From War to Resistance: Afghanistan Veteran Explains Why He plans to Return His Medals to NATO's Generals
"The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defense recognized by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party of Parties so attached by taking forthwith, individual and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.”
- Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty 4 April 1949, Washington, DC
NATO was formed in 1949 as a strategic alliance between 10 European Nations, the US, and Canada to promote “democratic peace in the North Atlantic region and protecting the common values of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law,” according to its own documents. Article 5 was first invoked half a century later, after September 11th, 2001, when NATO embraced “the War on Terror” in Afghanistan. Eleven years later that war grinds on, far from the North Atlantic, and grows uglier by the day.
At the NATO summit in Chicago on May 20th 2012, Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), led by its Afghanistan Members, will peacefully march on the NATO Summit. IVAW will hold a 9am rally at Grant Park South of the Lincoln Monument at (E. Balbo Ave. and S. Columbus Dr.) to be followed by a march to the NATO summit. They will make public their opposition to the lies and failed policies of the war and the crimes against humanity that it has overseen. IVAW invites all veterans and service-members to join them.
Graham Clumpner served in the 75th Ranger Regiment from 2003-2007 and deployed to Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2005-2006. He was a grenadier and a driver. Graham was re-called to active duty with orders to Iraq in 2009. He refused. He is now an organizer with Iraq Veterans Against the War.
Like so many service members ,Graham joined the military straight from high school out of a passionate desire to participate in great and honorable acts of service for the greater good.
“I wanted to do something important. I wanted to matter and be part of something bigger than myself. September 11th gave me that opportunity," he says. "I believed that there couldn't be any more of a disparity between the way we conduct ourselves in the West and the way the Taliban and Al Qaeda conducted themselves in Southeast Asia. It was black and white. Good and evil. I bought into the idea of America liberating the Afghan people hook, line and sinker. I enlisted in the United States Army to become a Ranger; to liberate the women of Afghanistan, to end the tyranny of Islamic fundamentalism, and to assuage the guilt of an ignorant young white man.”
Here is my interview with Graham Clumpner. - Siri Margerin
Why are you returning your medals to NATO?
I want to make it clear to everyone--NATO, the U.S. Army, my fellow Americans--the medals don’t mean a thing. What they are supposed to signify bears no relation to the reality of what we did to “earn“ them. Idon’t want them, I don’t need them. They were earned through lies and false pretenses. They are meant to prop up and perpetuate a “fake heroism“.
Serving in the military is a peak experience for those who do it. That experience is and will remain unforgettable. It is a huge deal for men and women who have served to renounce and rethink their service. Returning our medals is a clear acknowledgement that as veterans we recognize what we did in Afghanistan for what it was and take responsibility for it. By returning our medals we are asking NATO to do the same.
What about your experiences made you oppose NATO's wars?
As a Ranger my primary job was capturing or killing the leaders of Al Qaeda and the Taliban. We would go out at 2 am, surround a house or complex, kick in the doors, arrest or kill the people we found. Most of the time the houses we raided were considered “hot”, meaning that we could shoot anyone inside. It didn't matter if they were women or children, they were in that house so we considered them to be helping the terrorists. The problem was that 9 out of 10 times we found the wrong people in the house.
We were trained to kill, not trained on how to build up a nation. We did not have any tools other than killing at our disposal to work with. We did not speak the language, we did not understand the customs, could not identify the guilty or recognize the innocent. All we could do was kill.
The reality on the ground does not match what the press, NATO, or what the US government says about the war. Rather than tell the truth about what that reality is, we lie. As long as the public narrative is a lie we cannot correct our behavior, we cannot change tactics.
They tell us that we are fighting for the rights of women and bringing democracy to the people of Afghanistan. The reality is that we have no interest in doing so and we couldn't achieve it if we wanted to. The mission has changed again and again. We are being ordered to participate in inexcusable acts of inhumanity, acts that we will never recover from, acts that are purposeless, that achieve nothing but to turn everyone we come in contact with against us. I am convinced that every house we raided, if there weren’t “terrorists” there before, they definitely were after we left.
Why did you join IVAW?
I was out of the military and in college when I got a letter recalling me to deploy to Iraq. It was on Veterans Day in 2008 when the letter arrived. My dad called to read it to me. I can tell you that was not a pleasant conversation.
The next nine months were horrible. I was alone and afraid. My Post-Traumatic Stress was almost unbearable. My relationships and the life I had built collapsed around me and I became suicidal. Then I stumbled upon an organization called Iraq Veterans Against the War. They helped me get the support I needed and walked me through the Veterans hospital system. Ultimately I was diagnosed with a Traumatic Brain Injury and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and I got out with my VA (Veterans Administration) benefits. I was totally radicalized by the experience.
Through this process I found my way home. The first time I met the field organizer for IVAW the only thing he said to me was "welcome home brother". Strangely enough it was the first time I had ever heard that. I can’t explain how much that hit me. Not my parents, not my friends, not my partner at the time, no one ever welcomed me back. Just some really tall guy who looked more like a basketball player than an anti-war organizer.
Do you expect massive mobilization against NATO?
Yes. IT HAS BEEN 11 YEARS. There is wide-spread opposition to both the war and NATO’s policies.
People have mobilized in all the major NATO countries in Europe against the war, against NATO’s failed policies. This mobilization in Chicago is the next step towards changing the way that NATO interacts with the world.
Anti-war sentiment is high. Every day there are more horrible stories of atrocities coming out of Afghanistan. If you find it hard to believe what we in IVAW have been saying all these years, check out what Lt Col. Danny Davis is saying. He is a high ranking active duty officer. An officer whose job it is to assess the progress and success of the war, he is saying more of the exact same thing.
Chicago has instituted new laws making protest difficult, if not impossible. We need to stand up for those famous rights that Americans possess that I was supposedly fighting for in Afghanistan.
What are your demands to NATO?
We demand recognition for all who served under NATO command and suffered the consequences, we demand reparations for the damage done to Afghan
civil society and the people of Afghanistan.
NATO calls itself an International Security Assistance Force. This is ironic because what it really does is destabilize the chances for peace in Afghanistan. As long as there are NATO soldiers in Afghanistan, there will be war.
What message do you have to send to National Guard troops who might be mobilized to repress NATO protests?
I served honorably. I did what I was asked to do by my command all the way up until I was being recalled. I was a good soldier and held up my side of the bargain. That is what we do, those of us who serve. The military breaks our contracts all the time, with no consequences. If the soldier violates their contract they go to prison. It is a violent unequal relationship. The Army teaches us Duty, Honor and Country. I stood for those values as a soldier and I will continue to fight as a veteran for those values the military no longer represents. We ask you fellow brothers and sisters to disobey orders you know to be unconstitutional.
I challenge those National Guard members as well as the Chicago Police to look in the mirror at yourself and your service. Is this really the ambassador you want to be to the rest of the world? If you stand up we will stand side by side with you. I did not join the military to be doing this kind of thing, I doubt that you did.
We joined because we wanted to do something positive and beautiful in the world. We still can. Join us in solidarity.