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"We Support Our Troops...When They Shoot Their Officers" By: Ken Hechtman
FrontPageMagazine.com | Saturday, July 05, 2003


If there’s one slogan that’s come to represent the anti-war movement in its current incarnation, it’s one that appeared on a banner in a March 15 demonstration in San Francisco. It bore the message,“We Support Our Troops, When They Shoot Their Officers.” This banner has been seen around the world and cited in more than 400 publications.

You can see the creator of the banner in the photograph; he’s the one on the right wearing the black ski-mask (being assisted by activist Kevin Keating). He recently spoke with me about the mythology that’s grown up around it. As much as “Mike” would have liked to show the human face behind the ski-mask, he couldn’t allow his real name or any other personal information to be published because he’s going through a background check. (And if he passes, the system is definitely broken.)

Mike places himself on the political spectrum as a “class-war anarchist,” and member of a 25-strong Bay Area collective named “Class War.” Think of class-war anarchists as Leninists without Lenin; their ideas come more from the printed word than from lived experience and they read the old turn of the century anarchists; Bakunin, Kropotkin, Emma Goldman and the like. They tend to be young, college-age rich kids, with the occasional social worker’s or teacher’s kid like Mike at the low end.

There’s a theory why teacher’s kids, psychiatrists’ kids and social workers’ kids are over-represented: Child professionals think they understand children and can get children to understand them in return, so they explain everything, starting at a very young age. The meta-message is, "All things should make sense to you. If they don't make sense to you, you don't have to accept them.”

Unburdened by careers, children and non-political friends, politics is the second generation’s full-time pursuit, and there’s a psychological effect that comes out of living in a highly-charged bubble. The isolation and mutual reinforcement compounds their ideas. Most of them had the most radical ideas in their high school and freshman classes and loved it. Now in an environment where everyone is radical, they have to be a lot more extreme to stand out. “Mike” is a prime example.

 “Lines tend to be drawn by both hawks and mainstream doves that assume everyone within the same national boundaries has the same interests,” Mike began in our interview “We say that common interests are defined by class. The rich benefit from war in all countries. The real enemy of a poor American volunteer isn’t the poor Iraqi conscript on the other side. It’s the people in his own, military and political, who give him his orders.”

In the run-up to the war, his group coined a number of other slogans aimed at the antiwar crowd, none of which got the same national play as “We support our troops.” “Another War is Possible” was a play on the anti-globalization idealism of “Another World is Possible.” “Peace is Patriotic – and that’s the Problem” was a direct attack on the liberal wing of the movement. Perhaps aware of the distinction between advocacy and incitement, Mike wouldn’t specifically identify a target audience for his best-known aphorism, saying only, “We were trying to push a strong class position, inside and outside the peace movement, inside and outside the army.”

Mike became politically active in 1999, at the Seattle anti-WTO riots. He has since followed the course of many of his fellow activists. The anti-trade movement was one of a number of things that went up in smoke on Sept. 11th and the survivors were quick to file off the serial numbers and re-invent themselves as the anti-capitalist wing of the peace movement, without bothering to reinvent their rhetoric. In their world, the Taliban’s (never proven) objection to an oil pipeline, not the smoking crater in lower Manhattan, provided the motivation for attacking Afghanistan. Now that the war has moved off the front pages, they’ve slowly filed back to anti-trade rallies. The common thread of course, is what they identify as the common source of both globalization and war: the American way of life.

He laughs at the idea that the antiwar movement as a whole shares his radical views. “People on the Right are using [my banner] to show that all of the Left is anti-American. If the idea is getting out there, great. I’d be glad if the rest of the movement agreed with it and the class analysis behind it, but right now they don’t go as far as we do. On one side, you’ve got the Stalinist and Maoist crazies walking around with their North Korean flags. Then you have liberals saying things like ‘Peace is Patriotic’ and ‘Let the Sanctions Work’ or even worse, ‘Regime Change Begins at Home – Vote Democrat.’ They’re the conscience of capitalism. They’re one side of a debate between rich people about what’s best for rich people. We want an end to the war, too. But we don't have any illusions that we’re fighting for ‘the freedom that America really stands for.’ We stand in open solidarity with the front lines of resistance across the world.”

He ducked the inevitable question of whether he hates the United States. Clearly, he’d been expecting it and had an answer ready. “I’m against the American government. I’m not against the vast majority of working Americans,” he explained, leaving aside what the vast majority of working Americans might think of him. “I’m against every government in the world, from Canada to Cuba – they’re all capitalist and they all serve their own ruling class.” Good old laissez-faire Cuba. “I’m also in favor of Iraqi soldiers shooting their officers, just as American leaflets called on them to do. But the American government is the strongest ruling class in the world. I’m an American citizen and I live in America so I focus on that.”

Mike never expected the media frenzy around his banner, and it most likely would have remained but for an incident one week later in Camp Pennsylvania near Kuwait City. Muslim sergeant Asan Akbar killed two officers and wounded 14 others with fragmentation grenades.

“I don’t remember if I cheered or not,” said Mike. “I know I wanted to find out more about Akbar’s motivation. I didn’t believe his action was caused directly by the banner I carried, but it shows that the conflict we’re talking about does exist inside the military. There are those who give orders and those who take them. Look, if Asan Akbar had died carrying out his captain’s order we wouldn’t know his name. He’d be a statistic.”

“I don’t want to speculate too much on that one incident because I don’t have all the information,” he continued. “In general, if a fragging is done for class reasons I would support it and the movement as a whole should support it. If it was purely religious… Look, I’m an atheist. I’m against Islam and Christianity and all religions. There’s another guy I heard of – I can’t say too much on the record about this – a soldier in Gulf War I who was ordered to shoot Iraqi civilians and shot his CO instead. He’s now living underground and movement people are helping him out.” This claim could not be confirmed, and the army’s official position is that no such incident occurred between Vietnam and Gulf War II. Despite the story’s dubious veracity, the fact is that Mike believes it happened and advocates being an accessory after the fact, should it happen again.

Mike said he was reading up on the history of fragging and mutiny in the army before the March 15 demonstration and that served as his inspiration for the banner. “Peace movements alone can’t stop wars. The only way wars stop is when the army refuses to fight,” he said. “People think it’s far-fetched, but there are hundreds of examples. Everyone knows about Vietnam but it happened in WWI and the Mexican War, as well. The movement needs to understand this. In the 1960s the peace movement wasted six years spitting on soldiers and calling them baby-killers. We can’t afford to make that mistake again. What we can do is escalate the class war here at home and bring about a situation in which the government can’t fight wars abroad, because they’ll be spending all their time and energy trying to keep us under control here at home. It’s in periods of intense social struggle that the army’s tradition of mutiny comes out. The question for us shouldn’t be whether we go to war – we’re already at war. The question should be whether we fight back.”

Mike is surprisingly sanguine about the media attacks on him and his beliefs. He believes, “The representations in the capitalist press are fair. From their point of view, we are the enemy. We are scary. The kind of people who lead the Republican Party should be afraid – the Democrats, too – because our goal is not just to end the war. Our goal is to destroy capitalist society and that doesn’t fit nicely into the rules of the proper, patriotic, political channels. Ultimately, it’s a struggle against them as well. You might say we’re against capitalist peace just as much as capitalist war.” Even if that means advocating a war of their own.




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