“There’s an Incredible Mismatch Between Military Doctrine And The Situation That Actually Exists There Right Now” – A Conversation With Two Fathers of Soldiers Deployed in Iraq

StoryNovember 26, 2003
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We speak with Vietnam veteran Sean Dougherty who is traveling to Iraq this week on a delegation organized by Global Exchange and Stan Goff who retired from the Army Special Forces seven years ago. Both of them have children serving in Iraq. [Includes transcript]

The Washington Post is reporting that for just the third time, President Bush met Monday with families of soldiers who died in Iraq. He has yet to attend any funerals of the 431 troops who have died in Iraq although at least 40 of the funerals took place just at Arlington National Cemetery, four miles from the White House. In addition to those killed, up to 9,000 soldiers have been wounded since the beginning of the invasion. A senior Army officer has told the New York Times that the Army is planning to keep about 100,000 U.S. troops in Iraq until at least 2006.

  • Sean Dougherty, Vietnam veteran whose 24-year-old daughter Kelly is serving in Iraq. He is traveling to Iraq this week on a delegation organized by Global Exchange. He is speaking to us from San Francisco.
  • Stan Goff, author of Hideous Dream: A Soldier’s Memoir of the US Invasion of Haiti and of the upcoming book Full Spectrum Disorder. He joined the Armed Forces in 1970 and retired in 1996 from the US Army, from 3rd Special Forces. He speaks to us from Raleigh, NC.
    Read Stan Goff’s Open Letter to GIs in Iraq
  • Medea Benjamin, founding Director of Global Exchange and organizer with CodePink and Occupation Watch.

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

AMY GOODMAN: As we turn, Medea, to a trip you will be taking of families of those who are now in Iraq. US servicemen and women. You can describe the trip as we turn to Sean Doherty, Vietnam veteran whose 24-year-old daughter is now serving in Iraq and Stan Goff, author of Hideous Dream, A US Soldier’s Memory of the Invasion of Haiti, also his child is in Iraq. MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, we have an amazing group of ten people going with us. Seven of them are family members with loved ones either serving in Iraq right now, or who have had their family members killed serving in Iraq. And the other three are Vietnam vets or vets of the Gulf War. Pretty remarkable that we were able to put this kind of group together given the pressure that some of these people are now getting not to go on the trip. But we are determined to leave. We’re going on Saturday. We will be in Baghdad until December 9, and then he we have plans while we are there, we have asked to meet with the head of the US civilian authority, Paul Bremer. We have asked to meet with the head of the military, who has already said he won’t meet with us. But most importantly, probably for the people who are going on this trip is, one, to meet with the troops, and two, to meet with ordinary Iraqis and get a sense of what is really going on there and what are some real possible solutions to the mess that the Bush administration has gotten us into.

AMY GOODMAN: Sean Doherty, you’re a Vietnam vet. Your 24-year-old daughter is in Iraq. Can you tell us what she has been communicating to you? Has she been writing?

SEAN DOHERTY: Yes. She is — she has been writing me on a regular basis. One of the things that she said in one of her letters quite a while back, she said that, well, I thought I was going home in May and then it was July, and now it’s August, and — well, I guess I’ll just keep on liberating the Iraqis from the tyranny of their oil while Americans back home can drive their yellow Hummers and fly the American flag to show support for their troops. What irony. She — she has to cope, you know, with a lot of stress. I mean, she went over there with the mistaken assumption she was only going to be there for perhaps four or five months, and now it’s stretching into nine.

AMY GOODMAN: How old is she?


AMY GOODMAN: Stan Goff, you have a son in the Gulf?


AMY GOODMAN: How old is he?

STAN GOFF: He’s 20.

AMY GOODMAN: What have you heard from him?

STAN GOFF: He has access to email, fortunately, so about three times a week, we have been from him, sometimes with a phone call and sometimes with emails. So, we get a good snapshot on Ramadi, at least. Yeah. He’s a pretty apolitical kid, but he said they don’t need to be there. I mean — that’s the sense especially of a lot of support troops. Many of them are sitting around idle right now because of the just incredible mismatch between military doctrine and the situation that actually exists there right now.

AMY GOODMAN: Stan Goff, you have circulated an open letter to GIs. You yourself have served for many years. You were a special forces. You were in a number of places around world. What are you saying to GIs in this country?

STAN GOFF: Well, one of the things that we have really wanted to sort of push as a message into Iraq right now is this thing goes on, there are going to be some changes in the personalities of the people who are involved. Particularly the combat troops who are actually experiencing combat and involved in, you know some of the more horrendous things that we have sort of heard about through the press. And PTSD is not the least of these. Post traumatic stress disorder can manifest itself in a lot of ways, occasionally in ways that appear to be very sociopathic. This is an experience that a lot of Vietnam veterans remember, the difficulty adapting to the feelings that people have associated with guilt over things that they did under peer pressure and command pressure while they were in theater. We’re just really encouraging people to keep that in the front of their minds while they’re over there. That was what the open letter to the GIs was about, was hold onto your humanity. There’s a terrible cost that you pay as an occupier for executing what some people try to portray to you as your duty against the occupied. It’s not just — it’s not just collateral damage among the civilian population, but there’s collateral damage that gets sent back home. Families become collateral damage when the folks come back, and they can’t get their heads around the experience that they have been involved in, and a lot of times they have done things themselves that they have to live with for the rest of their lives, so, we’re trying to preempt that a little bit and tell people, “you do not have to follow illegal orders. You cannot be required to hate Iraqis. Be careful not to buy into the inevitable racism that grows up around the situation of occupation”. So, you know, that’s — that’s our main message right now. Hold onto humanity and beware that you don’t drift into things that are clearly illegal.

AMY GOODMAN: Sean Doherty, your daughter came home for two weeks for a break. Did she have to pay for her flight to come home?

SEAN DOHERTY: Yes, she did.

AMY GOODMAN: Soldiers have to pay to come home?

SEAN DOHERTY: Yeah. Apparently they’ll fly them to Cleveland, but that doesn’t do them any good, because, for one time they don’t get ahead of time notice, so that the ticket is 24-hour notice type ticket. And she felt that it would cost — she — someone told her it would apparently cost her as much or more if she was flown to Cleveland and then had to pay her way to San Francisco, so, she simply purchased her ticket in Kuwait and flew from there.

AMY GOODMAN: You encouraged her not to return?


AMY GOODMAN: Would that be going AWOL?

SEAN DOHERTY: She is my daughter. I don’t want to see her in harm’s way. It’s a pretty basic thing with me, you know? I was in Vietnam. I know what a waste that was. I talked to a lawyer with Military Families Speak Out, and he advised me and her both that if you are already in the military, you have no civilian representation. You are not tried in a civilian court. Therefore, you are pretty much out of luck. And — so, of course, it was her decision to make, you know. And not mine. And of course, she didn’t want to be a fugitive from justice, and she is — if she comes out of this, okay, you know, she only has one semester remaining in college and hopefully a bright future ahead of her.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Sean Doherty and Stan Goff, I hope to continue to talk to you as your children remain in the Gulf. Sean Doherty, Vietnam vet, 24-year-old daughter, Kelly is in the Gulf, and Stan Goff’s son is in Iraq. If you want a copy of the program, call 1-800-881-2359.

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