- Seldom do I find myself disturbed by articles I read in the press or online, but I must confess that I found Elizabeth de la Vega's article on Ricky Clousing, Move Over G.I. Joe and Han Solo : Sgt. Ricky Clousing, Peace Action Hero, published a few days ago on Tom Engelhardt's Tom Dispatch, deeply disturbing. To summarise, Mr Clousing is a 24 year-old man who, after joining the US military after the 11 September 2001 attacks and undergoing intensive language training found himself posted to Iraq as an interrogator. On patrol there he experienced an event, hardly uncommon, which seems to have marked his young life indelibly :
Ricky was on patrol when he saw a boy, "probably 18 years old, a small maybe high-school age kid" turn down a road his unit was attempting to secure. The teenager, Ricky said, was quite visibly terrified at the sight of "a whole bunch of Americans with big weapons" staring him in the face. He started turning the car around, but didn't get very far. This is how Ricky described what happened next:
- One of the soldiers in the turret of the humvee behind me just opened up fire on the machine gun on the vehicle. As the vehicle was turning away, all I heard above my head was "pop, pop, pop, pop." This was my first deployment, my first combat experience was that moment right then, and just the sound of machine guns going off over my head. He popped about five or six rounds in the side of the vehicle. Myself and two of the other guys ran over to the vehicle, smashed the window, and pulled the guy out to provide first aid on him… I was looking down at this kid who had just been shot in the stomach for no reason really -- he was trying to leave…I was still just standing there in shock, looking down at this kid, and he looked right up at me. And his mouth was foaming. His stomach was falling out in his hands… I was looking down at this kid, this young boy who was just trying to drive around town and took a wrong turn and tried to go the other direction, was shot at and killed, and I'm looking down at him now. And we made eye contact for about five seconds, and he just looked at me with the most empty, terrified look in his face that will never leave me in my whole life I'm sure.
That Iraqi boy died on the way to the hospital. I think the boy in Ricky Clousing died that day as well, but what an extraordinary man he has since become. Deciding he would be haunted forever if he kept silent about such an egregious violation of the rules of engagement, Sgt. Clousing notified the unit's Platoon Sergeant, who did not "take kindly" to his advice.
Further attempts to take up the matter with his superiors led to his being variously advised to effect a discharge from the US army by saying he was gay, or claiming he was suffering from PTSD, or filing as a conscientious objector, none of which, he felt applied to him, or at least avoid another tour in Iraq by serving in the US. But neither was that an acceptable alternative :
I felt that my involvement in the army, whether it be directly or indirectly, whether in Iraq or training guys to go to Iraq, I was still that piece of machine in the system that was still allowing this war to take place and still supporting that. My actions, whether or not they were on the front line or back safely at home, were still part of the body of the machine that's occupying [Iraq]. So I ultimately felt that the only thing I could do was to leave, so I packed my stuff last June and I went AWOLI felt that my involvement in the army, whether it be directly or indirectly, whether in Iraq or training guys to go to Iraq, I was still that piece of machine in the system that was still allowing this war to take place and still supporting that. My actions, whether or not they were on the front line or back safely at home, were still part of the body of the machine that's occupying [Iraq]. So I ultimately felt that the only thing I could do was to leave, so I packed my stuff last June and I went AWOL.
Mr Clousing turned himself in on 11 August 2006 and is currently serving a three-month sentence in a military brig. Why I was so disturbed by this article and what this particular incident has to say about the nature of war and civil courage in our times I leave to the reader to decide, but this is the letter (with one minor modification) I sent to Tom Englehardt (and posted to StumbleUpon) after reading Ms de la Vega's article :
What the hell, Tom ! I was beginning to become, if not comfortable with, at least inured to the cynicism and misanthropy, in particular with respect to your country, which recent events have contributed so richly to calling forth and maintaining in my mental life. Now you, Ms de la Vega, and in particular, Ricky Clousing, bust it all up and show that there do exist alternatives to cynicism and misanthropy, even if they do not seem to be so popular. For some reason this just makes the whole thing worse - the fact that alternatives to «le meilleur monde possible» as defined by Bush/Cheney and their ilk do exist makes the coming catastrophe all the harder to view with equanimity....