Thursday, April 23, 2009
Matthis Chiroux: Confessions of a War Resister
Yesterday was a great victory for me, the entire peace movement and for troops and civilians all over the world. I faced the military for my refusal to deploy to Iraq, and I walked away a free man with a general discharge from the Army’s Individual Ready Reserve.
This does not affect my discharge from Active Duty Service, however, which is the term of enlistment from which my G.I. Bill does derive. My benefits are mine, and I will use them to attain education, as all people have the right to do and should not have to fight in any armies to realize.
The hearing was attended by my three JAG attorneys, my civilian representation, James Branham, Prof. Marjorie Cohn, the President of the National Lawyers Guild, and my mother Patricia, both of whom testified on my behalf. The hearing was also attended by Mike McPherson, Executive Director of Veterans for Peace, Bill Ramsey, of St. Louis Instead of War, and Alexandra, by beloved.
My eyes were glued to the board the whole time. I looked those officers in the eyes, and I could see the humanity in each of them. I don’t know if they agreed with me, but there was humanity, and their hearts and minds were open.
The prosecution, or literally ‘government,’ opened by reading a list of when they sent me the call-up, when I contacted them in Feb. 2008 and asked for a delay to finish a semester of school I had just paid $4,500 for. They tracked when they issued me several delay orders until the final orders were issued for June 15th. They tracked when they sent me several failure to appear notices and when they finally initiated the discharge process against me.
After this, they showed the youtube video of my refusal to deploy after Winter Soldier on the Hill. They followed it by a portion of my speech from Fathers Day, the day I was supposed to report, and then a Democracy Now interview I did the day after.
They questioned a young Captain about the paperwork process, and then they called me to testify.
I thought I’d be more nervous than I was, but I very much felt relieved. You know, there’s all kinds of nifty ways to communicate now-a-days, and maybe call me old fashioned, but there’s nothing like looking someone in the eyes and telling them what’s in your soul. And I bared it for them.
I told them I believe that the war is illegal, and that as a Soldier, I thought it was my responsibility to resist it. I told them I was originally planning on deploying, despite my belief that the war is illegal, but that after I was exposed to Winter Soldier, Iraq and Afghanistan, I found clarity, and I found courage.
We later submitted the Winter Soldier book, as well the IVAW-produced Warrior Writers book to the record as exhibits that I believe can be referenced by future IRR boards, at least in the Army, which would take place in the same building as my hearing did.
When asked why I thought the war was unconstitutional, I pulled from my back pocket my Constitution. I opened it and told them I’d read from Article 6, Paragraph 2, the Supremacy Clause. The ‘government’ objected immediately, insisting the document was irrelevant.
After much deliberation, the lead council of the board, a civilian lawyer, shut down debate and said the board wouldn’t hear the constitution, and that questioning should continue.
So I said fine, I can just quote it, and I quoted, “this Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land.”
I said when we violated the U.N. Charter to invade Iraq and Afghanistan, when we systematically defy the international laws of war to wage occupation, we violate U.S. Law and the Constitution, and that it is every Soldiers’ responsibility to resists the crimes of our Government for which we are ultimately responsible.
I focused upon the eyes of each board member as I spoke. I told them I was there because they needed to know that we are not cowards, and we are not traitors, we are people who are dedicated to doing what’s right beyond any measure.
Startlingly, they stared back at me with no disgust in their eyes. They heard me, and they considered what I said, and they did not threaten, nor did they smile. They listened, and I beared my soul with no fear of persecution. And I felt so relieved, as every word rolled off my tongue. I felt a world of weight lifted from me. I suddenly felt the solidarity of millions there in the room with me.
And not just from now, or from the people demonstrating outside the hearing, but since the beginning of organized warfare. Military resistence has been heralded for millennia by the premier scholars, poets, philosophers, scientists and spiritual leaders of humanity.
I thought of Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian citizen who refused to fight in Hitler’s army. His head was removed after every chance was given him by the authorities to accept some duty, even if without a weapon.
I thought of those brave G.I.’s in Vietnam who stood against the system, who worked to prevent the victimization of their brothers and sisters by resisting the continued genocide. Many went to jail. One was shot and killed while trying to escape.
I thought of my brothers and sisters in IVAW. Those who realize the humanity in us all deserves to be respected beyond what the military trained us to think. We are sacred; we are beautiful. We are not killers, we are women and men of dignity and justice.
The ‘government’ tried to rattle me by asking if I’d have objected to simply taking photos, and I told him any act to support an illegal war, from the front lines to a state-side base, was a violation of the Oath of Enlistment.
I took my leave of the witness chair feeling satisfied that everything I had come to say and do had been done, and then Marjorie Cohn walked in!
Prof. Cohn gave the most thorough, detailed, understandable and spot-on breakdown of the illegalities of the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan I’ve ever heard. She focused on the U.N. Charter, the Geneva Conventions, the Nuremburg Tribunals, U.S. Federal and Constitutional law and the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
She spoke with elegance and grace about some very hard subjects, and when the ‘government’ asked if she thought every Soldier in the Army who had deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan or supported the occupations from the states were a party to war crimes, she answered honestly.
Marjorie will always be a hero to me, as well Kathleen Gilberd of the NLG, who has provided me priceless council and support since the earliest stages of my resistance.
After we broke for lunch, my mother was given a chance to testify, during which she nearly broke my “military bearing” when she recounted the last thing I said to her in July of 2002 before I got out of the car to catch a ride to basic training: “I have to go be a grown-up now.” I had no real idea what I was being led in to.
My mother told them how much she loves me and that I am a man of honor. She said I am kind and principled, and that I take everything I do very seriously. She told them I am not selfish, nor am I vain. She said that I had sacrificed much to be there and that she was ever so proud of me.
My mother has always been my hero for reasons only she and I could ever understand. I love you, Mama.
The closing arguments were laid out. The ‘government’ accused me of trying simply to get attention for myself so that I could launch a career in politics. They said I didn’t care about the law, that I just wanted to get out of doing my duty, and that they should give me a dishonorable discharge as a result.
My lead JAG attorney told a story of his father, a retired sergeant major. He said he was shocked to learn one day that his father supported Mohammad Ali’s decision to refuse deployment to Vietnam, despite the fact that he had done two tours himself.
His father told him that he disagreed with Ali’s decision but had respect for any man who would stand up for what he believed in and be held accountable by his own will. His father told him this is what it means to be honorable. “Sgt. Chiroux is an honorable man,” said John Adams. “He could have stayed home. He’s here. He’s a man of honor. He deserves an honorable discharge.”
With this, we were sent off for the board to deliberate. Upon our return I stood as the decision was read.
The Army found me guilty of misconduct for refusing to deploy to Iraq, but recommended I only be discharged from the reserves with a general discharge under honorable conditions.
I left the building with the biggest smile I’ve had for years. I feel truly vindicated, in more ways than one. My ass is mine, and so is my soul. I’m not guilty of misconduct, but that board is human and bound to make mistakes. Perhaps it’s a decision than can be overturned in time. But they got the overall principle right. My refusal was not an act that falls outside of honorable conditions.
Which brings me to Winter Soldier, St. Louis, which occurred later that afternoon. I’ve been hesitant for years to talk about certain details of my military service, and my life prior to the military. The time finally came that I felt I could share, and IVAW was there, and so was the town of St. Louis.
On the afternoon of April 21st, 2009, I, Matthis Chiroux, did confess to a number of secrets that I had not made broadly known to the public before this date, but I brought forward at Winter Soldier (of which video will follow as soon as it’s processed).
I confessed to having been physically abused by my father from a young age until 13 and emotionally abused until well after. I confessed to having had extensive problems with the authorities in Alabama beginning after I smoked my first joint at age 16.
I told the world that before I graduated high school, I had been incarcerated for nearly six months over several periods of time in juvenile prison, correctional boot camp and a state-run drug rehabilitation facility for minors. My crime: The possession of one eighth of a GRAM of marijuana and a pipe in the middle of the woods, or as they put it, private property.
I confessed that upon graduating high-school, I was kicked out of my house and did move into a tent in the woods near the center of town, and that shortly after, I did sell a small amount of psychedelic mushrooms I had gathered from a cow field to a few friends and to my step-brother for food money. My step brother returned home to be caught by my father under the influence and did inform him that I was the source.
As a result, I was brought into the courthouse, specifically before my probation officer, where I first met Sgt. Whitetree, the man who would put me in the Army. I was threatened with serious prosecution, though the state had no physical evidence against me. I was told I could be looking at 10 to 20 years in “big boy pound you in the ass prison,” as Sgt. Whitetree put it, or I could enlist for a term in the Army.
While I believed I could beat the charges, I saw myself as a young man with very few options by design. I agreed to enlist, but I spent the weekend in jail anyway.
It almost felt like home sweet home at that point. I’d been on that same block so many times before, and this time, I was staring into a system that I at least thought could surely be no worse than where I was coming from. I was mistaken.
Before I was released from custody Monday morning, the Judge presiding in Lee County, Judge Richard Lane, willfully back-dated my release from probation 30 days so that I could proceed directly to the recruiting station and sign my butt into the Army.
After signing initial papers and attaining waivers for my juvenile marijuana conviction, and before heading to MEPS for the first time, Sgt. Whitetree bought me a system flushing drink so that I would not test positive for marijuana on my initial drug test to get into the Army. At every step it was made totally clear to me that should I choose not to enlist in the military, I would face charges stemming from the incident with my step-brother.
What happened to me was illegal, and I am not alone. I am living proof we do not have an all-volunteer Army, and I’ve met countless throughout my time in the military that could tell similar to identical tales. And if not forced by the police, then because they saw themselves on a destructive path and were in fact seeking a way out similar to me. Or those who really just wanted to go to college, which should be a basic human right for all anyway. Or those with mouths to feed other than their own. Or those who just never knew any other way. Or those who were lied to and told they would serve freedom and justice.
War is not a natural state for man. We are propelled to war and destructiveness in all forms by forces which seem beyond our control; that reach into our lives and move us to some drastic end. That is why in a truly just society, war would not exist. But when the sacrifice of war becomes less than the sacrifice of life, we must look at ourselves and ask, “what have we created?”
I confessed, I was tortured by the Army, as are we all. We are beaten down, we are brutalized and dehumanized in all forms, physically, emotionally and sexually. We are taught that human life is cheap, and that all things burn if you get them hot enough. We are taught where and how to stab bayonets into people, we are taught to kill from great distances using bullets and bombs, we are taught that napalm sticks to kids.
We were taught that people from the middle east were Haji’s, Sand Niggers and Rag Heads, and that terrorists were going to kill our families if we didn’t go kill them and theirs first. We were taught that civilians could never understand and should never be trusted. We were taught the “Army family” was all we had.
We were taught that woman were objects, and were to be treated like objects, and though we had cute little classes about sexual harassment and racial sensitivity, the practice of male chauvinism and exploitation of women was rampant, especially in Japan and the Philippines, which I believe to be indicative of racism in the military toward non-whites.
I confessed that while I was stationed overseas four and a half years, I saw rampant prostitution on and around military bases. I confessed that my conscience is not clean of this disgusting act. Twice in Japan, I solicited prostitutes with fellow members of my unit. These were acts not only meant to make us feel powerful as men and Americans, they were to bond us together as a unit that works together, plays together, eats together and even ‘fucks’ together.
I’m happy to say on both these occasions my conscience got the better of me and I could not produce an erection. For fifty dollars each time, I was supposed to have sex with those women, and instead I asked them to rub my back for the half- hour while I listened to my comrades on the other side of hanging sheets defile the miracle of life.
I’ll never forget on the second occasion the piercing, painful and sustained scream of one women being taken on by my comrade whose name I will not share. After ferocious laughter erupted from his throat, he said in a very matter of fact kind of way, “she doesn’t like it up the ass!”
I remember laughing because I couldn’t believe what was going on. I knew something was wrong, but it’s like I didn’t know I was supposed to care. As long as it wasn’t me doing it or receiving it, I felt free to giggle away. These were prostitutes, I was taught, and they were there to service us as men, even if it was just to rub my back because I couldn’t ‘get it up,’ which is a fact I did not share with my comrades out of shame. Little did I know it was evidence to be proud of, that even when my mind forgot what is right and wrong, my body did not, or not in Japan, anyway.
The first of the two prostitutes I did have sex with was in the Philippines. This act has haunted my conscience for years. It continues to haunt me even now. Even though I have publically confessed it and asked for the forgiveness of all who I treated like objects, including my those former girlfriends of mine who I was unfaithful to in all of these acts.
After weeks of working in the Joint Information Bureau with American and Philippine military personal in Puerto Princesa, the officers of the operation decided they wanted to reward us for a job well done. I was told to put on civilian clothes and meet in front of our building immediately following work.
At the time we had orders not to leave the base unless under armed guard by Philippine Soldiers as there were rebel forces in the area likely to target American forces if given the opportunity. So we were met by a squad of armed Soldiers with a military vehicle which we rode in off base to a local disco.
Upon arrival, the armed soldiers took up post in front of the door, and I was given beer and invited to display my dancing moves to my comrades and the women present in the club. When one came up to me and started dancing, I thought nothing too fishy of it. A Philippine officer came over and put his hand on my shoulder. He asked me if I thought the girl was pretty, and I said yes and continued dancing.
This officer, after a few more minutes of observing, whistled to a woman behind the bar and pointed at the girls me and the other Americans were dancing with. He made the international sign for money and he pointed toward the vehicle. It was then that I knew, I had just been purchased a human being.
Our armed escort drove me, two other enlisted guys and the officers to a collection of one-room bungalows that was the hotel. Each troop retired to a bungalow with a woman, and soon, the sounds of men having their way with women filled the damp night air.
I sat in my bungalow with a young girl, who couldn’t speak a word of English, which is strange for people from the Philippines, which makes me believe this young girl was a victim of human trafficking. She was obviously frightened that I would push myself on her in some violent way, which made me feel sick and uneasy.
To ease my churning stomach and scared heart and her as well, I began teaching the girl English. I thought her to say “how are you,” and “I am 18.” I taught her to say “Love” and “I have to pee,” when she did so in a bucket in the back of the room. I then kissed her, because I wanted to, and she kissed me back.
I left the room, when I heard my comrades talking outside under the palm trees in dark. They were drinking from a bottle of whisky and talking about the sex they just had with “their” women. And they were talking with the officers, who had also had their way with several women. When they asked me what I had done, I told them I taught the girl to speak a little English, and that I’d watched her pee in a bucket and kissed her, but that was about it.
They laughed and told me I was a nice boy, but that they hadn’t paid for the woman so that I could teach her English. They said if I didn’t go back inside and “be a man” with that girl, they’d be offended. In one moment, I felt every ounce of not only my manhood questioned, but also my main mission of “fostering positive relations with Philippine counterparts.”
I went back inside the bungalow, and I had sex with a person who I treated like an object. But I did it, and will forever feel violated for it. I had unprotected sex with a woman who’s only purpose in being with me was money that she may not have even been receiving. I broke her heart, and I broke my own. I sold out on my manhood that night.
When it was done I wanted to hug her, but I could tell she wanted to lie nowhere close to me. She didn’t love me, she didn’t want to be with me. We had defiled a beautiful act of creation and intimacy without ever having taken any responsibility for ourselves. I felt as though I had raped her. I felt as though I had raped myself.
But we did it, and it was what it was. We didn’t stand near to each other after that, though she sat with me in the front seat of the van as we took the women back to the disco. I vaguely remember someone in the car commenting that they’d never “pissed in a whore’s ass before,” before a very angry woman started screaming in Tagalog. I was so ashamed. I couldn’t hold her hand. I could barely hold the contents of my own stomach. I knew I had done wrong, and it killed every relationship I had from that point forward.
I couldn’t come to grips with myself as a man after that. I couldn’t feel like a sacred thing, anymore. We’re all miracles; burning, walking miracles, but we cover ourselves in thick robes of guilt, isolation and despair, and we forget to see the spiritual wholeness and actualization of a human being as sacred, as it is, as we are. And if we did, we wouldn’t do things like I did, we wouldn’t do things like we do, and like what’s still being done by our good boys and girls in untenable situations.
But this followed me, and I took it to Germany where one evening while I was out in Frankfurt with a Major and a former Provost Marshal (like the chief of the military police), I found myself in a legal, medically-approved brothel where I did have sex with a Columbian girl. Almost immediately after we started, however, I snapped out of what felt like a haze and told her I really wanted to leave and that I’d pay her the money anyway. I knew I didn’t want to be there. I realized I was just trying to impress some Major who turned out was actually trying to hit on me, though I was a little slow on the uptake at the time.
I apologize from the bottom of my heart to the women I’ve hurt as a result of my sexual dehumanization. This includes every one of my girlfriends while in the Army, all of whom I cheated on when they got too close to my heart, and I broke many of their hearts in doing so. This includes my girlfriend, my love, Alexandra, who has stood so bravely and non-judgmentally by me during these revelations. My apology includes my mother and my sister, both of whom I know will be hurt by this information that I refuse to conceal anymore. This includes every woman who reads this horrible testament to the truth of sexuality in the U.S. military. This includes every woman who has ever been sexually preyed upon by U.S. troops in countries all over the planet. This includes every woman, every where, those who hate me and those who love me. Those who will never know my story. I’m sorry for the wrong I have done to womankind. I am not the careless, heartless, thoughtless and highly-trained boy I once was. My heart weeps everyday for the wrong I have done in this world.
Since I left the Army in August of 2007, I have struggled severely with Depression, probably due to post-traumatic stress. In fact, the night before I returned from Germany to Brooklyn not really knowing what I was going to do, I confessed to my then girlfriend that I was having suicidal feelings. I confessed to her that I had an image of myself blowing the back of my skull out with a .45 that I could not get out of my head. This would become somewhat of a recurring image to me, as I struggled to get my feet under me in Brooklyn.
Even with my freedom, I was struggling, and I didn’t know why. I wondered why I didn’t want to talk to people or get to know anyone at my school. I couldn’t figure out why no matter how much weed I smoked, or other shit I dabbled in, I couldn’t find peace of mind. I was on the road to being a student, which is all I thought about, all those years in the military, and yet I was crashing in on myself, and that damn .45 kept going off in my mouth!
And then I got my call-up orders for Iraq, and I disappeared into my room for days and days upon end. I felt so trapped. So cornered, and I had nowhere to turn. I had no family in New York, one of my only friend was struggling with PTSD herself from two deployments in Iraq, and all she could talk about was wanting to go back. I felt doomed, and I broke into pieces. That’s the closest I’ve ever come to suicide, and my greatest fear to this day is that I will die by my own hand.
But then I found IVAW, and slowly started peeling off my blankets of guilt and isolation. And with every blanket I shed, I found the strength to shed a few more and a few more. And now I stand before the world today, a free man, free of the military, free of his secrets, free to be whoever I choose to be.
And I choose to be a good man. I choose to be one who sees all women and men as created equal, and as equally miraculous in this universe of ordered chaos and deserving of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness through all means which have been withheld from us. I feel great remorse for the wrong that I have done but will WORK to make right those things I HAVE made wrong.
I felt like a coward for years in the military because I knew what we were doing was wrong, but I simply couldn’t find the legs to stand against it. Conformity was valued above all else, and though for years the quote above my desk read, “Whoso wouldst be a man must be a non-conformist,” those words never really took root before this past year.
I will not conform to war crimes. I will not confirm to sexism, racism and homophobia. I will not conform to injustice nor ignorance. I will not be silenced by fear. I will share my life, for better or for worse, like an open book, for people are not meant to live in shame. We are meant to live proud and free as individuals of principle and courage. But even people of principle and courage are wrong sometimes, and when we can realize it, apologize if necessary, and confess that which we are ashamed of, we can know peace, both in our hearts and in our world.
I’m sorry for the wrong I have done and forgive the wrong that has been done me. I will learn from my mistakes and live as a man of conscience. I will love without limit and share all I have with those who need and may not even know it. I will be humble until the end of my days and thankful for all that I have, including a woman who loves me despite all of these things and who IS the love of my life and has set me free more than she’ll ever understand. And she was at my hearing, and she was my cornerstone. I love you Alexandra like I’ve never before been capable of feeling.
But I will struggle. I will struggle until all my brothers and sisters all over the world are free from militarization and imperialism. I will struggle to see the end of Racism, Sexism, Homophobia and the commodification of the human body in all forms. I will struggle to see that our planet is left to our Grandchildren in FAR better shape than it was left to us. I will struggle to free the world of economic inequality. I will struggle to prevent any more war resisters from being jailed by the military and for the freedom of those who are currently incarcerated. I’m looking at you, Robin Long (among MANY others)!!! You’re still a hero of conscience and we can’t wait for your return to freedom!!!
The battle is won, but the war is FAR from over. Please continue to struggle to end our illegal occupations and horrible practices all over the world, from Iraq to Japan to the Philippines! The U.S. military must be brought home in its entirety and reformed into a force for purely national defense and not murder, rape, torture and war!
We are not bad people. We are not war criminals. We are the victims of lies, brutality, dehumanization and exploitation. We know the true war criminals by their hoards of bloody money and oil barrels overflowing with the tears of Iraqis, Afghans and servicemembers world-wide who have had their lives stripped from them by these criminal occupations and policies.
And that is why I’m releasing the remainder of my legal defense fund, I believe around $2,000, as well I’m turning over the remainder of the money I’ve collected from my website, just over four hundred dollars which represents nearly half of the money which has been donated to me through my paypal since I started it last summer, to Iraq Veterans Against the War.
IVAW represents the voices of conscience for an entire generation of Americans, and really our entire society. We, the Winter Soldiers of the War on Terror, who will speak our truths, no matter what the personal cost, and stand our ground no matter what adversity we may face, and reflect openly and honestly upon ourselves, we represent hope for this nation.
In South Africa after Apartheid fell, truth and reconciliation commissions were set up to investigate crimes committed by both Apartheid forces and rebel forces. To bring about witnesses to reveal crimes which they participated in or knew about, the commission had to grant amnesty to a large number of people who testified to things not greatly different than we do.
And we risk everything to come forward and are asking for NOTHING but an ear to hear us, and the means to carry on, and the willingness to know the truths of our government’s policies. And it lays so many of us so very low, as we struggle in a society that would rather shut our real histories, us, who we are, out, for a lie, one big murderous soul-sucking lie.
Well we’re done taking it, we’re done being victims, and we are organizing a victory, for truth, for the people of Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, for our nation in distress, for the people of the world who we have treated like dispensable objects for too long! For the troops, who languish and grow further away from us while our nation worries about paying rent! For the veterans, who are sleeping homeless on the streets and stuck with the image of a gun in their mouth, or with the sounds of screaming babies. For the women, who are first and most being made the victims of these policies and occupations, and for the female Soldiers in Iraq, don’t ever forget that THIS IS NOT NORMAL!!! And for the Muslim people in the United States who have languished in this climate of racism and hate. We are sorry! Your liberation is most important to us!
IVAW represents hope for all these people, and it represented hope for me, when I needed it most, and it continues to represent so much hope to me. We are going to end this war and we need the support right now folks, more than ever, and we need your energy as we move into Spring and Summer.
We are strong, and we are determined. We acknowledge there are still illegal occupations being waged, and human rights violations occurring at the hands of Americans world wide, and we pledge to bear witness to the truth and nature of our experiences to bring about change from the front lines of the real struggle, right here at home.
May we stir now with the coming Spring and blossom hope for all the world to see. Hope in acknowledging we’ve done and are doing wrong, taking responsibility for ourselves by halting the wrong from occurring and seeking the forgiveness and to offer healing to those we know we’ve hurt.
Onward with the struggle, forever!