By Emma Kaplan
On Friday May 7, Matthis Chiroux and I went to the University of California, Santa Barbara, a campus in a gorgeous setting a stone’s throw from the Pacific Ocean.
Student members of sponsoring organizations attending included; Students for Justice in Palestine, Students for a Voluntary Society, and SB Anti-War. KCSB 91.9FM broadcast the program live.
Often people ask us why our tour goes to colleges – isn’t it better served if it sticks to high schools? It is true that high school youth tend to be the most preyed upon by military recruiters. But college students are a vital component of the fight to stop military recruiting. Most universities - including UCSB - have an ROTC program, and military recruiters have been increasingly active on campuses across the country.
UCSB is one of the few campuses in the country where students are still building resistance to the wars begun by Bush and continued by Obama. The campuses have been deadly silent about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since Obama has taken office. Military recruiters, who were once banned by students on many campuses are now making a come back in force. This has to change.
I opened up the program by talking about the Crimes are Crimes statement and the need for people to resist the dangerous direction headed by Obama. I also talked about how all this is being protected and enforced by the U.S. Military. I played the wiki-leaks video depicting the callous murder of Iraqi civilians. The audience became silent and solemn.
Matthis gave intense and moving testimony about how the military has changed him and how he bears the responsibility for stopping these wars. His honesty was piercing.
Some people in the room cried, because they could feel the reality in what Matthis said about the horrors of boot camp, and being trained to kill and hate civilians. Mathis has fought to regain his own humanity. He made a powerful call and challenge for people to stop all these atrocities of war, torture, and occupation.
One person said that resistance needs to be about telling the truth everywhere and challenging the crimes that are being committed in our names. Another woman suggested that we all stop driving cars because of the oil. I talked about how yes, it is important that people act in sustainable ways including riding bikes but that this isn't the heart of why the U.S. is in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The U.S. does not wage war because people in the U.S drive cars. They are doing it to become an unchallengeable global superpower. There was some agreement on the importance of connecting how all the different things such as the environmental crisis, the attacks on immigrants, and the wars are all related to empire. A Global Studies student said she was concerned about responsibility of leaving Iraq/Afghanistan in complete ruins and asked about humanitarian efforts or nation building efforts. Matthis responded by asking her and others: “ Do you know what the mission of the US Army is? Engage and Destroy. Engage and Destroy. The US Army is not a force for nation building. The Army doing nation building is like a bull in a china shop.”
Student activists said that they felt like a very small group coming up against the apathy of the student body. There was a strong sense that people were disturbed by what was in the video and this video needed to get out into society in order to puncture this.
People also responded to our whole strategy to stop military recruiting in different ways. One student referred to military recruiters as the “Achilles heel of Goliath.” There were a couple of vets there who had been doing counter-recruiting by mainly offering up alternatives to the military for the students. However, we are going up against a military that has over a billion dollars in funding and we live in a society where there are few alternatives for millions of youth.
The strategy of military recruiters changes constantly, whether it is offering college or being a hero. We can stop military recruiters by going after the things that stay constant about this military: murder, rape, torture and war for empire. Matthis's testimony brought out some agreement from a former marine. He talked about how if people keep supporting the troops it will tell the troops that you support what they are doing. The troops feel they are fighting to protect you, and they don't want to let people down.
The ex-marine joined prior to 9/11, because he want to give something back to this country. He pointed out that most people don't join only for college options or money. He helped with clean-up after 9/11 and found a child's arm. He said he would never forget that day. But this was one day for him and that same day is lived by Iraqis everyday, for years. He said that most soldiers don't want war and that Americans have no idea about what is happening in the rest of the world. He said he is a former marine and will always be a marine.
Matthis thanked him for speaking and recognized the courage it took to do that. He disagreed with him and told him, “I don’t see a Marine, I see a caring human being – the saying “Once a marine, always a marine” only reinforces the branding that the military puts on you. We are their property, they own you. Don’t fall into that, you are not a marine, you are a human being.
The presentation was followed by two awesome performances from Aidge 34 of the Aesthetics Crew and Outernational. It got the whole room moving and riled up. "Sir No Sir" by Outernational was the perfect song to play, people should check it out here. Miles Solay of Outernational said "You should be doing this every week! The time is NOW!"