In an Echo of Vietnam Protests, Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan Throw Back Medals During the Chicago NATO Protests


Via The Guardian, here's April 23, 1971 where hundreds of classic hippie-looking folks who were once fighting in Vietnam threw back their medals from that war and did things like call those medals "a bunch of bullshit." One said, "I got a purple heart here and I hope I get another one fighting these motherfuckers."

And here is Sunday in Chicago where a more diverse group (at least, there were multiple ladies, though a few mothers apparently joined in the '71 protest in honor of their deceased sons) of around 50 veterans who repeated that symbolic gesture. They threw their medals earned in Afghanistan and Iraq back in the general direction of NATO. Some apologized to the people of those countries as they did so. One said "I don't want any part of this anymore. I chose human life over war, militarism and imperialism."

The protesters included Iraq War veteran Scott Olsen who was famously injured last October during the Occupy Oakland protests. Olsen was hit in the head with a tear gas canister that was possibly purposefully aimed at him by police, leaving him with a traumatic brain injury. Olsen once thought he was doing good as a soldier, but "I came back to reality," he said before throwing his medals. "I don't want these anymore."

There are plenty of reasons to scorn most protesters, and Reason has aimed a fairly critical eye towards the Occupy movement of late. But there's being wrong on economics, and then there is this same story of veterans making that "not easy decision" after years of souring towards, what this vet referred to as "the most important experience of your entire life." Indeed, how hard it must be "to say that I was wrong." 

Back in 1917, gifted British soldier and poet, as well as victim of shellshock Siegfried Sassoon was thought to have thrown his Military Cross into the Mersey River. Turns out he may have only thrown the ribbon, though he definitely expressed his anger at what "the war to end all wars" had turned into. He was nearly court martialed for it.

Though they chose to join the military as well, these men and women have seen actual wars. So the fact that they are protesting rings a little more true than most shows of in the streets, marching outrage. A 180 turnabout always cuts a little deeper than a professional agitator does. Vets who go rogue-hippie (and some of the 2012 ones look so similar to the ones from '71, hippie-beards and sorrowful anger and all) are more than weekend radicals advocating for Fidel Castro, or frees stuff, or any of the usual offenders and parades of naive pests who show up at every protest.

Veterans were told, as we all are to greater and lesser degree by the propaganda in the air, that the best thing you can do is to join the military. Their feeling of betrayal, that they ended up on different missions than ones of liberation or freedom like they were promised, is palpable. Like cops in Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, these soldiers should be listened to because they have been in the thick of what they now despise. And then they get abandoned by the bureaucratic mess that is the military, to deal with their nasty mental health problems, leading to more of them committing suicide than have been killed in Afghanistan and Iraq.

At least these folks are not basing their disapproval of the wars on who is in the White House. 

Obama discussed on Monday, the last day of the summit, that in 2014 the Afghanis will have to run their own country. Except that just means that American troops will be "largely" withdrawn. The Afghan armed forces will have help "training" for another ten years after that. A May A.P. poll noted that 66 percent of Americans now disapprove of the war in Afghanistan, suggesting that these medal-tossing vets are not entirely alone.

And it's not like everything is all fixed up in Iraq, either, now that the U.S. is all gone. Except for that embassy, that is.

Reason on the anti-war movement and on Occupy, And Reason.tv on "What Happened to the Anti-War Movement?"