Early 21st Century:
“My name is Mike Prysner. I joined the Army and went for basic training on my eighteenth birthday in June of 2001. I was assigned to the 10th Mountain Division and in March of 2003 I was attached to the 173rd Airborne Brigade deployed to norther Iraq.
When I first joined the Army, we were told that racism no longer existed in the military. And then September 11th happened and I began to hear new words like ‘towel head’ and ‘camel jockey’ and the most disturbing: ‘sand nigger.’ And these words did not initially come from my fellow soldiers but from my superiors: my platoon sergeant, my company first sergeant, battalion commander. All the way up the chain of command these terms, these viciously racist terms were suddenly acceptable.
And I noticed that the most overt racism came from veterans of the first Gulf War. And those were the words they used when incinerating civilian convoys. Those were the words they used when this government delivered any target(ing) of civilian infrastructure; bombing water supplies knowing it would kill hundreds of thousands of children.
We’ve just learned that we’ve killed over a million Iraqis since the invasion. But we already killed a million Iraqis in the ’90s through sanctions and bombings prior to this invasion. But the number is truly much higher.
When I got to Iraq in 2003 I learned a new word and that word was “Hajji”. Hajji was the enemy. Hajji was every Iraqi. He was not a person, a father, a teacher, or a worker. It’s important to understand where this word came from. To Muslims, the most important thing is to take a pilgrimage to Mecca–the Haj.
Since the creation of this country, racism has been used to justify expansion and oppression. The Native Americans were called savages. The Africans were called all sorts of things to excuse slavery. And Vietnam veterans know of the multitude of words used to justify that imperialist war. So, Hajji was the word we used when we went to Iraqui houses and informed the families that their homes were no longer theirs. We provided them no alternative, nowhere to go, no compensation. And they were very confused and very scared and did not know what to do, would not leave, so we had to remove them from those houses.
We did this until, basically, we got tired. And I tried hard to be proud of my service but all I could feel was shame and racism could no longer mask the occupation. These were people. There were human beings. I’ve since been plagued by guilt anytime I see an elderly man, like the one who couldn’t walk and we rolled onto a stretcher, told the Iraqi police to take him away. I feel guilt anytime I see a mother with her children like the one who cried hysterically and screamed that we were worse than Saddam as we forced her from her home. I feel guilt anytime I see a young girl like the one I grabbed by the arm and dragged into the street.
We were told we were fighting terrorists, but the real terrorist was me and the real terrorism is this occupation. Racism within the military has long been an important tool to justify the destruction and occupation of another country. It has long been used to justify the killing, subjugation, and torture of another people. Racism is a vital weapon deployed by this government. It is a more important weapon than a rifle, a tank, a bomber or a battleship. It is more destructive than an artillery shell, or a bunker buster, or a tomahawk missile. While all of those weapons are created and owned by this government, they are harmless without people willing to use them.
Those who send us to war do not have to pull a trigger or lob a mortar round. They do not have to fight the war. They merely have to sell the war. They need a public who is willing to send their soldiers into harm’s way and they need soldiers who are willing to kill or be killed without question. They can spend millions on a single bomb, but that bomb only becomes a weapon when the ranks in the military are willing to follow orders to use it. They can send every last soldier anywhere on earth, but there will only be a war if soldiers are willing to fight, and the ruling class: the billionaires who profit from human suffering care only about expanding their wealth, controlling the world economy, understand that their power lies only in their ability to convince us that war, oppression, and exploitation is in our interests. They understand that their wealth is dependent on their ability to convince the working class to die to control the market of another country. And convincing us to kill and die is based on their ability to make us think that we are somehow superior. Soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen, have nothing to gain from this occupation.
The vast majority of people living in the US have nothing to gain from this occupation. In fact, not only do we have nothing to gain, but we suffer more because of it. We lose limbs, endure trauma, and give our lives. Our families have to watch flag draped coffins lowered into the earth. Millions in this country without healthcare, jobs, or access to education must watch this government squander over $450 million a day on this occupation. Poor and working people in this country are sent to kill poor and working people in another country to make the rich richer, and without racism soldiers would realize that they have more in common with the Iraqi people than they do with the billionaires who send us to war.
I threw families onto the street in Iraq only to come home and find families thrown onto the street in this country in this tragic and unneccesary forclosure crisis; only to wake up and realize that our real enemies are not in some distant land. But not people whose names we don’t know, and cultures we don’t understand. The enemy is people we know very well and people we can identify. The enemy is a system that wages war when it’s profitable. The enemy is the CEOs who lay us off our jobs when it’s profitable; it’s the insurance companies who deny us health care when it’s profitable; it’s the banks who take away our homes when it’s profitable. Our enemies are not 5000 miles away, they are right here at home. If we organize and fight with our sisters and brothers, we can stop this war, we can stop this government, and we can create a better world.”
– Mike Prsyner, PSL member and anti-war veteran