An Open Letter to U.S. Troops in Afghanistan and Iraq
by Stan Goff
I was a soldier for most of the time between 1970 and 1996. I signed out on my retirement from 3rd Special Forces in Ft. Bragg. I had also served in 7th Special Forces, on three Ranger assignments, with Delta for almost four years, as a Cavalry Scout for a while, and in the 82nd Airborne Division as an infantryman. I started my career in Vietnam with the 173rd Airborne Brigade.
I thugged around in eight different places in East Asia, Latin America and Africa, where I pointed guns at people. Like you, I was an instrument of American foreign policies—policies controlled, then as now, by the rich. In the course of that career, I heard everything you have heard and felt everything you have felt about “loyalty.” Tricky thing, loyalty.
when I talk with some of you, or when I hear conversations recorded with you,
I hear many who have very serious reservations about these wars of occupation.
I had more than reservations from the get-go about Iraq and Afghanistan, and
I opposed them as hard as I could. So did millions of other people around the
But that brain-dead piece of shit in the White House who is legally your boss,
and all his handlers—starting with Vice President Dick “Halliburton”
Cheney—sent you to do this thing anyway.
They talked themselves into believing this would be—and these are their
words—a “cakewalk.” They surrounded themselves exclusively
with others who echoed what was already in their minds; and they punished and
vilified and isolated anyone who told them what they didn’t want to hear.
Because they made up their minds to conduct these invasions years ago, and with
the attacks of September 11—in which Iraq’s role was exactly nothing—they
figured now was their chance to conduct the re-disposition of the old Cold War
military into their new plan to build permanent bases in Southwest Asia.
Since they’d made up their minds, they didn’t want to hear anything
except rosy scenarios for their plans, because these reptile-minded, preppy
gangsters are like spoiled children who can’t abide anyone fucking up
their toy-emperor fantasies.
But when those fantasies did get fucked up—by the realities they ran so
hard to escape—they continued to pursue their grim agenda in spite of
the mounting consequences, because they don’t pay those consequences.
If I had my way, we would issue the whole shriveled, manicured lot of them their
assault rifles, put them aboard an Air Force transport, tighten the leg straps
on their static line parachutes, and boot their sorry asses out from 800 feet
right over the middle of Ramadi, where they could drop their harnesses in the
street and explain democracy to the locals.
that’s just ranting, because I do so despise them. I hate people who get
away with shit just because they have money and power. And I hate people who
sacrifice the lives of others to amplify or protect that power.
But I’m not telling you anything. You all already know by now what generation
after generation has learned the hard way. When the rich start their wars, it’s
not the rich that get sent to fight them. Yeah, a few go get their time as part
of putting together a political career, but we know who does the heavy lifting.
And in these conversations that many of you have with me and thousands of other
people, we hear you say more and more often now that you know this war is wrong,
but that you have to “do your job,” because you are loyal to your
buddies; because you feel that you have to back them up; and because if you
don’t go, someone else will have to. And I respect that sentiment.
But I have to challenge this loyalty thing, and I do it out of respect for you,
because I care about you and because my own son is back there for his second
A young friend of mine, Patrick Resta, who recently returned from Iraq, and
who is now a member of an organization called Iraq Veterans Against the War,
recently told me, “My platoon sergeant tried to get us to violate the
Geneva Convention, and when we resisted, he threatened us with punishment. He
told us that the Geneva Convention doesn’t exist in Iraq, and that is
in writing at the Brigade level.”
You all know that this is bullshit, and if you didn’t know, let me give
you a news flash about some—not all, but some—military lifers, and
this is coming from a military lifer. Some of them are dumber than dog shit.
Some of them say things when they don’t have the foggiest fucking idea
what they are talking about. Some of them will say any goddamn thing to get
you to do what they want you to do.
But then again, there was a memorandum that came down that suggested the Geneva
Conventions were void in Iraq. It didn’t come from the Brigade level,
though; it came from fucking George W. Bush’s office. And it’s a
lie. That’s why they sat there in front of Congress before they made the
author of that memo into the Attorney General of the United States—get
your head around that—and denied that they meant it.
it is a lie.
You do not have to follow illegal orders ever, under any circumstances, and
you are bound by International Law. You should also be bound by what you know
is right, by your sense of plain, common decency.
One of the ways they will get you to do things that you will not want to live
with for the rest of your lives is to impose that group-think on you. If one
of us is guilty, we are all guilty. And “what happens in Iraq ,stays in
Iraq.” This is one of the many ways they take that buddy-to-buddy loyalty
and twist it into a way to control you, even when they are trying to get you
to violate the law and not only the formal law, but to violate what you know
is right, to violate your own conscience and jeopardize your own peace of mind
for the rest of your life.
And I’m telling you that you do not owe them or anyone else that kind
They know that many of you know that you were sent to do this thing for a pack
of lies about weapons of mass destruction and mushroom clouds over New York
City and phony al Qaeda connections (and then when that fell apart, you were
there to deliver democracy at gunpoint). So they know that many of you can’t
stay committed to this violent occupation out of loyalty to that gang of thugs
in Washington D.C., who are busy every day at home undermining the same Constitution
you swore to protect (from all enemies foreign and domestic).
They know that you know that plenty of the officers are out there trying to
get new fruit-salad medals on their Class-A uniforms, and bucking for promotion—by
risking your asses on pointless glory patrols. So they know that they can’t
rely on your loyalty to the chain of command any more, either.
Where do they have to go with this, then, after all? What do they tell you?
“You get out there on that Humvee, and face those IEDs together, as loyal
“You get out there and ransack people’s houses in the middle of
the night, and make their babies cry together, as buddies.”
“You get out there and set up a road block without Arabic signs or interpreters
and get put into that situation where you are tense and don’t know, and
you shoot up that car and kill parents in front of their children, and you have
to live with that for the rest of your lives together, because you are loyal
“You get out there and lose life, limb, or eyesight and face mental and
physical ailments for the rest of your lives together, as an act of loyalty
to your buddies.”
the pressure you have on you today. Cover your buddies, and for some of you,
go to Iraq so someone else doesn’t take your place.
But let’s look at the bigger picture here, and for that I’ll take
you back to Vietnam, before many of you were born. We heard this same bullshit
then. Almost verbatim. And do you know what one of the main contributing factors
was for getting us out of that war?
We quit being good soldiers.
The United States military got to the point where it was no longer an effective
fighting force because U.S. soldiers quit taking orders. It got to the point
where an officer who was using his men’s bodies to chase medals might
find himself on the wrong end of a Claymore mine. Now I’m not advocating
that again, and I hope we can stop this before it goes that far.
The other thing many soldiers did was to become part of the political resistance
at home. They looked at this question of looking out for their buddies and for
fellow soldiers in the short term, while staying in a barbaric and immoral war.
And they realized that the best thing they could do for their buddies—not
as soldiers, but as human beings—was to enlist in the opposition to the
war and bring it to an end.
In the process, many of them discovered that it took a lot more endurance and
a lot more courage to oppose the war than it did to demonstrate that macho bullshit
they were expected to display as they continued to do terrible things to those
other human beings whose country they occupied.
Here’s how you can exercise a deeper loyalty to the troops there now,
and to all those who will continue to go as long as this obscenity continues:
everything you can to stop the war.
Question every order, and base those questions on the Geneva Conventions and
the Law of Land Warfare. Let them see you keeping a detailed journal of your
experience. Send your stories home in letters. Open up discussions about the
legitimacy of the war when you are in your billets, even if it does spark controversy.
Spread information you get about the war from sources other than those loud-mouthed
news-mannequins on FOX. And e-mail or mail your anonymous membership in to Iraq
Veterans Against the War. The link is at the end of this letter.
The day this war stops and they put the last of you on an airplane home is when
you will never again have to smell that fresh-blood smell that stays in your
head for hours after you’ve loaded someone onto a stretcher or rolled
them into that big Ziploc bag. The day will come when you all pull out, because
this was a losing proposition from the outset, but Bush and his crew were too
fucking stupid to know it.
The best thing we can hope for is that this war of occupation will end sooner
than later, and as an exercise of loyalty to your own conscience, of loyalty
to those who are there and those who may go there, and loyalty to the principle
of human decency, you can find ways to hasten that day. You can find ways to
bring closer the day when the Iraqis can get on about the business of taking
control of their own destiny, and you and your buddies can sleep in security
and comfort in your own homes, play with your children, make love with your
partners, and walk down familiar streets unencumbered by the rattling luggage
If bringing this day closer for all of you is the goal, how much more loyal
can you get?
Yours for walking unencumbered,
U.S. Army (Retired)
Goff is the author of “Hideous Dream: A Soldier’s Memoir of the
US Invasion of Haiti” (Soft Skull Press, 2000), “Full Spectrum Disorder”
(Soft Skull Press, 2003) and “Sex & War” which will be released
approximately in December of 2005. He is retired from the United States Army.
His blog is at StanGoff.com.
Goff can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
I encourage troops to show this to other troops. I encourage family members
of troops to print it out and send it to them in letters, or to paste it into
e-mails. I encourage troops and family members who are on military reservations
to make copies and place them everywhere you can think of.
Websites of interest to troops and their families: