“I saw the destroyed villages, I saw lives destroyed by what happened there and by what people did”
U.S.M.C. Lance Corporal Mike Hoffman participated in the invasion stage of the Iraq war and is now a member of Philadelphia Veterans for Peace. He spoke to Traveling Soldier’s Tom Barton at the March 20th rally in Fayetteville, N.C. at Fort Bragg, home of the 82nd Airborne.Barton: You were in the armed forces, Marine Corps, is that correct?
B: What was your specialty and unit?
H: I was an artilleryman, and I was part of Romeo Battery Fifth Marines detached to 11th Marines for the war in Iraq.
B: What was your time in Iraq, when were you there? H: I crossed into Iraq March 20th along with the rest of the invasion force and I left Iraq approximately May 1st.
B: Now to prepare you for Iraq, I understand you had a sergeant who gave you some information about what the war was about.
H: While we were still in Camp Lejeune our first sergeant, who is the highest enlisted member of our unit, came up in front of the battery – it was just enlisted, all the officers had gone away. And he told us what his view of the war was. He says “we’re not going there because of weapons of mass destruction, we’re not going there to get rid of Saddam Hussein or install democracy, we’re going there for one reason alone, and that’s oil.” But, after that, he went on to tell us that we also would go not simply because we were told to but it was because our friends were going over there and we had an obligation to them to make sure that everyone came home in one piece.
B: Now, I know from what you’ve said in the past that even before you went you had some questions about the war. What I’m wondering is this: how the actual experience of being there influenced your opinion?
H: It really added a great deal of resolution to my ideas because after being there I saw what it really meant. I saw the destroyed villages, I saw guys there with lives taken on both sides and lives destroyed by what happened there and by what people did over there.
B: I understand from what I see in the press that they’re planning to send some of the units back to Iraq who have already been there, including Marines on the west coast?
H: West coast is already back in there. First Marine Division was the Marine fighting force in Iraq for the initial invasion and a little while afterwards. I think most of them were back home by August. Those forces are right now back in Iraq patrolling the western area of the country.
B: Do you have any idea at all how they feel about that?
H: They’re upset and they’re pissed as anyone would be. You spent your time over there, and next thing you know, just about six months later you’re back in the fire.
B: The media have reported that since the 3rd Infantry Division really raised hell about not going home, there’s been a clamp down that soldiers are not free to express opinions against the war. Does this apply to Marines also?
H: It applies to everyone. There was a clamp down before that happened. They told us what we could and couldn’t say to the media and the media was told what they could and couldn’t report. And on top of that there was an unspoken pressure on everyone not to say the wrong thing. We all knew what the wrong thing was – anything critical of war or about what we thought was happening over there. Even though I’m out of the military when I came back to Fayetteville last night, even though I wasn’t stationed here, there’s another military town literally less than half an hour from where I was stationed, which is almost the exact same place. Even though I know I’m the military and I’m not part of it anymore, I still felt that pressure again just being here. Especially when it’s so fresh it’s really something hard to fight against.
B: Would you say from your own experience and others you’ve talked to that feelings among the rank-and-file of the armed forces are more or less or about the same in their criticism of the war – is it increasing or decreasing?
H: It’s definitely increasing as the length of the occupation goes on ‘cuz they don’t see themselves getting anywhere. They’re doing things almost like something they heard about in Vietnam where in Vietnam guys would go on patrol and they’d sit outside of the base and they’d make false radio reports. Instead, you’ve got guys who are sent on patrol and instead of a real patrol they jump in a humvee and drive through town as fast as possible to avoid any kind of confrontation. And that’s not the point of a patrol. On a patrol you’re trying to find intelligence, you’re trying to make some difference there. These guys are just trying to get through without getting killed.
B: There’s two different opinions about what soldiers opposed to the war should do. There’s one opinion that more or less says: you should stand up and raise your hand and say to your commanding officer “sir, I have a moral objection to this war and I will not fire upon the enemy.” And then there are others who lean towards the Vietnam model where people very quietly and carefully organized networks to oppose the war before standing up. I mean they didn’t do Kamikaze stuff. What’s your opinion on that?
H: I think it’s going to take a lot of both. Just like in the civil rights movement you had Martin Luther King who was organizing and doing the peaceful route and but back then you had guys like Malcolm X who were really the fanatics and going at it and threatening violence. So you’re going to need both sides, you’re going to need the guys who will just stand up out of nowhere and say “I’m not doing this” and you’re going to need the other people organizing underneath it. B: Now since you’ve come back, what have you been doing in the way of activity to reach out to other soldiers or civilians?
H: Mostly civilians just because of where I’m located, Philadelphia, there’s not a large military presence there any more. But every chance I get I’m attending rallies, speaking out, I’ve been going to a lot of colleges. It’s a great place to speak because a lot of the returning reservists are going back to school and a lot of the guys who are just getting released from active-duty are going to school also, so you’re reaching them there. Basically it’s just taking every opportunity – whether being at a rally or sitting next to someone at a bar – to get the message across.
B: New York City Vets for Peace has been talking about reaching out to soldiers at reserve meetings because they’re about to be sent over to Iraq and try to inform about the soldiers and veterans against the war. You think that would be useful?
H: I think that would be very good thing. On the military bases you’re constantly hearing about Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion, but you never hear about Veterans for Peace, Vietnam Veterans Against the War, and those organizations. And those organizations need to make their presence heard. I found out about Veterans for Peace just on a fluke, it was a chance. And it’s being a great thing for me. We need to do everything we can to make our presence known in the military.
B: Now if someone were interested in inviting you to speak, and it’s understood that you’re not a rich man so you need your transportation covered, how should they get in touch?
H: The best way is either to call me – there a lot of people who have my number – or they can reach me by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
B: Thank you very very much.
H: No problem.