I want to talk a little about what I learned from my time in Iraq, and how it can help us understand our situation today.
By the time I was 17, there was no one who could tell me that joining the military was not the best thing I could do with my life. I joined shortly after high school, and it was not long before I was living my dream of going to Iraq to free a people from a “brutal dictator” and to bring them democracy. After I arrived, however, it was not long before I realized that everything I had been told, believed, and held as obvious, was simply lies.
I couldn’t tell you exactly how I came to this, but one moment stands out when everything turned upside down. My unit and I were patrolling through the streets of Fallujah, Iraq. Some kids, maybe 15 or 16 years old, took a few shots at us from a rooftop and ran off. I was not much older than them, really—just 18. We took cover in a house, and the realization came over me that I had so much more in common with these kids than I did with anyone who had decided we should be at war.
I came to see that being in Iraq, we were making things worse, not better. We were not making anyone safer. And that the things I had done were going to hurt for a long time. And that the scars I will carry are small in comparison to those of the society we decimated in the Middle East.
As my time in the military came to a close, I started asking myself: For all the blood spilled in Iraq and Afghanistan, did we make anyone’s lives better? For all the money spent did we make this world a more just or equitable place? For the 22 suicides that veterans commit each day from the trauma of fighting an unjust war, is anyone safer?
No. But the rich made billions of dollars. They made it off weapons that blew up Iraqi infrastructure. They made it by controlling the flow of oil. They made it off no-bid contracts to repair the infrastructure that helps the rich suck ever more resources from the country. They made it from employing people like me as private contractors to protect the oil fields.
This is what the Iraq war was always about. It was about destabilizing the Middle East to ensure the dominance of American business. It was about profiteering from the destruction of countless lives, Iraqi and American. It was about protecting the American dollar. It was to further entrench the military industrial complex in the Middle East.
And so, I discovered that the real aims of the war had nothing to do with why I decided to pick up a gun and fly thousands of miles from home to join it.
I did not want to go to war to make the rich richer. I did not want to go to war to defend a system that benefits when more people are sick or in prison. I did not want go to war to protect a system that lives by destroying our environment and bringing us always closer to total ecological collapse.
I did not want to go to war to protect a system and a class that lets some people take private helicopters to work while the people who produce their wealth, working people, have to take hours on a neglected public transit system every single day.
What I wanted, when I went to war, was to make a more just world. This is why most young people decide to fight. But fighting in a war doesn’t let you decide its purpose, or even your own role. When you fight for the American military you fight for the rule of American capitalism. Whether it is in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Kosovo, Vietnam, or Korea, or anywhere else.
When you put on that uniform you don’t enter a democratic organization. More than any institution on earth, the military has perfected the art of coercion. The orders flow from the top on down. And at the top are generals tied to the ruling rich by a thousand threads. They trust each other with their lives.
This military, the police, other armed forces, and a massive unelected bureaucratic state machine, enables the rich to maintain an order where you have to work for them in order to live. Where you make them wealthier every day just so you can make it to the next week.
And when you step into that workplace, you do not step into a democratic organization either. There may be a few more smiles, but the orders still come from the top. And if you disobey, or show too little enthusiasm, or work a little too slowly—you’re out on the street. You have no more real say in the aims of your job than I had in the invasion of Iraq.
You fight for your boss every day. You bleed for your boss. You pay for your boss’s wars. You compete with other workers for your boss’s jobs. You compete with other cities and towns for your boss’s investment—investment made with profits created by you.
They have you fighting your allies: your fellow workers, here and around the globe. They have you serving your enemies: The banks, the corporations, the richest few thousand people on earth.
• Do you go to work to make the ultra-wealthy richer?
• Do you pay taxes to imprison and deport your neighbors and family?
• Do you pay taxes to imprison and murder children in the streets?
• Do you pay taxes to send kids to kill people around the world?
• Do you go to work every day to destroy the basis of human life on this planet?
This is what the billionaires who run this society do with the wealth we make by our own hands, whether we like it or not. We do what the bosses say on the job. We do what the police and the courts say everywhere else. Like the generals, they are on the side of money. As are the politicians who make the laws the police and the courts enforce.
We do what they say because they are organized better than we are. We do what they say because we are confused. Confused about our interests and about who the enemy is. And no less confused than I was on the streets of Fallujah.
A few thousand rich people have nearly everyone in the whole world working for them and fighting each other. We will only be able to do something about our situation when we join with working people around the planet to fight our common exploiter.
Everywhere the bosses have power we need to organize our own power. And if we are going to crack their hold on this earth, we not only need to organize on the job, in the streets, and on the campuses, we need to organize independently from their political leadership. We need to organize independently from their parties, the Republicans and Democrats. And if we’re to have a chance, if we’re serious, we need to organize our own party.
That’s because, to win our emancipation, working people cannot simply put a few top hats in jail and call it a day. We are compelled by our situation to create a new society. This means realizing the liberation of women, of African Americans, of LGBTQI people, of Latinxs, the colonized, the immigrants, and the First Nation people. It means taking the great productive forces we have created together and placing them under public ownership and the management of workers.
The Democrats and the Republicans do not care about us. My opponent, Democratic Senator Chris Murphy, does not care about us. He does not care about you. He is a professional politician. Chris Murphy and politicians like him make policies for the ultra-wealthy, not workers.
We need a party of our own—a party that fights every day for the interests of those most exploited by capitalism. A party that has at its very core the idea of taking power from the capitalist class and putting it in the hands of workers.
That’s why I’m running as a socialist candidate for U.S. Senate against Chris Murphy. My party, Socialist Action, believes workers and oppressed people can build a truly democratic society organized to satisfy human needs, rather than corporate profit.
Help us bring this message to your coworkers, your campus, and your neighborhood. Volunteer, host a house party, or make a donation to help build this campaign. Vote Socialist Action in 2018! Vote Fred Linck for U.S. Senate in Connecticut.