A war of words -- one veteran's view of the conflict in Iraq

by Bob Audette

Saturday, October 27, 2007

SAXTONS RIVER -- The war in Iraq is a war of words and manipulated emotions, said former Marine and anti-war crusader Liam Madden, during a speech given to the student body of Vermont Academy Friday.

Madden, a Bellows Falls Union High School graduate, was a communications specialist who served in Iraq from September 2004 to February 2005.

As an example of this war of words, he talked about companies such as Blackwater.

"Don't call them security contractors," said Madden.  "They are cowboys."

Their only reason for being in Iraq, he said "is to cause mayhem."

"They are the worst kind of mercenaries.  They are not beholden to any laws.  They're not held accountable to the Uniform Code of Military Justice.  They're not held accountable by U.S.  law.  And they are not held accountable by Iraqi law.  The role they play is criminal."

Another way the perception of the war has been manipulated, he said, is how Americans have labeled those who have taken up arms against what he called the occupation of Iraq.

"We never really say who is resisting in Iraq," he said.  Though there are plenty of labels -- the enemy, terrorists, al-Qaida, foreign fighters and insurgents -- the truth is "Iraqi people are in the resistance," he said.

And even more misleading words are used to explain the reasons the United States went to war in Iraq -- weapons of mass destruction, the alleged Iraqi link to Al Qaida and democracy.

"I should die for lies?" he asked.

The war in Iraq, said Madden, is not meant to improve the lies of the people who live there.

"We are in Iraq because control of Middle East oil keeps America the sole and unchallenged superpower," he said.  "Our rivals are the people who need the oil.  China, India, Russia and Europe.  It's about being on top of the world's economic heap."

And as far as the reasons for not leaving Iraq, said Madden, "your compassion is being manipulated.  The moral obligation is to do what the people in Iraq want us to do," and that's to leave.  "People are struggling against the war, but they're conditioned to think that getting out is not an option."

Americans should respect the fact that 80 to 90 percent of Iraqis want us out.

"How arrogant to say we should stay because we know what's best for you," he said.  "Every Iraqi has eyes filled with fear, frustration, anger and hopelessness and no amount of body armor I was wearing could protect me from their eyes."

Soldiers coming back from Iraq are tired, frustrated and are sick of being in harm's way, said Madden.  And while many of them hope the war will be over soon, a core group of soldiers still back the mission.

"Blind obedience is not a healthy loyalty," said Madden.  "It doesn't create a good citizen."

He came back from Iraq with more questions than answers, said Madden, especially about how he could make a difference and help end the war.

"We are faced with examining the past," he said.  Throughout America's history, he said, when people were faced with injustice, they fought back.  He cited the abolition, suffragette and civil rights movements as examples.

"Put your energy into a social movement.  People who want change without struggle want crops without plowing the ground," said Madden, quoting abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass.  "A good protest sends its impact throughout society."

Madden, a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, helped to form the Appeal for Redress, a petition signed by active duty soldiers asking Congress to end the war.

Oona Madden, Liam's mother, said that her son became who he is today because of his experiences in the Marines.

"He needed to do something," she said.  "He wasn't the best kid in high school.  He has really grown up a lot." Through the Marines, she said, "he learned how to discipline himself."

A Marine reservist, a Vermont Academy alumnus who was to provide a counter viewpoint to Madden's presentation, was forbidden to appear at Friday's event by his superiors, according to school officials.

Bob Audette can be reached at raudette@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext.  273.