Dahr Jamail, 'The Will to Resist'

IssueDecember 2009 - January 2010
Review by Ian Sinclair

On 24 October, Lance Corporal Joe Glenton made headlines by being the first serving British soldier to take part in an anti-war demonstration. Glenton’s courageous stand against the unpopular war in Afghanistan is certainly welcome, but, as Dahr Jamail highlights in The Will to Resist, the UK trails far behind the US when it comes to resistance among the armed forces to the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.

A US journalist who has reported from Iraq on the devastation wreaked upon the civilian population by US forces, Jamail has turned his attention to the effect of the occupation on those doing the occupying, and their subsequent attempts to reclaim their humanity.

Refusing orders, going AWOL, desertion, speaking out publicly against the wars, suicide, writing graffiti, blogs, poetry and books, and engaging in direct action are just some of the varied ways serving US soldiers and veterans have rebelled against their government’s foreign policy.

Most arresting is the use of street theatre in US cities, with veterans donning their camouflage and carrying out public patrols, realistic mock arrests and home raids to raise awareness about the reality of the occupations.

As in the Vietnam war, Jamail finds widespread evidence of soldiers conducting “search and avoid” missions in Iraq. One soldier talks about emails he receives from a friend serving in Baghdad: “Nearly each day they pull in to a parking lot, drink soda, and shoot at the cans. They pay Iraqi kids to bring them things and spread the word that they are not doing anything and to please just leave them alone.”

With 1.7 million US soldiers having served in Iraq and Afghanistan, resistance in the ranks is certainly growing. However, Jamail explains, this insurrection has yet to reach the size and influence of the GI resistance movement during the Vietnam war.

Often married and the victims of “economic conscription”, soldiers currently serving who stand up to the military machine jeopardise benefits they have earned, including healthcare and funds for college, and risk incarceration.

Mixing original interviews with published testimony, Jamail has produced an inspiring and accessible work, of interest to activists and the general public alike.

The UK anti-war movement has much to learn from The Will to Resist – which is a perfect companion piece to the gut-wrenching Winter Soldier Iraq and Afghanistan: Eyewitness Accounts of the Occupations (Haymarket, 2008; ISBN 978-1-931-859-65-3; 240pp; £11.99).

Topics: Iraq, War resisters
See more of: Review