We Are Not Your Soldiers at a Vermont High School

Another student... took off the national guard shirt he was wearing and gave it to Matthis saying he no longer would wear it.

By Joe Urgo, Viet Nam Veteran

Matthis Chiroux, Iraq war resister and part of the “We Are Not Your Soldiers” tour, and I met with three groups of students at a Vermont High School.

The first group of students was only about 10 in number, the second and third had about 30 students in each. In the two largest groups, 1/3 of one and 1/2 in the other had family and friends in the military. This is important to understand because everything we say can be taken as a personal attack on their family members and make it difficult for them to see the politics and policies that make up these wars for empire and the responsibility to end them. 

We showed the "Collateral  Murder" video narrated by Ethan McCord, Iraq war veteran and whistleblower who was part of the 2-16 unit on the ground during the shooting of civilians by an Apache helicopter,  in each class.  More than anything else this sets the terms for the day because it exposes so much of the mythology and shows the crimes of the American military.  

Matthis' presentation is very personal and focuses on his experiences in basic training, Afghanistan and other countries  and  a moral challenge  to not  get suckered into enlisting.  I focused my comments on what I called the "secret being hidden from you".  I talked about the 737 military bases,  asked if they knew what the president means by "our interests",  about the six wars America is in now, drone bombing  and how critical basic training is to change them  from the kid  here today into what they saw in the Collateral Murder video. We both talked about the racism and hatred of women endemic in the training.

One thing about this school is the military recruiters seem to have a very low-key presence, with a table once a month in the lunchroom and they hand out trinkets. After our presentations, in the Q and A, except for one young woman whose friend is getting phone calls from recruiters, there was little talk of the recruiters in the school. Questions were about whether it was possible to go in the military and not be part of all we were talking about, and if JROTC was a good thing. One young woman wanted to separate the military individuals in her family from any responsibility by saying "not everyone is bad in the military". This type of question or statement, was asked at least twice and both times Matthis and I answered that “no matter if you were, a cook or mechanic, you are part of this war machine killing people for empire.” I talked about the cruise missiles on ships, and the drone controllers in Nevada. No one challenged our responses. The young woman who had family members in the military (and would not go in herself) also said that “good” people, as well as “bad” people enlist, and also “good and bad” don’t enlist. We answered that the problem was not “good or bad people” but it was the nature of the military and its mission to serve the empire.

A teacher asked if we had any advice on what options students had as alternatives to the military.  One male student seemed to unite with much of what we said and after wards told me he was seriously thinking of following a close relative into US Navy Seals. Another student who spoke, took off the national guard shirt he was wearing and gave it to Matthis saying he no longer would wear it. 

I thought there would be many more questions, but I think I underestimated  how difficult it is for high school students to speak anyway and especially in a presentation that says so much of what they are being told  about the country and the military is a lie. 

The teachers who came to the presentations all seemed very pleased and the two folks who arranged for us to come said they were very happy we came and would like us to come back again, for a longer days activities.  The teachers that were present also said that long pauses by students asking questions is normal, that they may not formulate their opinions like adults,  Matthis did look for a way to ask questions more directly, and elicited a comment about video games in relationship to wars. Both I and Matthis felt it was overall a good day and that the students were engaged and learned from their time with us.  We hope to get back to this particular school, and possibly others in the area.