Veterans Protest Iraqi War

Former soldiers in Iraq support troop withdrawal and mass anti-war movement

Two veterans of the ongoing Iraq war addressed 150 people in the Science Center Friday, criticizing the purpose and progress of the war and calling for the immediate withdrawal of American troops.

“The only way you can support the troops is by demanding they be brought back now and they be given the care they deserve when they get home,” said Michael Hoffman, a former Lance Corporal in the Marines and a co-founder of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW).

Hoffman and IVAW co-founder Kelly Dougherty, who was a Sergeant in the National Guard, asked the audience to follow the precedent of Vietnam protests and take to the streets en masse so American civilians and soldiers alike come to realize that it is not unpatriotic to oppose the war.

“That’s what’s going to end this war—mass movement,” Hoffman said.

Dougherty said that when she was deployed to Iraq in 2003, she did not believe the reasons the Bush administration cited for war. But she said she served out of an obligation to her fellow soldiers.

Many soldiers do not go “because they feel they’re fighting for freedom, for defense of their country….It’s because they feel an obligation to those around them,” Dougherty said.

In Iraq, she escorted and protected trucks transporting oil. Dougherty said this job convinced her that she was not in Iraq for a just cause.

“I’m not defending freedom, I’m protecting a corporate interest,” Dougherty said.

Hoffman said the public must take a stand so that soldiers realize they are not letting their country down by opposing war.

Hoffman and Dougherty joined the armed forces after high school.

Hoffman, who served for four-and-a-half-years, expected to leave the military in December 2002. But, forced to participate in the March 20, 2003 invasion of Iraq, he remained in service until May 2003.

Dougherty joined the National Guard, which usually stations its soldiers domestically. As the invasion of Iraq approached, she was transferred from her position as a medic to the Military Police and sent to Iraq.

On Friday, Hoffman shared several accounts of death and injury to his fellow soldiers. He` said that these casualties leave behind “the other casualties of war that nobody ever talks about”—the soldiers who survive the war and relive the worst experiences after they have returned home.

“I wish I could forget all the things I saw over there, but I can’t,” Hoffman said.

He also stressed that the “underfunded” Department of Veterans Affairs must do a better job of providing mental health care for these returning soldiers.

Dougherty also said the American military presence was doing more harm than good for the local population, citing raids on private homes and other disruptions of everyday life.

The Bush administration has ruled out the possibility of immediately withdrawing troops from Iraq, saying that stable democracy in Iraq has not been assured and that pulling troops out now would cause the country to collapse.

But Hoffman and Dougherty criticized Bush’s rhetoric, which they said equates support of the troops with support of the war.

“They’re refusing to acknowledge that there is a huge human cost to this war,” Dougherty said.

The speeches was sponsored by the Harvard Social Forum, the Socialist Alternative, and IVAW.

—Staff writer William C. Marra can be reached at wmarra@fas.harvard.edu.