Report back from We Are Not Your Soldiers in the Bay Area

Updated report originally posted at wearenotyoursoldiers.org

Today at a high school in the San Francisco Bay Area, CA: 100 students heard Emma, Matthis and Robin Long present We Are Not Your Soldiers. 2-3 classes came, brought by their teachers. The school is extremely diverse: white, Latino, Black and Asian. Some of the students are already doing projects about military recruiting. One of the students researched, and found that this high school is the most heavily recruited from school in the Bay Area. Other students were already working on a “counter-propaganda” campaign within the school against military recruitment using posters.

Emma Kaplan, Youth & Student Coordinator for World Can't Wait spoke, then Matthis Chiroux and Robin Long (both Iraq War resisters) spoke. Then they showed the Wikileaks "Collateral Murder" video. One young woman started crying, saying her dad was in the military and she wanted to join but now she didn’t want to. Matthis had asked a question and this young woman raised her hand and said, “My dad was probably in a helicopter like that killing children. Maybe he had to do that to survive. Maybe if he was a stronger person and refused to do those things maybe he would have been killed.” Others pointed out that the soldiers in the video didn’t have to kill people to survive in that helicopter – it was obviously not in self-defense. A number of students actually said they changed their minds after hearing from Emma, Matthis and Robin about joining the military.

Robin Long, another Iraq veteran against the war who recently spent a year in prison for refusing to fight in Iraq joined in, saying a few things about his experience – going to Canada, getting deported, getting court martialed. It made a big impression the students and the teachers. When they were brainstorming about things that the students could do, some people raised questions about whether there would be repercussions- would they get in trouble? Other people pointed out that Robin Long had been in prison for a year and this put the potential repercussions the students might face into perspective. A lot of students wanted to get involved… this is controversial at the school since not all the teachers/administrators are against the war. In the course of the event, some of the students left the room and came back with a Marine recruiting poster from elsewhere in the school. They took it in front of the room and ripped it apart, demonstrating how they felt about the whole enterprise in a really dramatic way. The rest of the students were transfixed, but one of the teachers said you can’t just do that. So the other students responded in support of the action, arguing that the teachers should also support students taking this kind of righteous action.

Matthis asked students if the Wikileaks footage looked like a combat zone – they answered “no” of course. He talked about being trained to shoot people dressed as civilians, revealing this whole murderous outlook towards the people of the Middle East pervades the military and the war as a whole. One of the students said “here, if you murder someone you get 25-life but these soldiers are getting away with it over there.” Matthis said these soldiers are committing war crimes and he doesn’t want to be thanked as a “hero” for committing war crimes. Then he introduced Robin Long as a real war hero, someone who has been through a lot, and deserves to be thanked more than anyone. He talked about being in the military as a form of torture. They break you down to build you back up. Then they try to buy you. But no amount of money can make this torture worth it. It feels like being a slave. What do they charge you with if you try to commit suicide? Destruction of property; as if they literally own you. When he burned the U.S. flag in Washington, DC this past March 20th, he said the flag is a symbol of slavery.

Many of the students had friends who were already in the military. One young woman said her friend was scared because a rape happened on her base. Another said his friend in the air force told him he was in the military because, “I need to kill people.” She responded, “You’ll be killing children,“ and he came back with, “they deserve to die because they attacked us on 9/11.”

When Emma asked the students what they thought caused the war, a number of students said imperialism. This is definitely because at least one of their teachers has made a positive impact on them. She uses “A People’s History of the United States” in her classes and also talks about the present day wars. Another example of the power and importance of courageous truth-telling teachers.

Afterwards, organizers read through a stack of surveys the students completed. There is a lot of hope and desire for something much better than the choices of poverty, prison or military that this generation is offered, and much to be inspired by in the sentiments these youth expressed. One wrote, "People need to quit complaining about the economy and stop their government from killing people."

 

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