One Soldier's Story on Memorial Day
By Garett Reppenhagen
The Progressive

Thursday 25 May 2006

Memorial Day is a painful reminder of our failed mission in Iraq.

Like every solider in today's armed forces, I chose to serve my country. I knew I'd most likely see combat, and I accepted that possibility as part of my duty to my country.

I was proud of my service as a peacekeeper in Kosovo, and honored to have served beside so many courageous men and women in Iraq.

During my time in Iraq, I saw the effects of war firsthand - the ravaged buildings, the lives horribly cut short and the haunted look of trauma that lingers in people's eyes.

I saw the fear, the sadness, the abject tragedy that even now I can't find words for. What I saw in Iraq will haunt me for the rest of my life.

My experiences there changed my view of this war. Before I was deployed, I - like many other Americans - thought that military intervention was the only way to protect America's security. But after I spent some time in Iraq, I came to question our reason for being there. I came to realize that this war is not making America a safer place.

If anything, it's made us less safe than before.

And as the conflict slides into civil war, the safety of the men, women and children of Iraq falls deeper into jeopardy. The Bush administration now forecasts a US military presence in Iraq through 2008, which is far longer than the initial estimates touted so loudly in the run-up to the war.

Meanwhile, it's become increasingly apparent to many Americans that, in Iraq, a military solution is no solution at all. According to a March 2006 Gallup poll, 60 percent of Americans view the war in Iraq as a mistake.

The past three years of war in Iraq have cost us too much - in resources and, most tragically, in human lives. More than 2,440 US soldiers have been killed to date, among them a number of my friends. In addition, countless thousands of Iraqi civilians have also lost their lives in this conflict.

As the death toll rises each day, I wonder how much more we can afford. How high must these numbers go before we decide that staying the course is far too expensive?

I don't pretend to speak for all veterans, or for all US soldiers. But as someone who served in Iraq, I believe that it's now my duty to bear witness. As Americans, we have a duty to voice our dissent, to stand up in protest when we disagree with our government's actions.

And despite what some may say, the fact that America is at war does not diminish this responsibility. If anything, war enhances the need for engaging in debate. Dissent is what makes democracy live and breathe. It's what keeps our democracy from being more than just another slogan.

On this Memorial Day, I dissent.

Garett Reppenhagen is a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War and former sniper 1st Infantry division. Garett most recently took part in the opening of a traveling memorial in remembrance of Iraq civilian casualties on display at the National Mall in Washington, DC, sponsored by the Quaker social justice organization, the American Friends Service Committee. He can be reached at