1st Gulf War, I was there

This "Getting it Write" is excerpted from a radio interview Gulf War vet Andrew McGuffin. It was conducted by Anti-war (micro) Radio Berkeley during Operation Desert Fox.

My name is Andrew McGuffin and I was in the Marine Corps during the Gulf War. I joined in 1990 and deployed with 2nd Battalion 7th Marines in August of '90 to the Persian Gulf. I guess at that time being a young man of 21 years I had a different set of beliefs that I was operating under. I bought the hype of what my recruiter was telling me and what the government was telling me about why we were there and all these good ideas about how we had to get rid of this tyrant who used chemical- biological weapons against Iran and against the Kurds. I thought we really were there to restore democracy to Kuwait and that was the farthest thing from the truth. There is no democracy in Kuwait. There was no democracy in Kuwait and what we did essentially was go in there to further the interests of multinational corporations. What I saw there was not what my friends and neighbors saw on CNN but rather a genocide. It's hard to describe precisely what that is in any way that would make one understand. Certainly the talk, the euphemisms that we use, the collateral damage, the surgical attack, were anything but. There was wholesale burning, we used weapons like Foo-gas to light the so-called enemy on fire. We used conventional weapons, B-52's which are certainly a weapon of mass destruction, we used napalm and DPICM an explosive round which cracks like popcorn on the ground. People who wanted to surrender were killed sometimes so we wouldn't be slowed up in our attack into Kuwait City. It was just wholesale slaughter and I participated in that, much to my regret.

There comes a time when one realizes what war is and certainly the rhetoric coming out of DC is just a further insult to gunboat diplomacy and the dollar diplomacy we've had in this country since the inception of our country a couple hundred years ago. It's a sad thing, but the thing that sticks in my mind today about the protest [He participated in that day. -- Ed.] was that there was a united front of many different people and organizations there and that we marched together and that across the nation in 42 other cities there were people out and about saying that they did not believe the bombing was an appropriate action. That we have no right to drop bombs on people to try and convince them not to be violent, it's hypocritical, the foreign policy is short-sighted and it's wrong and there is no way to morally justify it. Madeleine Albright has tried to justify it, but once you see the bombs coming down and once you know the harm that that's inflicting upon people, whether they are men, women or children, it's morally reprehensible. I guess I was really excited to be out there today on the other side of the issue. The last time, I was telling my friend, I was on CNN, a couple of years ago, I was on there attacking an airfield called al-Jumuhuriya outside of Kuwait City, and we were on CNN. And I am proud that recently I was on CNN again taking part in the protest today on the other side of the issue. It really does my heart good and helps me to heal a lot to know that I am on the right side this time instead of the side of violence and cynicism and fighting for interests which aren't our own. I don't think any of the interests that we're fighting for over there are the interests of the people in this country or the people of Iraq. It's just there is no way to justify it.

It is hard to talk about my combat experience because it is really heart breaking stuff. It not only broke my heart but it broke my spirit to see what we were doing and to participate in that. The survival skills I turned on... I was saying at the protest that it is a scarlet letter that I carry on my chest, probably for the rest of my days, but the methods that I used to cope with the things I was doing were racism and dehumanization. Calling Arabs sand-niggers or ragheads or all these reprehensible terms that we use to dehumanize people, that we use to make them look like they are not human. Like we are not actually killing human beings. But when you are face-to-face with people who have been bombed incessantly day after day, morning noon and night for a month. And then these people are so desperate to surrender that they walk across mine fields to come to you and some of them are blown to bits by their own mines, by their own people so that they can not fight anymore. It is absolutely heart wrenching. Some of our commanders, even when people wanted to surrender, so that we wouldn't be slowed up, they would go ahead and drop artillery rounds on them. There were a lot, a lot of burnt people there, that is what sticks out most in my mind is the burnt bodies, and the smell of burning people, and the fires from the oil wells hundreds of feet in the air.

When my unit Task Force Grizzly, 2nd Bat, 7th Marines went into Kuwait February 21st of 1991 I was mortified, I didn't think that I would come back alive. In fact we were expecting 70 or 80% casualties. So we were in Kuwait prior to the ground war actually starting to breech mine fields a number of obstacle belts of mine fields and fire trenches and concertine barbed wire and so-on and so-forth with enemy on the other side. People just like me who were sent there by their government and didn't really know what they were there for and we killed those people with FA-18's and F-15 fighters, we killed them with artillery rounds, we killed them with Foo-gas, with napalm with AD-10's, with just about every weapon that we have at our disposal. And the United States has a multitude, a plethora of weapons to use against people. As I was saying before these are not surgical weapons. When you see people burning like on the Highway of Death [The Road to Basra. -- Ed.] just miles and miles of a traffic jam of smoldering cars and people in and out of those cars on the ground burning, cooking, and that smell and those visions just completely assault you and change the way that you live for the rest of your life.

It's tragic, it's really tragic. It is something that sticks with me to this day and horrifies me, it horrifies me. And I hope that for the rest of my life I will be devoted to furthering the cause of peace so that these things will not continue to happen. To try and also make up for the wrong that I have done, to make up for the damage that I have done against human beings, POW's, or what they called EPW's, that was the new euphemism at the time, enemy prisoners of war. And we take these people and we were brutal with them. We captured them, we beat them, they were Muslim and nonetheless we fed them pork meals, we had no respect for them and it was just really, really heart breaking. It was heart breaking to see them killed by automatic weapons fire, by our automatic weapons fire, people in my unit. Seeing men I had known for six months intimately mutilating bodies or doing other things. And these are things that go on in every war. It is not isolated to the Balkans or to the Vietnam War or any other war. Every war these things go on and we need to stand up and say enough is enough.

Jeff Paterson [1st Gulf War GI Resister -- Ed.] and I got a real laugh out of how I used to feel about the GI resisters. At the time I felt a lot of hatred towards people like Jeff. And I thought well you know you are a big wuss, and you signed on the line, and you knew what you were getting into, this is the Marine Corps for god-sakes, didn't you expect that if you signed up that there might be a war and you might have to go to it? And I was very angry at people like him, and I thought they were cowardly and it's funny how I look back on that now and I think Jeff had a lot more courage than I did actually, to sit down and say 'I am not going to take part in this.' Because the ridicule and peer pressure against people in the military who decide not to fight is immense and many people decide they are going to fight out of fear rather than out of bravery.

During the Vietnam War, I was reading a book called The Things They Carried and the guy who wrote that book [Tim O'Brien -- Ed.] talked about how he didn't go to Canada out of fear because he was a coward. And he had a moment when he had an epiphany and thought he would go to Canada. But in the end he turned back because he was afraid of what his people would think. He was afraid that his community and his family would reject him. And I had a friend, we were in Saudi Arabia, on August 25 it was my birthday, he shot himself that day so that he wouldn't have to go on fighting. And it saddens me that there is not enough support in this country to say to those military men and women who don't want to continue on, who don't want to fight wars that are unjust, wars that hurt innocent people, there's no support to encourage them to not do that. Like I said, Jeff and I were having a couple of laughs today about the old ideas that I had and how I thought that he was a big wuss. And I saw a picture of Jeff sitting on that airstrip with his gunnery sergeant pulling on his web gear, his field gear, and these other marines yelling at him and trying to get him to go on the plane. And he was sitting there resolutely and I was really proud. I was proud that he did that. It really touched me. And I hope that there's Marines and airmen and airwomen and sailors and soldiers out there today who will not participate in imperialistic war. More war which leads to nowhere except to dollars in the big white male leaders' pockets. These aren't wars which are in any way related to the interests of the American people.

[hotlinked at http://www.calltoconscience.net]

December 1998

refusing to kill