The Iraq Winter Soldier Hearings: A Cry in Silence?
Courtesy Black Commentator, Commentary, Bill Fletcher, Jr.
Were it not for Amy Goodmanâ€™s program on Pacifica Radio — Democracy Now!– the Winter Soldier hearings at the National Labor College/George Meany Center in Silver Spring, Maryland (March 13-16) would have gone largely ignored. The remarkable testimony of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars was disregarded by most of the mainstream media to the point that one must wonder whether there was a conscious blockade in order to prevent these stories from being revealed.
Named after the famous Winter Soldier hearings from 1971 that focused on the real story of the Vietnam War, the hearings at the National Labor College focused on what is actually unfolding in Iraq and Afghanistan. The testimony, as played over Democracy Now!, detailed the horrific conditions under which U.S. soldiers are fighting and dying, and Iraqi civilians are suffering and perishing. Noteworthy in those testimonies to which I listened was the combination of fear and sorrow from the participants in wars that should not have happened. As each day passes it feels as if there is yet another revelation of how criminal the Iraq war in particular has been since the start.
A Chilean diplomat has a book soon to be released detailing the steps that the Bush administration took to intimidate nations into supporting their criminal adventure in Iraq. This, on top of the recent U.S. Intelligence conclusion that, as many of us in the anti-war movement said all along, there NEVER was any connection between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda despite the rhetoric of both Bush and Cheney.
The Winter Soldier hearings, though, brought the war into oneâ€™s living room, car or office. The voices that one heard were not those of policy analysts or military experts. They were not the voices of major politicians or media stars. They were the voices of the veterans of these wars, and in some cases their families, describing what it is actually like to fight in such conflicts and the toll that it takes upon arriving back home — if someone is lucky enough to arrive back home safely.
I did not listen to the entirety of the hearings so I do not know how many black Iraq and/or Afghanistan veterans testified. Yet in listening, I felt that there needs to be a Black Winter Solider hearing. This is not to be counterposed to what just took place in Silver Spring, but rather in addition. In black America, while we are talking about the war at a general level – and overwhelmingly oppose the war and occupation — there is little discussion of the plight of the returning veterans. Much the same happened in and around the Vietnam War. In our community we are not only NOT discussing the details of the war, but we are not discussing the impact of the war on our communities, including but not limited to the impact on the veterans. Instead of funds being prioritized for veteransâ€™ services, for instance, there have been cuts. V.A. medical facilities are under the crunch, and given the state of healthcare in the USA, this has a disproportionately negative affect on black America.
I could imagine a Black Winter Soldier-like hearing examining issues such as these, not to mention the racist side of the war IN Iraq and Afghanistan, such as the demonization of the people and the religion of Islam. It would be important for our community to hear of the moral quandaries of the troops, not to mention how THEY believe the wars can be stopped.
While my hat goes off to Amy Goodman and the folks at Democracy Now!, I found myself wondering whether black radio stations ever thought to cover these hearings and whether, should we have black veteransâ€™ hearings, they would cover those.
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is Executive Editor of The Black Commentator. He is also a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies and the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum.