say
such a thing. Obviously, he wasn't coming up with that on his own. He'd
been instructed that it was the policy in place and to make sure that it
He wanted us to put aside any reservations we had about doing things
that violated the Geneva Conventions, our roles as non combatants, or
our ethics. Again, this stuff isn't something a sergeant just makes up
laying in his bunk at night. This is coming from the top on down and
it's a shame that the people responsible for propagating these policies
will never be held accountable. Hearing it said openly and publicly
definitely didn't make me feel comfortable with my leadership or with
the direction that the military was headed in.
You could have been held accountable for violating the rules of the
Geneva Convention. Had you ever thought about reporting what he said so
he-or whoever made that policy-could be held responsible?
Of course, I thought of reporting him, but who would I turn him in to?
His boss was telling him to say that. I think that when you look at it
these things, they are coming from the Secretary of Defense and probably
higher. I decided that I wasn't going to do anything that I wasn't
comfortable doing and take note if I witnessed anything that I believed
to be illegal. I think that's all someone can do in that kind of a
Did you have other experiences that had a similar disillusioning effect
My unit got to our base inside Iraq almost a year to the day after the
war started. I think that for most of us the WMD issue had become a joke
at that point. I was repeatedly told that we were going there to help
the Iraqi people. Shortly after getting there we were told that we
weren't to treat Iraqi civilians unless they were about to die and that
their injury had been caused by an attack or perceived attack on US
forces- things like people being shot at checkpoints, roadside bombs
meant for us that injured civilians, or car bombs meant for us that
injured civilians. Some captain isn't making these rules up in his tent;
these come from the top and have been Department of Defense policy since
Civilians were turned away at our gate and told to go use their own
facilities. Once you see these facilities it's readily apparent why
they're not being used. The hospitals in my area had only one type of
antibiotic, no glass in the windows, little if any functioning
diagnostic equipment, reused surgical instruments without proper
sterilization, and on and on.
Even when on patrol in towns, we were expected to turn civilians away.
Our leadership would have informal investigations if they thought any
medicine was missing and had been given to civilians. They kept basic
life saving medical equipment under lock and key in a shipping
container. I was really sickened by the total lack of value they had for
any life, American or Iraqi.
The events of 9/11 were especially tragic for you- your aunt and uncle
were killed in the World Trade Center. How did this personal tragedy
affect your views on the war and what you were made to do in Iraq?
I certainly felt that it was misguided and a total misallocation of
resources. What really bothered me though was hearing people in the
military say that that was why we were there or that weapons of mass
destruction had been found. All of the misconceptions that the American
public has are repeated by some of the people there that should know
better. There are certainly those within the military that believe that
we are there for some kind of revenge. I don't think that this country
needs any more enemies in the world, and that's all we're creating by
being in Iraq. To see the children being radicalized by what they were
seeing and the way that they were living gives me pause when I think
about how the world will look in twenty years.
Speaking of the situation in Iraq, what can you tell us about the
effects of war and occupation on Iraqis?
I didn't see any improvement in the situation for the locals during my
time there. The most I saw being done for the civilian infrastructure
was the paving of some roads. The real construction and real money are
going to build large military complexes so that the US military can set
up a permanent presence in Iraq. We were eighteen months into the war
and the Iraqi hospital still didn't have glass in some of its windows
and only one type of antibiotic.
When did you join IVAW and what made you decide to join?
I joined IVAW at their first formal national meeting here in Philly in
January 2005. I got back to the states two days before Thanksgiving in
2004. At a Thanksgiving party I met Jim Talib, who was a member of IVAW.
It was a strange night, and neither of us really wanted to talk about
the war. It's easier to try and put all that behind you and try to get
on with your life. But, at the same time you realize that you can't
remain silent because it will continue and get stronger. My main
motivation has always been to stop other servicemen and women from
having to go through what I went through. My job as a medic was to look
out for soldiers' morale, welfare, and safety. It's a job I took very
seriously and I'm doing more towards that end now than I ever did in the
military. The leadership of the military and politicians has abdicated
that responsibility and I think that if ever our men and women in the
military needed an advocate, it's right now.
But you were hesitant to get involved at first. Why was this? How did
you actually get active? Where did you begin?
It's not easy for vets to get out there and become active and I think
people in the movement need to appreciate that a lot more than they do.
They have to deal with a lot of issues like PTSD, and some are still in
the military and subject to harassment, being made to feel anti-troops
and so on. People that have been there and witnessed what's going on
have the most powerful voice to inform the American public at large of
the realities of this war.
Jim Talib actually signed me up for a talk without telling me. He said
that people really needed to hear my story. So, two days before this
talk he calls and tells me about it and says that I should probably
start writing notes. I definitely wasn't ready for it and it was
difficult. I'd never spoken publicly before, and to add that to only
being home for about a month, it was tough. That first night I spoke out
about the war was at a library in a suburb of Philly to a full house,
and the local media even turned out and heavily covered it.
You mentioned PTSD. A lot of noise was made about the recent 2,000th
death amongst US soldiers in Iraq, but this is just the tip of the
Well, I think you have a lot of issues any time that you talk about the
casualties from this war. The first issue being the reports that only
soldiers that die in Iraq or Kuwait are counted on the killed in action
lists. That's to say that soldiers that die of injuries days, weeks, or
months later in Germany or the US are not counted as having been killed
by the war.
The second issue being the "wounded" of this war. Soldiers are surviving
injuries that they never would have in the past and are expected to
return to society with horrific disabilities. I was just reading a
Washington Post article about a soldier that was a triple amputee and
had a traumatic brain injury. Also, those with mental health issues from
this war are not counted. I think that they are some of the most
dangerous injuries because of the difficulty in diagnosing and treating
Did you experience any form of PTSD upon your return, and do you still?
I did have some problems when I first got back. I think that it's hard
for anyone who has been in that environment to switch back to the way
they were before they went at the snap of a finger. That's why I think
that it's so important for the men and women coming back to get in touch
with other vets and to know that they're not alone in the things that
they're going through. I was very lucky to meet a lot of guys shortly
after I got back and it helped me out a great deal.
Do you think there are a lot of returning soldiers who are against the
war and occupation, but that carry the same kinds of fears, doubts, and
sense of isolation that you initially had when you returned from Iraq?
I absolutely believe that that's the case. The overwhelming desire is to
put all of that behind you and to get on with your life. It's not fun to
dwell on some of those things, so school, work, and other things become
a distraction that you need. It takes most people a while to digest what
they've seen and to decide where they want to go with it.
You mentioned before that you believe some soldiers are hesitant to
speak out for fear of being seen as "anti-troops". What do you think of
the "support the troops "rationale"? How do you think IVAW can challenge
Maybe it's a little jaded, but I look at it this way. When I was over
there, I didn't want to get stale brownies or a five minute phone card
in the mail. I wanted the American people demanding to know why hundreds
of soldiers are dead for lies. Because they were sent into a country
that was no threat to this one without basic equipment, ammunition,
training, or even so much as a plan. The only way that you can support
the troops is to demand answers and to hold people accountable.
Do you think the example of soldiers and vets like yourself speaking out
helps increase the confidence of others who feel uneasy about their
experiences in Iraq?
Absolutely, I think that if we didn't have the guys in VVAW (Vietnam
Veterans Against the War) to set an example for us many of us wouldn't
have come out publicly. The military is a strange place when you start
to question the party line. You feel ostracized and you start to wonder
if you're the only one that feels the way that you do. So, I think it's
important that members of the military know they have a place to go,
that they will be welcomed (mostly), and that they see that the American
public wants to know the truth. We're not a partisan organization; we
talk about the issues that aren't being addressed and are costing people
I went into the military as a medic because I wanted to be a part of
taking care of the health, safety, and morale of soldiers. I realized
while I was in Iraq that I could a lot more towards that end outside of
the military than I ever could inside it. Really, there are two wars
going on right now; one to end the actual war and another one to get the
men and women that return the care that they deserve.
How would you articulate the basic mission of IVAW?
IVAW has a three part platform: one, an immediate withdrawal of all US
forces. Two, real aid directly to the people of Iraq to rebuild that
country. And three, real healthcare (including mental) for the veterans
of this conflict. A lot of our members also work on other issues as
well, such as radiological munitions, educating kids about the realities
of military service, educating members of the military on the
conscientious objector process, and setting up sessions where vets of
the Iraq War can get together and talk about the war.
How big is the organization right now? How do you view IVAW's future
prospects for growth? What are some of the biggest obstacles towards
growth (in size and influence) for IVAW?
IVAW was founded by six people in July of 2004 and has grown to three
hundred members in just fifteen months. Vets are definitely looking for
a way to get involved in stopping this war, and as soon as they find out
we exist they join and get active. As time goes on we will get stronger
and stronger because resentment is building within the military. The
biggest obstacle we face is just getting our name out there and letting
vets know a focused voice exists for them to help stop this war. We are
almost completely funded by donations so we can't afford expensive
advertisements in the mainstream media. We rely on word of mouth and
face-to-face meetings at protests and other anti war events.
Do you work with other antiwar military-related organizations like
Military Families Speak Out (MFSO, www.mfso.org), Gold Star Families for
Peace (GSFP, www.gsfp.org), and Veterans for Peace (VFP,
www.veteransforpeace.org)? How do you see IVAW's relationship to these
We work with MFSO, GSFP, and VFP quite often. I think that vets and
their families have the clearest and strongest voice to speak the truths
about this war. My wife joined MFSO shortly after I left for Iraq and
members of my unit's Family Support Group cursed at her. She actually
sent me an email while I was still there about IVAW first forming.
How do you see antiwar soldiers and veterans being able to affect public
opinion on the war and occupation?
I think that those of us who have been there and our families are the
most qualified to talk about this war. We've seen the inner workings and
felt the consequences. We speak in a clear voice about the issues, and
largely put aside the politics. To me this isn't about politics, it's
about principles. The principle that as Americans the only values we
should be exporting to other countries are peace and social justice. The
principle that those responsible for this criminal misuse of the
military must be held accountable so something like this never happens
again. It'll definitely be a long fight and I would beseech everyone out
there to get involved. Many organizations need your help and would be
grateful to receive it. Dr. King said it best, "Our lives begin to end
when we stop speaking out about the things that matter." As someone who
took an oath to do so, I will continue to defend this country and its
Constitution against all enemies- foreign and domestic.
As someone looking to organize vets against the war and occupation, how
responsive has the civilian antiwar movement been? Any criticisms?
I know that the Rolling Stone article about the antiwar effort didn't
enthuse a lot of people on the far left, but I thought that it was right
on the money. We have to start looking at how to get the average
American involved and on our side. By having a protest that is supposed
to be only about getting us out of Iraq and then letting it get hijacked
by a bunch of political opportunists does nothing to keep the people
from middle America at their first protest coming back. But, that's
always been the case and it's why the movement isn't taken seriously and
never goes anywhere. Too many egos get in the way and people do
offensive things that turn people off. A lot of the stuff in D.C. on the
weekend of September 24th was just beyond the pale, it was disrespectful
to the reason that I was there.
You have to unite people around a cause like the war that they already
agree with you about, and then get them thinking about how their
government behaves in other areas. The Right was able to tie together
all of their disparate movements and fringes and agree on basic
principles to advance their overall agenda and that's why they're
winning right now. It's a shame that we can't do the same and get to
work on accomplishing some of the things that we care about so deeply.
Patrick Resta is the New England organizer for IVAW (www.ivaw.net). He
can be reached at [EMAIL PROTECTED]
Derek Seidman lives in Providence, RI. He co-edits the radical youth
journal Left Hook (www.lefthook.org). He can be reached at
This article first appeared on www.mrzine.org and www.lefthook.org
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