Ellen Hinchcliffe interviews
an activist with Veterans
Z magazine, January 2004
Support Our Troops remains the favorite
cliché to haul out during every war to silence dissent.
A review of the facts, however, exposes the expression for the
bankrupt rhetoric that it is. Just one example that seems to defy
irony is that the day after the GOP-controlled Congress passed
a symbolic Support the Troops resolution, they voted to cut $25
billion over the next ten years from the Department of Veterans
Affairs budget and $204 million from Impact Aid, an education
program for children of service members.
As a veteran from the first Gulf War,
Chante Wolf is well-versed in empty promises. Growing up in a
working class, military family Chante dreamed of being a photographer
for National Geographic. Uncertain how to pay for college, Wolf,
at the suggestion of her father, joined the Air Force. Although
promised a career in her chosen field, she was never trained as
Wolf served nine years in the Air Force,
mostly in Spain, until she was sent to Saudi Arabia in 1991. After
returning to the U.S., the experience in the Gulf, coupled with
the intense misogyny and homophobia of the military, led her to
attempt suicide. Wolf grabbed at the early out option being offered
and left the Air Force in 1992. She then came out as a lesbian
and began to unravel her experience with the military. Chante
Wolf is the first person in her family to graduate from college
and is now a dedicated activist with Veterans for Peace. I interviewed
Wolf between speaking engagements on Veterans Day.
What's the difference between Veterans Day and what used to be
called Armistice Day after World War I?
Armistice Day was changed by an act of Congress in 1954. I assume
they were thinking there had been so many wars since the "war
to end all wars" so let's bring in the idea of supporting
the troops; but really you are not supporting the troops, you
are supporting the war.
So instead of the idea of a memorial to remember all those lost
to war it becomes...
Rah, rah the veterans. The same thing that is going on now. They
tell us, got to get behind this war. Any veteran who has the courage
to stand up and say no to this war has every right.
Even on the left it has become a knee jerk response, "We
support our troops too." How do we support them and what
do we support? Do we support AWOL soldiers ? Do we support soldiers
shooting into crowds of Iraqi demonstrators ?
Those are the questions I ask when I go out and do talks. Do I
support the Marine that kills an Iraqi woman and says, "Chick
got in the way." Do I support rape as psychological warfare
or shooting fleeing people in the back? I may understand where
it's coming from, but I don't support that kind of violence. What
I do support is that the men and women who enlist in this country's
military be told the truth that they are not protecting the United
States, they are and always have been protecting corporate interests.
Talk about recruitment; I know it's a big part of the work you
They are going to Mexico and waving the
green card around and then they send them right to the front.
There is no real front with today's technology; they just ship
them over there to be grenade fodder. Right now approximately
one out of every ten soldiers that dies in Iraq is not a U.S.
citizen. They are getting recruits any way they can. Leave No
Child Behind has a stipulation that schools must give the names,
address, and phone numbers of juniors and seniors to recruiters
on demand or they will chose federal funding.
In the education bill ?
Yeah, Leave No Child Behind.
Leave no child unrecruited.
Right. How many of those politicians who wrap themselves up in
the flag have kids in the military? Bush was AWOL for the last
18 months of his National Guard duty-during wartime. The military
spent $42 million of our tax dollars to design an interactive
video game aimed at recruiting our kids. I was reading yesterday
how they went to a school and gave kids a ride in a helicopter.
See how fun and cool this is, see what you are going to be doing
for your country and you can also get an education. I would like
to know how many kids in Edina [wealthy suburb] are going to be
required to kill people to get an education.
There is a Marine I'm in contact with
that had three anthrax shots and became ill and went to the VA.
He started asking questions. They tried to have him committed,
said he was insane. Now they are withholding his education money
because they say he's violent. So you go and do whatever for the
country, but they make the rules and they can break them.
So what are you asking for with recruitment ?
Veterans for Peace wants equal time with ROTC in the schools and
wherever they have recruiters present. I want our stories in there
with the polish and spit shine. The idea is for Vets for Peace
to offer balance. We talk about what we found out after being
in the military, then they make up their own mind. I'm not anti-military
You don't sound very convinced of that.
I'm not a pacifist. I would kill any person that attacked me.
So that's not being a very good pacifist.
I think there is a difference between real self-defense and what
they call defense.
I had a Marine in my audience ask me, "So where do you stand
on war?" He wasn't being nasty he was really asking. So I
was quiet for a moment and then I said, "You know that's
a very good question. Would I defend my country? You bet I would."
Just show us a real threat. If we were being invaded like what
we did in Iraq, if I were on the other end, I would defend my
family and my home, just like they are doing now. In Veterans
for Peace there are so many different sentiments, but we all agree
on the bottom line, which is to abolish war as an instrument of
foreign policy. In my opinion once you do that war is not necessary
Something our society refuses to deal with is that war and violence
changes people forever. I have a friend from Iraq that survived
the bombing in the first Gulf War and he will never be okay. He
is in a pretty constant state of self-medication. Right now they
are charging this Special Forces guy with cowardice for flipping
out after seeing the mangled bodies of Iraqi people. He couldn't
stop shaking and vomiting and now he could actually go to prison
for being a coward.
He is not the coward; Cheney, Wolfowitz, Perle, Bush, and the
rest are the cowards. In 1991 when I was waiting for my plane
to the Gulf a Marine told me, "Stay away from anyone eager
to fight, these people will get you killed faster than the enemy."
I found out in wartime there are certain things you just don't
address or you would go crazy. Because once you ask the one question,
it's like a domino effect and it would break apart the whole facade
of how you keep your heart safe. It all comes home. It comes home
in the domestic violence; it comes home in the substance abuse.
It comes home with the depleted uranium and all the other garbage.
It comes home in the Timothy McVeighs and the DC sniper and the
murders at Fort Bragg.
We are losing a lot of people over there-7,000
wounded and a lot of them are going to die and never be reported;
17 confirmed suicides in Iraq and God knows how many accidents
and friendly fire incidents.
This is what the antiwar folks need to demand-to oppose the wars
and be an ally to the people whose lives are being destroyed in
Iraq, Afghanistan, and in the U. S. I walk into a party or Thanksgiving
and I don't know how to have a normal conversation
Yes, I challenge people that say they support the troops. I say
good, now go walk into a VA hospital and take a good look around
at what's in the lobby. It's row after row after row of wheelchairs
because they come home legless, missing arms and eyes. They come
home with their souls left in Korea, in Germany, in Vietnam, in
Iraq. They don't fit anymore because they have killed people.
"I killed thirty-five people in Iraq can I please have a
job?" Their friends and family won't be able to deal with
their anger or silence, won't want to hear their stories. How
many times can you tell the same story? I do it all the time.
I walk into a party or Thanksgiving and I don't know how to have
a normal conversation.
I'm really glad I have gotten involved
in everything and found Veterans for Peace. It is such a great
group of loving, validating people. I have found the same thing
with the peace movement; they give me meaning and the will to
carry forward with compassion.
Ellen Marie Hinchcliffe is a poet, videomaker,
and graduate of ZMI 2003.
War and Peace page