This Open Letter From A US Soldier Exposes The Ugly Truth Of The ‘War On Terror’
An open letter originally published by Tom’s Dispatch reveals the heartbreaking reality experienced by the men and women charged with conducting America’s felonious “War on Terror.”
The letter is penned by Rory Fanning, who walked across the United States for the Pat Tillman Foundation in 2008–2009, following two deployments to Afghanistan with the 2nd Army Ranger Battalion. Fanning became a conscientious objector after his second tour. He is the author of the new book Worth Fighting For: An Army Ranger’s Journey Out of the Military and Across America.
In his letter, he writes to the ‘Aspiring Army Ranger’ with a warning before they are “sent off to fight in the Global War on Terror.” A war, which in his opinion, should never have been waged.
“When I signed up for the military, I was hoping to make a better world. Instead I helped make it more dangerous.
Your job should be to end war, not perpetuate it. Never forget that.”
He begins with intentions. Why does a person enter the military?
“I imagine you’re entering the military for the same reason just about everyone volunteers: it felt like your only option. Maybe it was money, or a judge, or a need for a rite of passage, or the end of athletic stardom. Maybe you still believe that the U.S. is fighting for freedom and democracy around the world and in existential danger from “the terrorists.” Maybe it seems like the only reasonable thing to do: defend our country against terrorism.
The media has been a powerful propaganda tool when it comes to promoting that image, despite the fact that, as a civilian, you were more likely to be killed by a toddler than a terrorist. I trust you don’t want regrets when you’re older and that you commendably want to do something meaningful with your life. I’m sure you hope to be the best at something. That’s why you signed up to be a Ranger.”
Whatever the intention, Fanning argues, you will not be serving it in this military. You will join in the 14th year of a ‘war’ which has resulted in 668 US military bases worldwide. You will be a part of perpetuating a state of permanent war in the world, with a new enemy conjured before each battle is even over.
“The difficult-to-keep-track-of enemies you will be sent after — whether al-Qaeda (“central,” al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, in the Magreb, etc.), or the Taliban, or al-Shabab in Somalia, or ISIS (aka ISIL, or the Islamic State), or Iran, or the al-Nusra Front, or Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria. Admittedly, it’s a little hard to keep a reasonable scorecard. Are the Shia or the Sunnis our allies? Is it Islam we’re at war with? Are we against ISIS or the Assad regime or both of them?”
And the worst part, you will begin to learn that the US has a key role in creating the very regimes and groups they are paying you to attack.
“…ever since this country’s first Afghan War in the 1980s (that spurred the formation of the original al-Qaeda), our foreign and military policies have played a crucial role in creating those you will be sent to fight.
Our military operations around the world — and soon that will mean you — have produced all kinds of blowback. Thought about a certain way, I was being sent out in 2002 to respond to the blowback created by the first Afghan War and you’re about to be sent out to deal with the blowback created by my version of the second one.”
I’m writing this letter in the hope that offering you a little of my own story might help frame the bigger picture for you.
Fanning reflects on his arrival on base, and being asked why he was there:
“I responded hesitantly, ‘Umm, I want to help prevent another 9/11, First Sergeant.’ It must have sounded almost like a question.”
The Platoon Sergeant’s reply?
“There is only one answer to what I just asked you, son. That is: you want to feel the warm red blood of your enemy run down your knife blade.”
Fanning goes on to explain that at the heart of the military-mindset is a fundamental racism. A hatred that drives the at times criminal actions we have witnessed thanks to whistle-blowers like Chelsea Manning.
“The soldiers in my unit just assumed that the mission of the small band of people who took down the Twin Towers and put a hole in the Pentagon could be applied to any religious person among the more than 1.6 billion Muslims on this planet. The platoon sergeant would soon help usher me into group-blame mode with that “enemy.” I was to be taught instrumental aggression. The pain caused by 9/11 was to be tied to the everyday group dynamics of our unit. This is how they would get me to fight effectively. I was about to be cut off from my previous life and psychological manipulation of a radical sort would be involved. This is something you should prepare yourself for.
When you start hearing the same type of language from your chain-of-command in its attempt to dehumanize the people you are off to fight, remember that 93% of all Muslims condemned the attacks on 9/11. And those who sympathized claimed they feared a U.S. occupation and cited political not religious reasons for their support.”
After all, George W. Bush said early on (and then never repeated), the war on terror was indeed imagined in the highest of places as a “crusade.” A crusade which saw the development of the drone program.
A recent study by the Stanford and New York University Law Schools revealed that there have been 49 civilian deaths for every ‘known terrorist’ killed by drone attacks in Pakistan – that means just 2% of more than 3,000 Pakistani people killed by drone attacks have any evidence or suspicion against them. On the ground with the rangers, things were achingly similar.
“Believe me, it was ugly. We were often enough targeting innocent people based on bad intelligence and in some cases even seizing Afghans who had actually pledged allegiance to the U.S. mission.”
Fanning ends his letter with a simple appeal to the aspiring rangers of today: don’t do it.
“I’m writing to you especially because I just want you to know that it’s not too late to change your mind. I did. I became a war resister after my second deployment in Afghanistan for all the reasons I mention above. I finally unpacked, so to speak. Leaving the military was one of the most difficult but rewarding experiences of my life. My own goal is to take what I learned in the military and bring it to high school and college students as a kind of counter-recruiter. There’s so much work to be done, given the 10,000 military recruiters in the U.S. working with an almost $700 million advertising budget. After all, kids do need to hear both sides.
I hope this letter is a jumping off point for you. And if, by any chance, you haven’t signed that Option 40 contract yet, you don’t have to. You can be an effective counter-recruiter without being an ex-military guy. Young people across this country desperately need your energy, your desire to be the best, your pursuit of meaning. Don’t waste it in Iraq or Afghanistan or Yemen or Somalia or anywhere else the Global War on Terror is likely to send you.”
One cannot underestimate what it took Fanning to move from a committed US military operative, to a conscientious objector. The Chelsea Mannings, Edward Snowdens and Rory Fannings of the world are the canaries in the mine, warning of the dangers. We ignore them at our peril.