5.13.2008

letter from the father of a war resister

The following was written by Erich Burmeister of Oregon. Erich's son is James Burmeister, an Iraq War resister who recently turned himself in to the Army. This will appear as an op-ed in a local Oregon newspaper (no link yet).

Some background on James is here; that post contains links to earlier posts about him.

Passion and empathy: Why is it that it takes a harsh reality to kick in your own front door, grab you by the scruff of your own all too relaxed neck, before you really cry again. Maybe its cancer, a hurricane, a drunk driver, somebody gone crazy with a gun on campus, in a shopping center, on the job, on the freeway, or maybe a kid with a gun in a war, a soldier, your kid, like mine PFC James Burmeister. He is not a kid anymore. When he joined the army, he was a typical poor kid, naive kid, painted himself in a corner kid. A typical young man high on testosterone low on common sense, he bought the recruiter's line of crap and fine-print flim flaw, and was coached on how to assure his induction despite medical conditions that would have disqualified him.

So the army trained him how to kill efficiently in urban warfare situations and shipped his naïve butt over to Baghdad to carry out the orders of his commander and chief, the Warrior Prince Bush, our president, brave military veteran of Vietnam. So my son was forced to take part in and was witness to acts of human cruelty beyond his wildest imagination. He killed other young men just like him. In another place in another time, they could have been friends, they could have worked side by side and shared their dreams, now their ghosts will haunt his dreams, like the dreams of this brand new generation of "winter soldiers". For the matter of a few feet, or maybe even a few inches, my son's brains would have been spilled out on a Baghdad street. My nightmare of a soldier's dad, of cradling my son's blown up head in my lap while I try to put it back together, it would have become reality like the nightmares of the families of those soldiers who have already died, and those who will die next week, next month, and next year.

So now my son is sits in Army custody, brain injured by a roadside bomb and struggling mightily with PTSD while he awaits court-martial for desertion, because he refused redeployment to combat in Iraq in May 2007 in protest over the war crimes he was ordered to engage in. He manned a fifty-caliber machine gun atop a hummer providing perimeter security for one of the now infamous small kill teams.

With the help of war resistance groups in Canada, on the eve of his re deployment, he went AWOL and has lived in Canada until March 4th of this year when his worsening mental and physical condition, his homesickness and his family responsibilities left him little choice but to turn himself in to the Army at Fort Knox Kentucky.

For these soldiers who speak out against war crimes like my son, for these female soldiers like Suzanne Swift, who dare to speak out against sexual misconduct, for officers like Ehren Watada, who refused to be the executor of illegal orders, the military system is set up to make them pay dearly, the two codes: The code of "military justice" and the code of secrecy. Dearly many have paid, like wounded combat vet Daniel Anderson Dennis, a pioneer soldier/ war resister who willingly faced prison, and whose rotten discharge now denies him any medical benefits for his serious wounds. So one really ticked-off mom Anita Anderson Dennis has single handedly taken on the US Army, has become an angel of deliverance for many soldiers like my son, and has kicked some real butt, just like we in this community can kick some real butt if we want to. We cannot remain silent and docile.

As the father of a soldier, as a father who already knows the pain of losing a child, when I hear the president, whose aristocratic upbringing, and military record we know of all too well, when I hear him speak of sacrifice and see the tears roll sown his cheeks, I am brokenhearted and furious. Our troops are fighting for freedom? Whose freedom? Is it ours? When millions are without healthcare, decent jobs, when schools and roads are crumbling, when there are no cops or government help for natural disasters, when we can't even keep the local animal shelter funded. Are we free? Are we free from terrorism? Are any of the mass murders that have become a regular occurrence in our society carried out by al-Qaeda? Does our warrior prince president speak of the freedom of the dead, the orphans and all the victims of this human tragedy past and future? I know this fact, no matter how long the war goes on, the private jets will fly, they country clubs will stay busy, they Hollywood parties will go on, the mansions will stay lit, the pools will stay heated, and the yachts will keep sailing. As the father of a combat vet, I cannot forget the faces of these dead young soldiers, so proud in their uniforms, now they are gone forever. The families have a folded flag and a permanent hole in their souls. Their kid gets a 60-second bio on the local news, and if a soldier merely gets an arm or a leg blown off, or half their face, or has to poop in a colostomy bag the rest of their life, what do they get?

Here is what they get: They get the debacle of Walter Reed, they get to join the backlog of the hundreds of thousands of claims for disability, they must actually prove to the VA, that they were even wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan, and then must wait months and sometimes longer to even receive benefits or therapy. That is why we must open our ears and hearts, to organizations like the Veterans for Peace and Iraqi Veterans against the War. Please seek out and help any of these organizations that are aiding disabled vets and their families, because they have been abandoned by their commander in chief and nearly all of our so called voices in congress, who have sacrificed nothing, yet tell the rest of us to "suck it up". Well, we ain't got no straw or got no cup!

I just want to hug my son again, and hear him play this beloved bass guitar again and see the joy on his face as the music brings forth the best in us all. I want to help him heal his soul from when he had a gun in his hands, bringing forth the worst in us all. How many moms and dads just want to hug their kid soldier again and see them bringing forth the best in us all here at home. Every day, every week, every month, every year that this occupation continues, another parent like me will never see young dreams fulfilled, and will mourn the rest of their days. At least my son is still alive but he is certainly not whole. He struggles with PTSD, yet he is quartered within earshot of the shooting range and tank training area, daily hearing the gunfire, and explosions. He has been prescribed a dangerous cocktail of anti-psychotic drugs and sleep aids by Army doctors, while the command decides if they want to send him to prison, as a coward, a soldier who faced death, and followed orders to "shoot to kill". The cowards – George Bush and Dick Cheney, those in Congress, and the Generals with the blood on their hands – why are they the punishers instead of the punished?

The military fears public scrutiny more than anything else. By making them aware that their every move is being watched, we can force them to do what is legally and morally correct. Otherwise it just won't happen, because they are instruments of the hypocrisy of their supreme commander, who himself fears public scrutiny more than anything else.

So, if you would like to irritate the crap out of the Army, those whose business is war, do not like to be reminded. Write, phone or fax the Inspector General, Ft Knox, Kentucky phone 502-624-1710; fax 502-624-2197, or call the Ft Knox Public Relations office (502) 624-7451. Call for James' immediate medical discharge. The Army intends to silence his words of truth, and those of soldiers like him. We have initiated a Congressional Inquiry through Peter DeFazio's office, but unfortunately Representative DeFazio suffers from the usual politician's affliction of having no spine. So direct community actions not only helps my son, but the thousands of others who have been thrown on the scrapheap, by those who have used them like pawns on a chess board, in their lust for wealth and power. It is not our fault that these men have done what they have done, but it is our fault if it is not stopped.

Otherwise, especially for my fellow baby boomers we write our own sad epitaph - We wiped out the social gains made by the generations before us, and stole the future from the generations to come. If you are a young parent, with young children, look into their faces today. When you hear them laugh or see them smile, do you want to feel joy for their bright future or pity for the futures victims?

We must ask ourselves; when does silence and docility become complicity? Martin Luther King said, "The opposite of love is apathy". When you become a father of a soldier in a war, all the soldiers become your children. You dream that they are all home where they belong, alive and whole and able to pursue their dreams. In your nightmares they only come home in a box or in a wheelchair. The President will cry for them.

Our community can be at the forefront of the movement to stop the inhumanity, but it will not be a "party for peace", or a yearly two hour "well planned, well mannered" event like our local "protests" have become. We will have to cross our own bridge in Selma, for if we fear sacrifice for justice, we will always fear our own shadows! Drop my son a card of encouragement!
PFC James Burmeister
HHC Bldg 298
Gold Vault Rd
Fort Knox, Kentucky 40121

Overload the Ft Knox post office before they lock him away, and basically give him a drug induced lobotomy, which is the Army's tactic to silence the speakers of truth, especially the combat vets who know. Time is of the essence. All of us must make the decision of conscience before it is too late for all of us.

My deepest thanks to Erich Burmeister for sharing this with us.

If you are in the Toronto area, please come hear war resisters speaking about their experiences. A Conversation With US War Resisters, moderated by Andy Barrie, will take place on Wednesday, May 21. Details here.