By Matt Howard
Almost 14 years ago, Iraq Veterans Against the War was formed by 8 veterans who had just returned from the criminal invasion of Iraq deeply disturbed by what they had taken part in. These young veterans had an urgent need to tell anyone that would listen that the American people were being lied to. This war was inhumane and not about winning hearts and minds, or even about finding weapons of mass destruction. In the years that followed, our organization grew from a handful of folks to thousands who who were united in their desire to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and build a community of like-minded veterans to take action to end these endless wars. Alongside our elders from previous wars we played a critical role in the anti-war movement by bringing home the costs of war. Inspired by VVAW before us, we held a Winter Soldier hearing on Iraq and Afghanistan, we threw back our medals at the NATO summit in Chicago, and began to organize by doing outreach to soldiers on bases like Fort Hood and letting them know about their right to refuse orders.
As the wars ground on without end—and increasingly ignored by the American people—we realized that our starting point had to change. The wars that we had served in, or in support of, were deeply politicizing for many of us. However, the wars weren't actually the root problems; they were symptoms of something much greater. We understood the root problem was the militarism deeply ingrained in American society, that compelled indiscriminate drone bombings in Afghanistan and MRAP armored vehicles in the streets of Ferguson. The militarism that deployed us to occupations without end, and brought private contractors to the hills of North Dakota to put down the Standing Rock resistance.
That brings us to now. We have shifted our work and our analysis to target militarism at the root. Our mission has expanded, and our name has changed to reflect that. As important as the war in Iraq is to many of us, it doesn't fully represent the diversity of experience of our membership, some who have served in different conflicts and in many different ways since 9/11. We are excited to announce our new name: About Face: Veterans Against the War.
As most readers will know from experience, the drill command about face signifies an abrupt 180 degree turn. That drill movement represents the transformation that has led our members to where we find ourselves today: working to dismantle the militarism we took part in and building deep solidarity with people who bear the heavy weight of militarism in its many shapes. We maintained Veterans Against the War because it describes our members, our continued cause, and because it is a legacy that we know is important to maintain. Our name has changed and our work has deepened but the root of our cause, building a world free of militarism, has not changed. We know that this mission will be difficult and will likely stretch over multiple generations, but we wouldn't be able to take up that mantle if it wasn't for our elders who had paved the way.
Until we insure there are no more Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan wars.
Until we celebrate the last veteran of war.
Matt Howard is the co-director of About Face. He has worked in a number of capacities with About Face: Veterans Against the War (formerly IVAW) over the last seven years from chapter volunteer to communications coordinator. He enlisted in the Marine Corps and served in Iraq twice as a helicopter mechanic where he was politicized by guarding Iraqi laborers. He currently lives in Brooklyn, NY.