1,098  (as of 10-16-04)

7,862  (as of 10-16-04) 

there never were any in the first place!)

Staff Writer,
Saturday, October 16 , 2004  

Mike Hoffman would not be the guy his buddies would expect to see
leading a protest movement. The son of a steelworker and a high school
janitor from Allentown, Pennsylvania, he enlisted in the Marine Corps in
1999 as an artilleryman to "blow things up." His transformation into an
activist came the hard way -- on the streets of Baghdad.

When Hoffman arrived in Kuwait in February 2003, his unit's
highest-ranking enlisted man laid out the mission in stark terms.
"You're not going to make Iraq safe for democracy," the sergeant said.
"YOU ARE GOING FOR ONE REASON ALONE: OIL.  But you're still going to go,
because you signed a contract. And you're going to go to bring your
friends home."

Hoffman, who had his own doubts about the war, was relieved -- he'd
never expected to hear such a candid assessment from a superior. But it
was only when he had been in Iraq for several months that the full
meaning of the sergeant's words began to sink in.

"The REASONS FOR WAR WERE WRONG," he says. "They were LIES. There were
no WMDs. Al Qaeda was not there. And it was evident we couldn't force
democracy on people by force of arms."

When he returned home and got his honorable discharge in August 2003,
Hoffman says, he knew what he had to do next. "After being in Iraq and
seeing what this war is, I realized that the only way to support our
troops is to demand the withdrawal of all occupying forces in Iraq." He
cofounded a group called Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW)  

and soon found himself emerging as one of the most visible members of a
small but growing movement of soldiers who openly oppose the war in
Iraq. Dissent on Iraq within the military is not entirely new. Even
before the invasion, senior officers were questioning the optimistic
projections of the Pentagon's civilian leaders, and several retired
generals have strongly criticized the war.

But now, nearly two years after the first troops rolled across the
desert, rank-and-file soldiers and their families are increasingly
speaking up. Hoffman's group was founded in July with 8 members and had
grown to 40 by September. Another organization, Military Families Speak

began with 2 families two years ago and now represents more than 1,700
families. And soldier-advocacy groups are reporting a rising number of
calls from military personnel who are upset about the war and are
thinking about refusing to fight; a few soldiers have even fled to
Canada rather than go to Iraq.  

In a 2003 Gallup Poll, nearly one-fifth of the soldiers surveyed said
they felt the situation in Iraq had not been worth going to war over. In
another poll, in Pennsylvania last August, 54 percent of households with
a member in the military said the war was the "wrong thing to do"; in
the population as a whole, only 48 percent felt that way. Doubts about
the war have contributed to the decline of troop morale over the past
year -- and may, some experts say, be a factor in the 40 percent
increase in Army suicide rates in Iraq in the past year.

"That's the most basic tool a soldier needs on the battlefield -- a
reason to be there," says Paul Rieckhoff, a platoon leader in the New
York National Guard and former JPMorgan banker who served in Iraq.
Rieckhoff has founded a group called Operation Truth  

which provides a freewheeling forum for soldiers' views on the war.
"When you can't articulate that in one sentence, it starts to affect
morale. You had an initial rationale for war that was a moving target.
[But] it was a shell game from the beginning, and you can only bullshit
people for so long."  

With his baggy pants, red goatee, and moussed hair, Mike Hoffman looks
more like a guy taking some time off after college than a 25-year-old
combat veteran. But the urgency in his voice belies his relaxed
appearance; he speaks rapidly, consumed with the desire to get his point
across. As we talk at a coffee shop in Vermont after one of his many
speaking engagements, he concedes, "A lot of what I'm doing is basically
survivor's guilt. It's hard: I'm home. I'm fine. I came back in one
piece. But there are a lot of people who haven't."  

More than a year after his return from Iraq, Hoffman is still battling
depression, panic attacks, and nightmares. "I don't know what I did," he
says, noting that errors and faulty targeting were common in the

artillery. "I came home and read that six children were killed in an
artillery strike near where I was. I don't really know if that was my
unit or a British unit. But I feel responsible for everything that
happened when I was there."  

When he first came home, Hoffman says, he tried to talk to friends and
family about his experience. It was not a story most wanted to hear.
"One of the hardest things when I came back was people who were slapping
me on the back saying 'Great job,'" he recalls. "Everyone wants this to
be a good war so they can sleep at night. But guys like me know it's not
a good war. There's no such thing as a good war."
Hoffman finally found some kindred spirits last fall when he discovered
Veterans For Peace  

the 19-year-old antiwar group. Older veterans encouraged him to speak at
rallies, and steadily, he began to connect with other disillusioned Iraq
vets. In July, at the Veterans For Peace annual meeting in Boston,
Hoffman announced the creation of Iraq Veterans Against the War. The
audience of silver-haired vets from wars in Vietnam, Korea, and World
War II exploded into applause. Hoffman smiles wryly. "They tell us we're
the rock stars of the antiwar movement."  

Several of Hoffman's Marine Corps buddies have now joined Iraq Veterans
Against the War, and the stream of phone calls and emails from other
soldiers is constant. Not long ago, he says, a soldier home on leave
from Iraq told him, "Just keep doing what you're doing, because you've
got more support than you can imagine over there."  

Members of IVAW led the protest march that greeted the Republican
convention in New York, and their ranks swelled that week. But the
protest's most poignant moment came after the march, as veterans from
wars past and present retreated to Summit Rock in Central Park. Joe
Bangert, a founding member of Vietnam Veterans of America  

addressed the group. "One of the most painful things when we returned
from Vietnam was that the veterans from past wars weren't there for us,"
he said. "They didn't support us in our questioning and our opposition
to war. And I just want to say," he added, peering intently at the
younger veterans, "we are here for you. We have your back."  There was
no Iraq veterans' group for Brandon Hughey to turn to in December 2003.

Alone and terrified, sitting in his barracks at Fort Hood, Texas, the
18-year-old private considered his options. He could remain with his
Army unit, which was about to ship out to Iraq to fight a war that
Hughey was convinced was pointless and immoral. Or he could end his
dilemma -- by taking his own life. Desperate, Hughey trolled the
Internet. He emailed a peace activist and Vietnam veteran in
Indianapolis, Carl Rising-Moore, who made him an offer: If he was
serious about his opposition to the war, Rising-Moore said, he would
help him flee to Canada.  

The next day, there was a knock on Hughey's door: His deployment date
had been moved up, and his unit was leaving within 24 hours. Hughey
packed his belongings in a military duffel, jumped in his car, and drove
north. As he and Rising-Moore approached the Rainbow Bridge border post
at Niagara Falls, Hughey was nervous and somber. "I had the sense that
once I crossed that border, I might never be able to go back," he
recalls. "It made me sad."  

Months after fleeing Fort Hood, the baby-faced 19-year-old still sports
a military-style buzz cut. Sitting at the kitchen table of the Quaker
family that is sheltering him in St. Catharines, Ontario, Hughey tells
me about growing up in San Angelo, Texas, where he was raised by his
father. In high school he played trumpet and loved to soup up cars. But
when his father lost his job as a computer programmer, he was forced to
use up his son's college fund. So at 17, Hughey enlisted in the Army,
with a $5,000 signing bonus to sweeten the deal.  

Quiet and unassuming, Hughey grows intense when the conversation turns
to Iraq. "I would fight in an act of defense, if my home and family were
in danger," he says. "But Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction. They
barely had an army left, and Kofi Annan actually said [attacking Iraq
was] a violation of the U.N. charter. It's nothing more than an act of
aggression." As for his duty to his fellow soldiers, he insists, "You
can't go along with a criminal activity just because others are doing

So far, only six U.S. soldiers are known to have fled to Canada rather
than fight in Iraq. But in 2003, the Army listed more than 2,774
soldiers as deserters (military personnel are classified as having
deserted after not reporting for duty for more than a month), and many
observers believe the actual number may be even higher; the Army has
acknowledged that it is not aggressively hunting down soldiers who don't
show up. The GI Rights Hotline

a counseling operation run by a national network of antiwar groups,
reports that it now receives between 3,000 and 4,000 calls per month
from soldiers seeking a way out of the military. Some of the callers
simply never thought they would see combat, says J.E. McNeil, director
of the Center on Conscience and War 

But others are turning against the war because of what they saw while
serving in Iraq, and they don't want to be sent back there. "It's people
learning what war really is," she says. "A lot of people are naïve --
and for a while, the military was portraying itself as being a peace

Unlike Vietnam, when young men facing the draft could convincingly claim
that they opposed all war, enlistees in a volunteer military have a
tough time qualifying as conscientious objectors. In the Army, 61
soldiers applied for conscientious objector status last year, and 31 of
those applications were granted. "The Army does understand people can
have a change of heart," notes spokeswoman Martha Rudd. "But you can't
ask for a conscientious objector discharge based on moral or religious
opposition to a particular war."
Staff Sergeant Jimmy Massey may be the most unlikely of the soldiers who
have come out against the war. A Marine since 1992, he has been a
recruiter, infantry instructor, and combat platoon leader. He went to
Iraq primed to fight. "9/11 pissed me off," he says. "I was ready to go
kill a raghead." 

Jimmy Massey went to Iraq a gung-ho Marine, but returned shaken after
killing civilians. Shortly after Massey arrived in Iraq, his unit was
ordered to man roadblocks. To stop cars, the Marines would raise their
hands. If the drivers kept going, Massey says, "we would just light 'em
up. I didn't find out until later on, after talking to an Iraqi, that
when you put your hand up in the air, it means 'Hello.'" He estimates
that his men killed 30 civilians in one 48-hour period.  

One day, he recalls, "there was this red Kia Spectra. We told it to
stop, and it didn't. There were four occupants. We fatally wounded three
of them. We started pulling out the bodies, but they were dying pretty
fast. The guy that was driving was just frickin' bawling, sitting on the
highway. He looked at me and asked, 'Why did you kill my brother? He
wasn't a terrorist. He didn't do anything to you.'"
Massey searched the car. "It was completely clean. Nothing there.
Meanwhile the driver just ran around saying, 'Why? Why?' That's when I
started to question."  

The doubts led to nightmares, depression, and a talk with his commanding
officer. "I feel what we are doing here is wrong. We are committing
genocide," Massey told him. He was later diagnosed with post-traumatic
stress disorder and given a medical discharge.  

Back in his hometown of Waynesville, North Carolina, Massey got a job as
a furniture salesman, then lost it after speaking at an antiwar rally.
Two or three times a week, he puts on his Marine uniform and takes a
long walk around the nearby town of Asheville carrying a sign that
reads: "I killed innocent civilians for our government." The local
police now keep an eye out for him, he says, because people have tried
to run him over.  

When asked what he would say to someone who thinks the way he did before
the war, Massey falls uncharacteristically silent. "How do you wake them
up?" he finally responds. "It's a slow process. All you can do is tell
people the horrible things you've seen, and let them make up their own
minds. It's kind of the pebble in the water: You throw in a pebble, and
it makes ripples through the whole pond."  

Jeffry House is reliving his past. An American draft dodger who fled to
Canada in 1970 (he was number 16 in that year's draft lottery), he is
now fighting to persuade the Canadian government to grant refugee status
to American deserters.   

"In some ways, this is coming full circle for me," says the slightly
disheveled, 57-year-old lawyer. "The themes that I thought about when I
was 21 years old now are reborn, particularly your obligation to the
state when the state has participated in a fraud, when they've deceived

A dormant network has been revived, with Vietnam-era draft dodgers and
deserters quietly contributing money to support the legal defense of the
newest American fugitives. House's strategy is bold: He is challenging
the very legality of the Iraq war, based on the Nuremberg principles.

Those principles, adopted by a U.N. commission after World War II in
response to the Nazis' crimes, hold that military personnel have a
responsibility to resist unlawful orders. They also declare wars of
aggression a violation of international law. House hopes that in Canada,
which did not support the war in Iraq, courts might sympathize with the
deserters' claims and grant them legal refugee status; the first of his
cases was to be heard by the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board this

On an August afternoon, I follow House as he darts through Toronto
traffic on his way to see a new client -- a young American who had been
living in a homeless shelter for 10 months before revealing that he was
on the run from the U.S. Navy. He disappears into a run-down brown brick
building; moments later, a thin, nervous young man in shorts and a
T-shirt emerges onto the sidewalk and introduces himself as Dave
Sanders. Over dinner at a nearby Pizza Hut, he tells me his story.  

Sanders dropped out of 11th grade in Bullhead City, Arizona, in 2001. He
got his GED and was hoping to study computers, but couldn't get
financial aid. "The only reason I joined the military was to go to
college," he says. That was late 2002, and I ask Sanderswhether he then
considered he might end up in combat. "I was told," he says, "that
everything would be ended by the time I got out of boot camp."
Dave Sanders, age 20, left his Navy unit because he felt that Iraq was
"a very unjust war."  Sanders completed boot camp in March 2003, two
days before the United States began bombing Iraq. He started training as
a cryptologist; in his spare time he surfed the web, reading news from
the BBC and Al Jazeera. He was growing skeptical of the administration's
motives in Iraq. "Stuff wasn't adding up," he recalls.

"Bush was trying to connect the terrorists with Iraq, and there was no
proof for that. I was starting to think that we kind of put the blame on
Iraq so we could go over there and make money for companies." He
considered what his job might be if he were deployed; as a cryptologist,
he could have been handling information leading to raids and arrests. "I
didn't want to be a part of putting innocent people in prison," he says.
"I felt that what we were doing there was wrong."  

In October 2003, Sanders learned that his unit was headed to Iraq. For
several weeks he agonized over what to do; then he bought a one-way
Greyhound ticket and headed to Toronto. He picked up odd jobs and kept
quiet about his predicament, fearing that authorities might send him
back to the United States. Finally, he read an article about Jeremy
Hinzman, another deserter who had fled to Canada and was being
represented by Jeffry House. When I spoke to Sanders, House was helping
him file for refugee status.  

As we talk, Sanders keeps tapping his feet and twisting his long
fingers. "Sorry if I seem nervous," he finally blurts. "I never really
talked to the media before. I'm a shy person." I ask if he surprised
himself by defying his orders. He nods. "I never really thought I could
stand up to a whole institution."  

Though Sanders has kept away from the spotlight, other deserters have
attracted headlines around the world -- and drawn criticism from the
war's supporters. Fox's Bill O'Reilly called their actions "insulting to
America, and especially to those American soldiers who have lost their
lives fighting terrorists."  

But Sanders says he doesn't actually consider himself a deserter. "I
don't think I did anything wrong by turning down an illegal order," he
says. "I don't know what it's called -- I think it's Nuremberg? --
that's what I followed by leaving." When I ask if he would call himself
a pacifist, he says he is not sure what the term means and asks me to
explain. Then he shakes his head. "I believe if you're being attacked
you have a right to defend yourself. But right now, we are not the ones
being attacked. That's a reason I think THIS IS A VERY UNJUST WAR."  

Sanders is an only child; his father served in the Marines for 13 years.
"My family is pro-war, pro-Bush, pro-everything that's happening," he
says. "They would really not support what I'm doing." He has emailed
them to tell them that he's alive, but they have not replied. "I miss
them," he says, his eyes welling. "I love them. And I hope they can find
it in their hearts to forgive me."  

Sergeant John Bruhns is sharply critical of soldiers who go AWOL. "I
feel that if you are against the war, you should be man enough to stay
put and fight for what you believe in," he says. But he also doesn't
believe in making a secret of his opinions about the war. "I'm very
proud of my military service," he tells me from his post with the Army's
1st Armored Division in Fort Riley, Kansas. "But I am disheartened and
personally hurt, after seeing two people lose their limbs and a
19-year-old girl die and three guys lose their vision, to learn that the
reason I went to Iraq never existed. And I believe that by being over
there for a year, I have earned the right to have an opinion."  

Bruhns returned in February from a one-year deployment in Iraq. He is
due to complete his Army service next March, but his unit may be
"stop-lossed" -- their terms extended beyond their discharge dates to
meet the Pentagon's desperate need for troops. Critics have called this
a backdoor draft, a way to force a volunteer military into involuntarily
serving long stints in an unpopular war. A California National Guard
member has filed a lawsuit challenging the policy, and Bruhns has
considered joining the case.  

"I'm really a patriotic soldier," the 27-year-old infantryman tells me;
he addresses me as "sir" and stops periodically to answer the squawk of
his walkie-talkie. He signed up as a full-time soldier in early 2002,
after serving five years in the Marine Corps Reserve. "I was really
upset about what happened on 9/11," he recalls, "and I really wanted to
serve. I lost a buddy of mine in the World Trade Center. I believe what
we did in Afghanistan was right."  

But what he saw in Iraq, Bruhns says, left him disappointed. "We were
fighting all the time. The only peace is what we kept with guns. A lot
of stuff that we heard on the news -- that we were fighting leftover
loyalists, Ba'ath Party holdovers -- wasn't true. When I arrested people
on raids, many of them were poor people. They weren't in with the Ba'ath
Party. The people of Iraq were attacking us as a reaction to what the
majority of them felt -- that they were being occupied."  

Among his fellow soldiers, Bruhns adds, a majority still support the
war. But, he notes, "This is a new generation. We have the Internet,
discussion forums, cable news. Soldiers don't just march off into battle
blindly anymore. They have a lot more information."  

Vietnam figures prominently in soldiers' conversations about Iraq.
Nearly every one of the Iraq veterans I spoke with has relatives who
served in the military, and nearly every one told me the same story:
When they grew cynical about the Iraq war, the Vietnam veterans in their
family immediately recognized what was happening -- that another
generation of soldiers was grappling with the realization that they were
being sent to carry out a policy determined by people who cared little
for the grunts on the ground.  

Resistance in the military "is in its infancy right now," says Hoffman,
whose cousins, uncle, and grandfather all did their time in uniform.
"It's growing, but it's going to take a little while.  

"There was a progression of thought that happened among soldiers in
Vietnam. It started with a mission: Contain communism. That mission fell
apart, just like it fell apart now -- there are no weapons of mass
destruction. Then you are left with just a survival instinct. That,
unfortunately, turned to racism. That's happening now, too. Guys are
writing me saying, 'I don't know why I'm here, but I hate the Iraqis.'  

"Now, you realize that the people to blame for this aren't the ones you
are fighting," Hoffman continues. "It's the people who put you in this
situation in the first place. You realize you wouldn't be in this
situation if you hadn't been LIED TO. Soldiers are slowly coming to that
conclusion. Once that becomes widespread, the RESENTMENT OF THE WAR IS