The Guardian August 4, 2004


GI Rights Hotline answers soldiers' calls

Denise Winebrenner Edwards

The reality of war has the phones ringing. As the death toll of 
US forces since the start of the war rose to 900 this week, and 
the Bush administration's rationale for war lies shredded by the 
truth, military personnel have been contacting a loosely-knit 
network of dozens of conscientious objectors (CO) groups, known 
as the GI Rights Hotline, to find a way off the front lines.

"We get thousands of calls per month", soft-spoken hotline 
volunteer Bill Galvin told the People's Weekly World. "The sharp 
spike began about two weeks before the invasion of Iraq and has 
only increased. We have had to bring on new counsellors to meet 
the volume", he said.

"Mostly, callers are soldiers who have been part of or witnessed 
something repulsive in either Afghanistan or Iraq. Most have 
served their tour and received orders to return. Many say that 
they would rather go to jail than go back to Iraq", he said.

Military personnel in their late teens and early 20s, first-term 
enlistees, are the largest group calling the hotline. But career 
GIs and officers also call. "In 2003, we had a cadet from West 
Point call", Galvin said.

In the early '70s Galvin was a CO during the Vietnam War and 
never looked back. His 30 years of experience honestly and 
successfully counselling military personnel on their rights, 
including CO status, brings a ring of balance and confidence.

The estimated 200,000 young people who join a branch of the 
military each year are less about flag waving and more about 
food, rent and college tuition. This volunteer army has been 
called the "poverty draft".

Recent stories of two working-class women, one African American 
and one white, offer a glimpse of economic reality. Shoshana 
Johnson from Midland, Texas, and Jessica Lynch, from Palestine, 
West Virginia, were part of a March 23, 2003, ambush in Iraq 
which took the life of Lori Piestewa, the first Native American 
Indian woman killed in military service to the United States. 
Johnson and Lynch joined the Army looking for a future, for a 
job.

"Young people join today for money for college or their community 
offers no opportunities", Galvin said.

Canada is not the alternative it was during the Vietnam era, 
Galvin emphasised. "If you get caught with 'illegal' status, you 
are handed over directly to US officials", he said. Currently, 
two soldiers are seeking asylum in Canada.

In Boston, Charlie Richardson, of Military Families Speak Out, 
demands that loved ones be taken out of harm's way  now. 
Richardson, whose son is a Marine, although not currently 
stationed in Iraq, was not surprised by the US Senate report, 
released July 9, which said Bush's justification for war was a 
lie.

"We were saying that all along", he told the World by phone.

And to those who say, "We created this mess, we have to clean it 
up", Richardson replies: "Occupation is the problem, not the 
solution. Military occupation does not stabilise Iraq nor 
strengthen the country. We need to get our troops out and send in 
resources to rebuild. We will keep speaking out until it's over. 
Really over."

Galvin and Richardson know war up close and personal. It is not 
an applause line, nor cheap rhetoric. To these men, it is real.

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People's Weekly World

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