More and more U.S. soldiers are speaking out against the war in Iraq -- and some are refusing to fight. David Goodman
October 11 , 2004
With his baggy pants, red goatee, and moussed hair, Mike Hoffman looks more like a guy taking some time off after college than a 25-year-old combat veteran. But the urgency in his voice belies his relaxed appearance; he speaks rapidly, consumed with the desire to get his point across. As we talk at a coffee shop in Vermont after one of his many speaking engagements, he concedes, “A lot of what I’m doing is basically survivor’s guilt. It’s hard: I’m home. I’m fine. I came back in one piece. But there are a lot of people who haven’t.”
There was no Iraq veterans’ group for Brandon Hughey to turn to in December 2003. Alone and terrified, sitting in his barracks at Fort Hood, Texas, the 18-year-old private considered his options. He could remain with his Army unit, which was about to ship out to Iraq to fight a war that Hughey was convinced was pointless and immoral. Or he could end his dilemma—by taking his own life.
Army private Brandon Hughey is one of six U.S. soldiers seeking refugee status in Canada.
Jimmy Massey went to Iraq a gung-ho Marine, but returned shaken after killing civilians.
Jeffry House is reliving his past. An American draft dodger who fled to Canada in 1970 (he was number 16 in that year’s draft lottery), he is now fighting to persuade the Canadian government to grant refugee status to American deserters.
Dave Sanders, age 20, left his Navy unit because he felt that Iraq was "a very unjust war."
Sergeant John Bruhns is sharply critical of soldiers who go AWOL. “I feel that if you are against the war, you should be man enough to stay put and fight for what you believe in,” he says. But he also doesn’t believe in making a secret of his opinions about the war. “I’m very proud of my military service,” he tells me from his post with the Army’s 1st Armored Division in Fort Riley, Kansas. “But I am disheartened and personally hurt, after seeing two people lose their limbs and a 19-year-old girl die and three guys lose their vision, to learn that the reason I went to Iraq never existed. And I believe that by being over there for a year, I have earned the right to have an opinion.”
Vietnam figures prominently in soldiers’ conversations about Iraq. Nearly every one of the Iraq veterans I spoke with has relatives who served in the military, and nearly every one told me the same story: When they grew cynical about the Iraq war, the Vietnam veterans in their family immediately recognized what was happening—that another generation of soldiers was grappling with the realization that they were being sent to carry out a policy determined by people who cared little for the grunts on the ground.