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2008-04-22

A Soldier’s Peace: Iraq War Vet Walks 500 Miles Across Native Utah to Call for Troop Withdrawal

Guests

Sgt. Marshall Thompson, Iraq war veteran and military journalist. In October 2006, he walked 500 miles across Utah to protest the Iraq war. A documentary about his journey, produced with his wife Kristen Thompson, is called A Soldier’s Peace.

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Army reservist Sergeant Marshall Thompson spent a year in Iraq working as a military journalist. He reported from across Iraq, interviewing thousands of US soldiers. In October 2006, Sgt. Thompson walked the entire 500 miles across his native state of Utah to protest the war and call for a withdrawal of US troops. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN:

From Pentagon pundits who dominated the airwaves with pro-war views, we turn now to one Iraq war vet who spread his pro-peace message with an extraordinary campaign on the ground. Army Reservist, Sergeant Marshall Thompson, spent a year in Iraq working as a military journalist. He reported from across Iraq interviewing thousands of US soldiers. In October 2006, Sergeant Thompson walked the entire 500 miles across his native state of Utah to protest the war and call for withdrawal of US troops. It took him twenty-seven days. Marshall Thompson joins us here now in Salt Lake City. We welcome you to Democracy Now!

SGT. MARSHALL THOMPSON:

Well, thanks a lot.

AMY GOODMAN:

It’s great to see you here again. Last time we were in Salt Lake, we also talked to you, but you had not begun your journey across the state. Tell us why you chose to do this.

SGT. MARSHALL THOMPSON:

Well, one, it’s my home state, and it was also kind of — in my mind, it was the last bastion of support for the Iraq war. We had the highest approval ratings for Bush and for the war, and we’ve often been called the reddest state in the nation. So I thought this would be the best place to do a protest and take — you know, to change people’s minds.

AMY GOODMAN:

I wanted to play an excerpt of the documentary about your journey called A Soldier’s Peace, which you’ve made along with your wife Kristen Thompson. You faced a threat from the Utah state authorities even before you had taken one step of your 500-mile walk. This is an excerpt where you try to contact the Utah Department of Transportation.

    SGT. MARSHALL THOMPSON:

    But you told me that I would be arrested if I tried to walk.

    I can’t believe that.

    But what if someone’s walking on the highway and you don’t know why they’re walking? Can you just arrest them and check?

    He says that I can’t walk down the sidewalk by myself, because I have a reason for walking on the sidewalk.

    What I’d like you to do is, could you tell your superiors that they can’t just arbitrarily decide to make me get an insurance policy when other people don’t have to.

    I am so annoyed.

    But — oh, I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I know it’s just your job. You’re just doing your job.

    Part of me just wants to like walk, because — you know, try and arrest me.

    KRISTEN THOMPSON:

    Yeah.

    SGT. MARSHALL THOMPSON:

    Seriously, you arrest me? I don’t know if [inaudible] be arrested.

    Can you believe it, in America, somebody gets arrested for walking down the street?

AMY GOODMAN:

Explain what happened, Marshall Thompson.

SGT. MARSHALL THOMPSON:

Well, it was just completely bizarre. We had been getting permits for every stage of the walk, and we talked with — we talked with all the authorities, and they had said, “Oh, you don’t need a permit to walk on the highway as a protest.” We didn’t think so, but we thought, let’s get that in writing. And then they started asking questions, and when they found out it was a peace walk, they said, “No, no, no. You’re going to have to get this $1 million insurance policy.” And we didn’t have that kind of money, and no insurance company would cover us. And so, we were really frustrated. That was an incredibly frustrating moment for me.

AMY GOODMAN:

Your wife’s father, as a lawyer, contacted the ACLU?

SGT. MARSHALL THOMPSON:

Mm-hmm, that’s right. He got a hold of the ACLU, and they wrote a brief, and they got us a lot of help. And the Attorney General of Utah responded and said, “OK, you can walk on the street without being arrested.”

AMY GOODMAN:

Well, Marshall, I wanted to play a clip from your film. As you walked across Utah, you encountered many hundreds of supporters, some pro-war counter-protesters, as well. This is a scene from day one of the walk.

    SGT. MARSHALL THOMPSON:

    There is a change in tide in America, and you’re part of it today. We’re sending a mandate from the people to the government of the United States and to the representatives of Utah, especially, that Utah does not support war, we support peace. And we support a plan for Iraq. Thank you.

    We have this wonderful display from Eyes Wide Open. There’s one pair of boots for every National Guard member who died in Iraq. This includes the Utah soldiers who have died. There’s also fifty children’s shoes, representing the fifty civilians who died for every one US soldier. This war needs to become real to the American people. The military is at war, America is not. And that needs to change.

    SUPPORTER: I guess I’m here because my dad is a Vietnam vet, and the way the war affected him made for, in some cases, a violent childhood in my house. And so, I hope that this will be a place for some sense of unity about finding another way.

    SUPPORTER: I see this as being like Gandhi’s walk, his walk to the sea. This is a big deal. And the small things, you know, you see in a conservative community like this, a turnout like you did today, this is only going to get bigger as it goes down to Salt Lake, and I would imagine by the time that it gets to St. George, this will be nationwide. I know it will be.

    SUPPORTER: I think it will call attention to the fact that a lot of people feel —

AMY GOODMAN:

Finally, after 496 miles, Marshall Thompson came to his twenty-seventh and ultimately last day on his walk across Utah. In this clip, he reaches the Arizona border surrounded by supporters.

    SGT. MARSHALL THOMPSON:

    As I neared the border, I was excited. I mean, this is like the end of the walk, and we did it, despite all the challenges.

    Nobody believed that Utah would support peace this much, and it has. So, let all those people back in Washington, D.C., let all the hawks and warmongers know that Utah supports peace. And that is a wonderful victory.

    I kind of got caught up in the victory feeling.

    Right now, it feels like a wonderful victory. I made it 500 miles. And it’s thanks to all you and to my family and all the wonderful people who have helped me, to Doug, who’s walked almost every inch of it with me. I have never been prouder to be a Utahan than right now. It’s a wonderful thing. Thanks.

AMY GOODMAN:

Sergeant Marshall Thompson, on the last day of his 500-mile walk across his native state of Utah, known as the reddest state in the nation. We’re here broadcasting from Salt Lake City. Marshall, that was when? November?

SGT. MARSHALL THOMPSON:

That was November 1st, 2006.

AMY GOODMAN:

And it is now, well, well over a year since that time. What has been the effect of your walk?

SGT. MARSHALL THOMPSON:

Well, you know, it’s always hard to say with a protest, but Utah has finally — the public opinion polls show Utah has shifted like the rest of the nation, and now the majority of Utahans do not support the war. So that feels really good to have been a part of that.

AMY GOODMAN:

Sergeant Marshall Thompson, thank you for joining us. We will continue to follow his journey. We are here in Salt Lake City.

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