Thursday, December 24, 2009

Standing on the side of life

posted today on Common Dreams, as published in the Toronto Star:

Why a Resister Chose Canada Over the War in Iraq

by Rodney Watson

I am from Kansas City, Kansas, and I joined the U.S. Army for financial reasons in 2004 after my steady job of seven years ended.

I enlisted for a three-year contract with the intention of being a cook and not in a combat role. I wanted to support the troops in some way without being involved in any combat operations.

A recruiter promised that I could do this.

In 2005 I was deployed to Iraq just north of Mosul where I was told that my duties as a cook would be to supervise and ensure that the local nationals in the dining facility were preparing meals according to military standards.

But instead of supervising in the dining facility, I was performing vehicle searches for explosives, contraband and weapons. I also operated a mobile X-ray machine that scanned vehicles and civilians for any possible explosives that could enter the base.

I had to keep the peace within an area that held 100 to 200 Iraqi civilian men who would be waiting for security clearances, and shoot warning shots at Iraqi children who were trying to set up mortars to fire at the base.

In Iraq I witnessed racism and physical abuse from soldiers toward the civilians.

On one occasion a soldier was beating an Iraqi civilian, called him a "sand nigger," threw his Qur'an on the ground and spat on it. The civilian man was unarmed and was just looking for work on our base. He posed no type of threat and was beaten because soldiers brought their personal racist hatred to Iraq.

This was not what I had signed up for.

After all the wrongs I witnessed in Iraq, I decided that once my one-year tour of duty was over I would never again be part of this unnecessary war.

When I returned home, my unit was informed that we would be redeployed within four months. This would put me beyond the term I signed up for. I was going to be stop-lossed and forced to serve past my contract.

While on two-week leave I made my decision to come to Canada and not return to my base at Fort Hood, Texas.

I have been here in Vancouver since early 2007. I have been self-sufficient. I have fathered a beautiful son whose mother is Canadian. I plan to marry her and to provide our son with a loving and caring family unit.

I have made many friends and I have built a peaceful life here.

My son and my wife-to-be are my heart and soul and it would be a great tragedy for my family and for me personally if I were deported and torn away from them.

I think being punished as a prisoner of conscience for doing what I felt morally obligated to do is a great injustice.

This Christmas I hope and pray that people will open their hearts and minds to give peace and love a chance.

I appeal to the Canadian government to honour your country's great traditions of being a place of refuge from militarism and a place that respects human rights by supporting my decision, and the decisions taken by my fellow resisters to refuse any further participation in this unjust war.

I ask that you urge your government to respect the will of the majority of Canadians by acting on the direction it has been given twice by Parliament to immediately stop deporting Iraq War resisters like me and to let us become permanent residents here.

My heart goes out to the families who have lost loved ones in this unnecessary war.

© Copyright Toronto Star 1996-2009
Rodney Watson is an Iraq War veteran who was ordered deported by the Harper government this fall. On Sept. 18 he took refuge in Vancouver's First United Church. Dec. 27 will be his 100th day in sanctuary. Watson's request to remain in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds remains outstanding.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Word Show

For anyone still out there checking this blog from time to time -- hello. I've been absent from the blogosphere for a while. Lots going on -- as with most folks these days. Family, work, home, art, study.

As mentioned in earlier blog posts, my partner's sister, Sharon Webster, is a poet and visual artist in Vermont who, this past month, curated an exhibition in Burlington called "The Word Show," an inventive collection of works that mix text and images. Included in the group of artists in the show are Iraq veterans, Drew Cameron and Jon Turner, who have been active with the "Combat Paper" project, creating art with paper made from the cloth of military uniforms. One of their pieces is shown above, an interactive display that invites viewers to put their own prayers into the boots strung on the wall.

Combat Paper artists were also in Texas last month to do a paper-making workshop in San Antonio and a writing workshop at the Under The Hood cafe in Killeen. I find the project a very meaningful form of creative resistance to war, as well as a vehicle for dealing with the effects of PTSD related to combat experience.

Some of the paper made with the uniforms becomes a medium for visual art, poetry and prose. Pieces have been published online and in both hand-made and traditionally printed books through the Warrior Writers project. See more about Warrior Writers here.

photos: (top two) Poetry book covers by Jon Michael Turner
(lower two) "Prayer Boots," an installation by Drew Cameron and Jon Michael Turner
from "The Word Show" at Flynndog Gallery, Burlington, VT
photos by Sharon Webster