Stand Fast

Stand Fast speech at Peace Convergence public meeting

The following speech was delivered by Hamish Chitts on 10 July in the James Lawrence Pavilion at the Rockhampton Showgrounds in Central Queensland as part of the Peace Convergence protesting against the joint US Australian Talisman Sabre 09 war rehearsals.

Stand Fast is a group of veterans and former military personnel who oppose the current wars of occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Our members include veterans from WWII, Korea, Vietnam, the first Gulf War, East Timor and the current occupation of Iraq.

We who have borne arms denounce these wars because:

· These wars are about money, power and fear.

·  Soldiers are people; they are our neighbours, our sons, daughters, brothers and sisters.

· Too many have died, often leaving behind partners, children and other loved ones.

· Many will carry the psychological scars for the rest of their lives.

Stand Fast seeks to add weight to the antiwar movement in Australia through organising veterans to speak out against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and by debunking the myth that “If you’re against the war, you’re against the troops.

We are also encouraging current serving members of the Australian Defence Force to inform themselves about what is really happening in Iraq and Afghanistan. We will provide advice and support for those who may question serving in either of these wars.  During the Vietnam War an anti-war movement grew within the U.S military. that by 1971 had, in the words of one colonel, infested the entire armed services.  This group added great strength to the anti-war movement and by the Pentagon’s own figures, 503,926 “incidents of desertion” occurred between 1966 and 1971; and by 1971 entire units were refusing to go into battle in unprecedented numbers.  In 1972 there was fear among some generals that the majority of their armed forces would mutiny and take control if the Vietnam War did not end soon.  Saying that we should recognise that ultimately it was the determined resistance of the Vietnamese people that ended the war there.

Stand Fast also draws inspiration from U.S. based group Iraq Veterans Against the War.  Through Iraq Veterans Against the War many have heard public testimony of the horrors of Iraq and Afghanistan across the US.  Hundreds of IVAW members travel to schools, universities and demonstrations to speak out against these wars.  Their testimony is having a strong pull on people in the U.S. to protest against these wars and their organisation and dissent is growing in the US armed forces.  One example is IVAW member and GI Victor Agosto, who has refused to fight in Afghanistan and is facing court martial for doing so.

Agosto, who returned from a 13-month deployment to Iraq in November 2007, is based at Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas. On May 19, Agosto was ordered to get his medical records in preparation to deploy to Afghanistan. He refused to do so. “There is no way I will deploy to Afghanistan. The occupation is immoral and unjust. It does not make the American people any safer. It has the opposite effect”, he told the Inter Press Service on May 21. Agosto had already been questioning his service in Iraq and saw parallels with Afghanistan. “Both occupations fuel the insurgencies in those countries. We are creating ‘terrorists’ and we are killing so many innocent people.” He argues that the wars are both “power plays” whose real intent is to “establish more control and spread US hegemony.”

US Army soldiers are resisting service at the highest rate since 1980, with an 80% increase in desertions, defined as absence for more than 30 days, since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, according to the Associated Press. More than 300 US soldiers fled to Canada, 75 of them to Toronto. Many assumed they’d get a visa, settle down and live a normal life. But the Canadian government has rejected their refugee claims and ordered them deported. Some go into hiding. Others wait for appeals and judicial reviews of their cases. Many US soldiers stationed in Europe who refused service in, or in support of, the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan have been tried in US military courts in Europe and imprisoned in the US military’s prison at Mannheim in Germany. The most well known are Blake Lemoine in 2005 and Agustín Aguayo in 2006-2007.

There are Australian casualties occurring everyday in Iraq and Afghanistan that no one sees or hears about.  Through my own experiences as a former infantry soldier and veteran and through those of my mates I can tell you no one who sees active service comes back the same.  Recent figures from America have shown that troops coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan are suffering 3 times more Post Traumatic Stress Disorder than their counterparts did on return from Vietnam.  But it doesn’t just effect those who’ve been directly involved, it effects their children and even their grandchildren.  A recent survey of 2500 children and grandchildren of Australian Vietnam veterans has found 70% of children and 30% of grandchildren suffer psychiatric or psychological problems.  The average for Australia is 18%.  So currently the thousands of Australians sent to Iraq and Afghanistan each year equates to tens of thousands of lives adversely effected either directly or indirectly by mental health problems that has a flow on effect through generations to come.

So military personnel are risking their minds as well as their bodies and for what are we as people and as communities paying this high price for?  For what are Iraqi and Afghani civilians paying with their bodies and their minds for?  It is being done for oil, in the interests of multi-national corporations and it is being done for strategic real estate for the U.S. military.  Most people recognise this about Iraq but not everyone knows that the same reasons have brought about the occupation of Afghanistan.  In 1998 Californian company UNOCAL withdrew from negotiations with the Taliban government after failing for several years to be allowed to build a gas pipeline from fields in Turkmenistan through Western Afghanistan to Pakistan and the Indian Ocean.  One of the negotiators for UNOCAL was fellow named Hummed Karzai. The same Karzai that is currently President of the puppet regime in Afghanistan which is comprised of warlord thugs and opium barons who are no better to the people of Afghanistan than Taliban thugs they replaced.  The pipeline however is back on the agenda.

Apologists for these invasions try to frame them as some form of self defence as if the thousands of Iraqi and Afghani civilians that have been slaughtered by these invasions had the capability or even the desire to attack countries like Australia or the US.  Anyone who has any illusions that these wars are about stopping terrorists should look at the current deals being done between the Karzai government and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who is on America’s ‘most wanted’ terrorist list.  Hekmatyar is the leader of Hezb-i-Islami, which has been fighting Nato troops alongside the Taliban. His group which has been described as more fundamentalist than the Taliban is expected to be offered several ministries and provincial governorships in return for laying down its arms and agreeing not to disrupt the presidential elections due in August.  

This is not happening without US approval or knowledge.  “A representative of Richard Holbrooke, President Barack Obama’s regional envoy, has met Daoud Abedi, an Afghan-American businessman close to Hekmatyar, and the US administration will fund an Afghan government department to conduct negotiations with Hezb-i-Islami and the Taliban. It will be headed by Arif Noorzai, the former tribal affairs minister, and will receive $69m (£45m) of largely US money to offer sweeteners to win over the Taliban.” The Obama administration’s effort to bribe the Taliban is a clear admission that Washington is losing the war.

Kevin Rudd has called Afghanistan a ‘good’ war.  It is not.  It is no better than the war in Iraq and it is being done for the same reasons.  But he knows this that is why he still supports the occupation of Iraq.  Rudd made a big public show of bringing the troops home from Iraq last year, but like Obama’s current withdrawal, it is a lie.  There are still over one hundred Australian troops in Iraq just as the US plans to keep 50 000 troops in Iraq for the foreseeable future.  Both Rudd and Obama have proven themselves capable of much finer words than their predecessors but in substance there is little difference, both are still answerable to the same corporate masters.

Many people thought Rudd and his party were anti-war.  When they voted they hoped to end Australian involvement in these occupations.  Many are still sitting at home hoping, but two years and an increase in Australian involvement it is clear this hope is an illusion.  The majority of people in this country oppose the occupation of Iraq.  The majority of people in this country oppose the occupation of Afghanistan.  We can’t rely on Rudd anymore than we can rely on any other politician.  That is why we need to keep building a movement and in many senses post Kevin 07 actually rebuilding a movement against these occupations.  We need to build a movement that can unite dissenting soldiers, peace activists, anti-war activists, political groups, community groups and unions. To do this we need unifying demands like “Bring the troops home now!” that all these diverse groups can rally behind.  This weekend is good example, there are many different people protesting for many different reasons but they are all here rallying behind the demand “Stop the Talisman Sabre Wargames”.  We need to build this movement to show real support for the people in the armed forces, to show our real support for the people of Iraq and Afghanistan by demanding from the Rudd Government a true and complete troop withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan immediately.  

Both militaries describe Talisman Sabre as, and I quote, “focusing on operational and tactical interoperability through a high end, medium intensity scenario involving live, virtual, and constructive forces.  Includes combat operations transitioning into peacekeeping or other post-conflict operations.”  Now if you cut through the military jargon it means Australian and US militaries refining their ability to conduct Iraq and Afghanistan style operations for future invasions and occupations of sovereign nations.  This is one of the reasons I’m here representing Stand Fast in protest against these invasion and occupation rehearsals.

If you want further information about Stand Fast or if you are a veteran or have served or are still serving in the armed forces of any country and would like to get involved (or know someone who would) please see me after.

Support the troops bring them home now!

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