Presentation by Army Vet Matthis Chiroux at "Stopping the Endless Wars and Torture"

The following is a presentation given by Matthis Chiroux, a U.S. Army Veteran, at the "Stopping the Endless Wars and Torture: Resisters Speak Out" event held on the evening of November 22nd, 2008, in conjunction with World Can't Wait's national conference in Chicago.

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My name is Matthis Chiroux.
I was in the Army 5 years. I was honorably discharged last summer. I received forced activation orders this past February, which I publicly refused in the U.S. Congress this past May. The U.S. Army has decided to prosecute me for my refusal to go to Iraq. That will probably be going down in January. I'm going to fight that tooth and nail as I promised to do last May.
I want to talk about this concept of military resistance, of soldiers and sailors saying "no" to this occupation and how we as American citizens can make that decision easier for them, because it is not something that is the slightest bit easy, even for the most progressive of us. I think out of all the people I met in the Army, I was pretty much the furthest left. The fact that I had to struggle for months over whether or not to deploy to Iraq is indicative of the fact that we do not have a society here which is ready to receive GI resisters as heroes rather than traitors.

That's one of the first and most important things that we have to drive home about this concept of GI resistance. For GI resistance to be a reality, we have to have a society that's willing to support it. The other vets in the room tell me if I'm wrong, but at least for me, when I was in the military, one of my biggest fears honestly was not physical pain or even getting blown up. My number one fear was being thought of as a coward. I didn't want my fellow service members, I didn't want my countrymen, I didn't want the leaders of my nation to think that I, Matthis Chiroux, was a coward.
And that's something that we"ve all been told we would be if we refused to go fight. It didn't matter if that was in Iraq, or Afghanistan, or wherever they decided to send us, the idea of refusing to kill has been painted to service members as an act of cowardice. And it is something that unfortunately in this country is still reflected back at us, even among those who would like to call themselves progressives and Democrats.
The idea of service members saying, "No, I'm not going to do that!" is still unacceptable. And that's a shame. More often than not, when I tell people that I refused to deploy to Iraq last summer - and this is in New York City, where I live, supposedly a very progressive center of the world - the first thing they say back to me is "well, aren't you required to follow orders?" This is even very progressive people that I know. And I have to explain to them, "well, before that, there's this part in the enlistment oath where you"re supposed to swear allegiance to the Constitution, and if you think something is violating that, it's ultimately the authority."
That's crazy. I'm from Alabama originally, so when I got home, it's just that amplified. That I think is the primary reason that soldiers, who otherwise believe the war is illegal, and know that we were lied to, to get in there, still continue deploying. Myself, it's crazy to think I wasn't scared of the jail time. I thought I would rather serve 20 years in jail than take one innocent life. The idea of going to jail didn't scare me, the idea of having to sacrifice for what I thought was right, didn't scare me, that's sort of what gets us into the Army, the idea of sacrifice.
A lot of us, we want to make that sacrifice, otherwise we wouldn't have gotten in there in the first place. There's something about being a martyr for the country that is moving to us. It wasn't the jail time, it wasn't the hardship, it was simply the fact that I didn't want to be remembered as a coward that was going to drive me into participating in an occupation that Iraq Veterans Against the War ultimately helped save me from, and I'm eternally grateful to the organization, or rather more, the individuals in the organization for opening my eyes to so many realities.
I never went to Iraq, but I was in the Army as a journalist, and I spoke with thousands and thousands of soldiers throughout my years as an Army journalist. After hearing so many idiosyncrasies having to do with prisoner abuse and corpse mutilation, free-fire rules of engagement you kind of start to put together another picture.
But still I had never experienced that first-hand. So I thought if I say no now, people are going to think I'm a coward. But then I saw Winter Solider, and I realized, wow, there are so many people who stood up there and testified who sound a lot like me. Except the only difference is, they"ve got something to regret now. And that's that they didn't say no before. I saw so many people who said, had I just known beforehand, I would have said "no" and I"d feel better about myself today.
And I realized, this whole idea of deploying because I'm afraid of being a coward, to participate in something that I think is illegal, is only going to lead me back home to be part of the anti-war movement out of remorse, rather than out of desire to pre-empt all this stuff. So, I think Winter Soldier in a huge way plays into that need of this movement to forge a culture in the United States of acceptance, and even more than that, and I'm not trying to say this because I want anyone to jump up and give me a hug, but of adoration for resisters.
We have been inundated for the longest time with so much of this "America: we support the troops!" There's this intense love and respect, and I know after I got out of basic training, I went back to my home town, and people were jumping off the sidewalks with tears in their eyes, people I didn't even know, falling over themselves to thank me for my sacrifice. So all of this "support the troops" rhetoric makes it so much harder for service members to break away from the party line.
Because they see "I'm a hero right now. My country is so overwhelmingly moved by my sacrifice. If I walk away from this, I'm going to be letting all these people down they"re going to think I'm a coward, I'm going to think I'm a coward."
You [from World Can't Wait] were showing me the pamphlet [why we don't support the troops]. I think it's really important to drive things home right now; the message to be sending to the military is not necessarily "we support you regardless." To continue to say that, to pile on this admiration and compliments on people who deploy to Iraq is only making them want to do that more. And it's important that we take that idea of supporting the troops, and apply it to the alternative, which is resistance. Which are those who are maybe not even conscientious objectors - this might disappoint people, but I'm not actually even a conscientious objector, but this war is so blatantly illegal. It is a war of choice, it's based on lies, money and corruption, and I'm not the only one that can see that. A lot of people can see that.
MATTHIS CHIROUX is part of the We Are Not Your Soldiers National Tour sponsored by The World Can't Wait-Drive Out the Bush Regime! For more info on this tour contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call 347.385.2195.