“I am not going to be silenced”
April 15, 2005
CARL WEBB is one of a group of military service members who have said no to George Bush’s war for oil and empire--and refused to be deployed to Iraq. Last month, he talked to Socialist Worker’s CINDY BERINGER about his decision and the struggle of the military resisters.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -WHY DID you sign up with the military in the first place?
My first overseas tour was in 1984 when I was in the regular army. That was in Korea, and I came back to the states in 1985 and stayed in Kentucky for three years. Then I got out in 1988 and got married. That didn’t work out and I had some family economic troubles, so I went back in that same year and went to Germany. I was in Germany from l988-1990. I was actually there when the Berlin Wall came down.
WHILE YOU were in, did you witness things that might have predicted the direction the U.S. military has taken now?
DEFINITELY. THE second time I was in the regular Army, the recruitment effort was toward recruiting linguists. Farsi was at the top of the list--what they speak in Iran. Arabic was number two. The top languages were indigenous to the Middle East, so I guess they figured that’s where the next wars would be.
After I did my tour in Korea in 1984-85, I was stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, the home of the 101st Airborne, which was part of the Iraq Deployment Force. They were doing their training tours in the Sinai Peninsula in Eqypt.
Until I joined the Army, I had read a little bit, but until you are actually serving, you have no idea how many bases and how many troops that we have overseas. At any given time, almost one-third of the military was overseas. That’s definitely a global empire.
I signed up with the National Guard in August 2001, one month prior to 9/11. It was an okay three years. I was in a medical unit; they even sent me to EMT school. I rode around on the ambulance in Austin. Everything was okay until July 2004. I had done my last summer training at Fort Hood, and the next month would have been my last month of drill--my last weekend in the Texas Army National Guard.
Then I got this phone call. The sergeant said, “Hi, I’ve got some bad news. You’re being called up to go to Iraq.” I thought my unit had been activated, but I had been called up under the stop-loss program. Along with a few other people, I would be loaned out to another unit.
There’s always a possibility that the unit could be activated, so that’s why I was so relieved that it hadn’t been activated for three years. I was in total shock when I got the call. The first day I was in disbelief. I kept telling myself that maybe they made a mistake--maybe someone hit the wrong key on the computer, and maybe they didn’t realize that I had only one drill left.
So I went to the unit, and they told me that there had been no mistake. I immediately came home, got on the computer and sent out distress calls to Austin Against War, the local antiwar group. I talked for hours with my friend about what my options were.
Of course, in Texas, the first thing that jumps into your head, rather than going to Canada, is just drive a few hours to Mexico. It sounded kind of romantic, at first. But when you actually look into the realities of it, the potential of permanent exile was more than likely, and the idea that I would never see my family again popped into my head.
I’m not the average young soldier of 17. I’m 39. I think it was more than a decade before amnesty was given to Vietnam vets who went to Canada. I’d be like 50. My mother is 75. That just wasn’t an option for a person my age.
I didn’t know how I would survive in a foreign country living underground. At least during the Vietnam War, Canada was actually willing to accept draft dodgers. This is a different time, and Canada is like the junior partner in crime to the U.S. They have said that they aren’t going to willy-nilly accept people evading military service.
DID YOU ever consider going to Iraq?
AT SOME point, I probably considered it for about maybe 10 seconds. I even had some people in Austin Against War who said that I might as well go, because I’m a medic, and I wouldn’t be running around with a gun. I reminded him that all medics carry a gun, and that in Saving Private Ryan, the medic dies. The enemy doesn’t really make a distinction between who’s a computer operator or a soldier. They just start shooting.
Relative to combat forces, I would be a little bit more safe, but not safe enough for me. I never had any intention of going to Iraq and participating in this atrocity.
There’s also the issue that I consider even serving as a medic to be aiding and abetting the war machine. I tell people, “Put yourself in the shoes of someone in the German army during World War Two or the Confederate Army during the Civil War.” Even though you’re not a combatant, you’re part of the war machine. I’m not willing to be a part of the war machine in any way.
Via Austin Against War, I talked to someone with Nonmilitary Options for Youth and a lawyer with the National Lawyers Guild. I also did a lot of research on the Internet.
I considered applying for conscientious objector status, but I came to realize that the process wasn’t going to work for me. There are plenty of stringent criteria for granting CO status. I didn’t see how I could pass. So I chose the last option, which was just to refuse to go--and tell them, “You can either kick me out or throw me in jail.” I’d rather do a few years in jail than a few years in Iraq.
I didn’t tell them anything because they wouldn’t have let me leave the base. I was supposed to report to the Guard, and they would drive me up to my new unit. I packed my bags, announced that I was having a big going-away party, without announcing my intentions. On the day I was supposed to report, I got on the bus and left.
WHAT HAS the military’s response been?
THEORETICALLY, AFTER 24 hours missing, the military is supposed to consider you AWOL--absent without leave. In a certain amount of time--say a week--when they realize you’re obviously not coming back, they’re supposed to drop you from the roster and move your status from AWOL to desertion. Then they report you to the local authorities, who will arrest you.
So I left with the intention of waiting a week or so and then calling Fort Knox, which is one of the bases where a soldier can voluntarily turn himself back to the military. There’s actually a 1-800 number for a deserter’s hot line.
I kept calling that number and telling them I wanted to turn myself in. I asked them to check to see if my unit has dropped me from its rolls. I’ve called several times, but they still have no record of any kind of paperwork from my unit. They tell me to keep checking, keep checking--maybe the paperwork got lost.
I got an e-mail from a captain at Fort Hood that says, “You have officially been dropped from the rolls at Fort Hood; you should contact an attorney.” He even gave me the phone number to the trial defense service at Fort Hood. I thought I had finally got some closure. But when I called Fort Knox again, I got the same answer--no record of your existence.
That is still the case. A German television producer who is doing a documentary on U.S. deserters confronted my battalion commander at a NATO ceremony and asked about me. My commander said that I would be taken care of--that I would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
He also said that of 3,000 soldiers from Texas, I was the only one who didn’t show up. Evidently, he was just talking. I’ve talked to a lot of organizations like the GI [Rights] Hotline and Iraq Veterans Against War, and they say that 5,000 to 8,000 people aren’t showing up.
The Army just doesn’t have the resources to deal with them. And they’re also afraid of the publicity. A couple of shows like 20-20 and 60 Minutes have done shows on the stop-loss program.
THERE HAVE been some lawsuits filed against the stop-loss program. Do you think they’ll make a difference in your case?
I THINK all of the cases like that have lost. People are going to continue to take these cases to court, because they’re all good cases constitutionally, but they’ve all lost.
The people I’ve talked to think the military is doing their best to avoid any more bad publicity. So they’re not cracking down as hard as you would think because they know that people will continue to file suits, get lawyers and talk to the press. And they just don’t have the manpower, because they’re sending all their MPs to Iraq.
So I really think that in this particular aspect--when it comes to the media--the antiwar movement has the upper hand, because the government is obviously trying to avoid this publicity. It makes them look pretty bad.
The last thing I saw was on 60 Minutes. There was this woman who was 50 years old who had been called back up. She was 5 foot 1, and the machine gun she had to carry was bigger than she was. It hasn’t been covered that much, but there has been some media coverage of 50 year old men who are over there, having heart attacks. They got called back up, and they’re out there in 130 degrees, with heavy backpacks and guns.
The military really stepped in it this time--they put themselves between a rock and a hard place, no pun intended. They don’t want to institute a draft because they’re afraid of the reaction, so they’re keeping all the old soldiers in. It’s actually going to backfire on them; it already has.
IF YOU had called the hotline and found you had been dropped, what were you going to do next?
I WAS going to get a bus, go down and turn myself in, and request a discharge. At that time, they could decide to give me a bad-conduct discharge. That’s what they’ve been doing in most of the cases. There is the possibility that they could be really, really vindictive and want to make an example of me--as they have of some soldiers--and court-martial me and send me to jail.
But I’m in a state of limbo right now. According to Fort Knox, I don’t even exist. This has been going on since last August. That’s fine with me. I don’t like it, but I’m not going to put myself in the position where the government can tell me what to do.
I’m not going to go to Iraq. I will continue to speak out in the media as long as I can. I’m not going to be silenced because of the fear that they would be more vindictive If I’m so vocal.
WHAT DO you think the antiwar movement should do to support resisters like you?
I THINK the most important part of activism right now is outreach. I’ve always been a proponent of working with the media. This is really a battle for the hearts and minds of the nation, and the best way to keep the movement afloat and moving forward is to get as much media attention as possible.
Groups and people like you who are actually putting the news out there are what will actually build the movement. It’s going to take greater numbers. Before the war, on February 15, we had 10,000 people at the Austin state capitol. We’re going to need more marches like that, with more people.
I know that I’m inspired when I pick up any sort of alternative press, and someone is speaking out. It motivates me to do the same. So that’s what I’m trying to do. I want other soldiers out there to know that they don’t have to be silent--they don’t have to be depressed. I want them to know that they can resist.
I think the biggest part the antiwar movement can play in the struggle is keeping the resistance out there, so that more people know about it. This is what groups such as Texans for Peace, Nonmilitary Options for Youth and the International Socialist Organization, that I met while in Austin, are doing.