By Aaron Blevins, 1/17/2013
Wars are winding down, but many issues still remain
From a spacious but dimly-lit office just north of Koreatown, Michael Prysner and his organization, March Forward!, continue the anti-war efforts under the umbrella of the ANSWER Coalition.
While anti-war sentiments have largely subsided since President Barack Obama took office in 2008, service members are still in harm’s way, fighting a war that makes less and less sense, Prysner said.
“And that’s what’s happening today,” he said. “Thousands of soldiers are seeing the reality, and support for the Afghanistan War within the military today is low. In fact, over seventy percent of U.S. service members want the Afghanistan War to end immediately. Most won’t even be able to explain why we’re there.”
Prysner joined the U.S. Army at the age of 17, and has denounced the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since leaving the military in 2005. He had been assigned to the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum in New York, and his company took part in the initial invasion in Iraq.
He had volunteered to enter the military and go to Iraq, having been “inundated” with the U.S. justification of the invasion — the Iraqi people needed the U.S. intervention, and the military needed to stop the potential use of weapons of mass destruction.
“These are things that I believed as a teenage soldier, who was being a good soldier,” Prysner said. “But once I was in Iraq, it became very obvious that the justifications we were given were just flat-out lies. And then the moral questions started.”
Prysner was active in protesting the wars after his service, yet he didn’t create March Forward! until 2009, when a group of ANSWER members who were active duty service members and veterans decided to organize, he said.
Prysner said the “troop surge” in Afghanistan has been reduced, but March Forward! is still trying to build enough resistance to the war to end it completely. The organization visits military bases in hopes of persuading soldiers to resist deployment by filing as conscientious objectors and seeking an honorable discharge.
“We know that the biggest thing we can contribute to ending the war is building a movement inside the military that’s against the war,” Prysner said. “This actually has a rich history in the U.S. military, in particular with the Vietnam War, where soldiers themselves refusing to fight was the decisive factor in ending the war. And that’s what we’re trying to do today.”
The organization helps soldiers who have gone AWOL or are trying to file as conscientious objectors, he said. One March Forward! member, who was in drone operations, became a conscientious objector and will be honorably discharged this month, which Prysner said was a “huge” victory for the organization.
“You don’t have to go get your legs blown off or kill another person,” he said. “You have the option to not do it and get an honorable discharge and still retain all your benefits.”
But it isn’t easy. Some who choose this route become ostracized and criticized, but not all. Prysner said one Iraq War veteran refused to go to Afghanistan, and his entire unit supported him.
“For others in different situations, it can be a very scary thing. It can be a very daunting thing,” he said, adding that it doesn’t compare to getting injured or harming others.
Prysner said the military command staff does not attempt to thwart the organization’s efforts, as it does not want anti-war sentiments to catch on among a group of soldiers.
“They’re used to service members being subservient, following the worst orders — the stupidest orders — without question,” he said.
While March Forward! does visit colleges and high schools, such as Hollywood High School, to tell potential recruits about their combat experience, many soldiers don’t understand their duties until they’re at war, he said.
“Recruiters lie — a lot,” Prysner said. “That’s basically their job. Young people joining really don’t have an idea of what they’re going to do, and they’re being told flat-out lies about what they will be doing and how it’s going to help them in life after they get out of the military. So we do a lot of work trying to stop young people from going into the military, but the reality is, it’s a terrible economy and it’s really the only option for a lot of people.”
Furthermore, March Forward! lobbies for soldiers’ rights, especially for the proper treatment and diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder. Prysner said the group has done a lot of work at Fort Lewis in Washington.
“We actually had over 300 misdiagnoses overturned,” he said, adding that the group also exposed two cases of neglect, in which soldiers who killed themselves were denied treatment. Prysner said that for the last three years, suicides have outpaced combat deaths for U.S. troops.
Also at Fort Lewis, March Forward! ended a unit lockdown that started because of some lost equipment, he said. Prysner said the company had been detained while the search for the missing equipment was ongoing, but organizers had the lockdown lifted after voicing their disapproval with the lack of concern about the soldiers’ rights.
He said March Forward! has also been working with the legal team for Bradley Manning, a soldier who is facing a prison term after leaking confidential military documents to WikiLeaks. One of the leaked videos, coined “Collateral Murder” by WikiLeaks, showed U.S. soldiers in a military helicopter mistaking Reuters journalists for enemies. Several people died, including individuals who may have been armed, but the helicopter also fired upon a van that stopped to aid the wounded. The van was reportedly occupied by a father and his two children, who were wounded.
The over-arching missions of March Forward! and, in some respects, the ANSWER Coalition is to implement a culture change within the U.S. military and within American society.
Instead of spending billions of dollars on controversial U.S. occupations, the entities would like to see that funding funneled into social programs and other services, such as veterans services, he said.
In the interim, March Forward! plans to have “quick reaction demonstrations” to oppose any U.S. aggression toward other countries, while connecting war fronts to social issues, Prsyner said.
“I am encouraged by what we’ve seen over the last couple of years. …The vast majority of people, especially young people, know that something is wrong,” he added
For information, visit www.answerla.org or www.answercoalition.org/march-forward.