say Cantu's promotion shows the military is now so
stressed by the ongoing war it is finding it difficult
to crack down on dissent within the ranks. Few members
of the Armed Forces have made their disgust for the war
in Iraq more public than Ronn Cantu. The 30-year-old Los
Angeles native began speaking out during his second tour
in Iraq, launching an online forum for antiwar GIs at
Soldiersvoices.net, signing petitions against the war,
and giving interviews to major U.S. media outlets while
still stationed in Baghdad.
Now, as a staff sergeant, Cantu says he'll teach the
soldiers under him to follow the Geneva Conventions and
other laws of war.
"There's a lot of soldiers out there who wouldn't
recognise an unlawful order if it bit them on the
behind," he said. "So I'm going to make sure the nine
guys under me are very aware of the laws of armed
conflict. I just want to make sure that they keep their
ethics and moral standards and keep out of trouble
should anything happen." Cantu hopes the soldiers
under his command will behave differently than his unit
did during his first tour in Iraq.
"We had a policy of 'making a statement'," he told IPS.
"If a bomb went off on our convoy, all of the guns would
go off and we'd pretty much just pass punishment on the
area we were in: windows, cars on the side of the road,
farm animals, sheep. It was a revenge thing."
Most service members who speak out are not given the
same treatment Ronn Cantu got. Like Cantu, Former Marine
Corps Segeant Liam Madden signed the Appeal for Redress,
an online petition to Congress from active-duty service
members demanding an immediate withdrawal of all U.S.
troops from Iraq. After co-founding the Appeal, Madden
began holding workshops about the politics of the war on
his base at Quantico, Virginia, bringing down the wrath
of his chain of command.
"Basically, they just gave me a lousy jobs and told all
my peers they were not allowed to talk to Sergeant
Madden," he said. "It was a pretty lonely time."
"All the peers that I had met and become acquainted with
were basically shut off and if any of them were to talk
with me in the barracks or off duty they were very
nervous about it," he added.
Many observers believe the Army is unable to effectively
punish soldiers like Cantu and Madden because it's close
to its breaking point. Last month, top Army officials
told the Senate Armed Services Committee that it is
under serious strain and must reduce the length of
combat tours as soon as possible.
Gen. George Casey, the Army chief of Staff, said, "The
cumulative effects of the last six-plus years at war
have left our Army out of balance."
"There are certainly reasons for the military to
overlook many issues today," said Jeff Paterson, the
project director of Courage to Resist, which helps
troops speak out against the war from within the
military. He says the depleted state of the Army has
military brass increasingly reluctant to expel soldiers
who oppose the war. So people who work within the rules
-- like Sergeant Ronn Cantu -- are promoted.
"In recruiting, they're overlooking whether you have a
high school diploma, they're overlooking whether you
have a criminal history, and once you're in the
military, they're overlooking injuries -- and now
apparently they're even overlooking people who speak out
against the war," Patterson said. "So long as you do
your job, there's a basis for the military to say 'We
need your body in Iraq' regardless of whether we do or
don't like what you're saying."
Cantu's said his superiors told him he was being
promoted because he's served close to 10 years in the
military and has met all training requirements. It's
unclear whether Cantu slipped through the cracks or the
army purposefully overlooked his activist work.
"I was pretty surprised," he told IPS, laughing. "It
doesn't make much sense. I'd say honestly I just slipped
through some bureaucratic cracks."