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Why I Returned My Medals

(Photo: Peoples World / Flickr)

On May 20, during the first day of the NATO Summit in Chicago, Mr. Clumpner returned his medals along with 43 other veterans.

On 9/11, I watched the second tower crumble from my chair in history class. I was seventeen. There was never a question as to what path my future held. I was an American and my country was under attack. How could I look my children in the eye someday and tell them I wasn’t a part of the biggest event of my generation? I bought into the idea of America liberating the Afghan people hook, line and sinker. I enlisted in the United States Army to become a Ranger; to liberate the women of Afghanistan and to end the tyranny of Islamic fundamentalism.

I left for training with high hopes and completed all of my training the first time through. However, the daily psychological abuse served to dehumanize all of us. We were continuously told how worthless we were. If you got injured during training, it was your fault and you were treated like a pariah. No questions. No individuality. No thinking. All of this was intentional. The military believes that it is necessary to break down soldiers in order to create killers. That’s what the military does best: Killing. Normal people don’t kill each other. You have to do something to change them.

Deploying to Afghanistan was our chance to do what we were trained to do. Our job was to go into people’s houses at night and capture or kill them. High value targets, al-Qaeda, the Taliban – these were the people we were supposed to be killing. However, as we moved forward, many of the houses we raided were empty. Or worse, a lot of them had the wrong people in them. Neighbors would turn in other neighbors that they didn’t like. We didn’t understand the culture or the language. We didn’t care. For all we knew, everyone was a terrorist. This may have turned out to be true because when we raided the wrong house, we turned everyone in that house against us.

I could see things deteriorating every day. Our contact with the locals only isolated us and made things worse. Our treatment of the prisoners was what changed me. When they were blindfolded and handcuffed, it was easy to see them as less than human. So, we treated them that way.

The medal I returned outside the NATO summit was the Global War on Terrorism Medal or GWOT. I refer to it as the Global War OF Terrorism. That’s what we are, the purveyors of terror to the people of Afghanistan and Iraq. The medals are used to legitimize our actions during war. They were earned through lies and false pretenses. They are meant to prop up and perpetuate a “fake heroism.” I returned them because I no longer want the violence I participated in to be legitimated with medals.

As we veterans move forward, the organization that is defining our direction in terms of our right to heal as veterans, is Iraq Veterans Against the War. We are organizing active duty service members and veterans to demand the health care and human rights they deserve for their service. We call for an end to the war in Afghanistan and recognition of the effects of these wars. Only when soldiers and civilians come together to share the reality of our foreign policy will we truly move forward into a more democratic future.

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