How blogging and hip-hop are undermining the US military from within

‘I bet you never stop-loss nobody no more.’

Iraq veteran Marc Hall, aka hip-hop artist Marc Watercus, is currently in pre-trial confinement awaiting court-martial in Georgia. He was jailed on 11 December because he wrote and performed a song called ‘Stop-loss’ – which he then sent to the Pentagon after learning that they were sending him on a second deployment to Iraq.

Stop-loss, an initiative of the Bush Administration, is a policy that ensures there are enough troops to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan by keeping soldiers active after their contracts have ended. Aka: ‘involuntary servitude’.

According to the Pentagon, ‘the policy has affected 120,000 soldiers since 2001, with 13,000 American soldiers currently serving under stop-loss’.

The military says Hall’s song amounts to the ‘communication of a threat’ and he is being charged under Article 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, covering ‘all disorders and neglects to the prejudice of good order and discipline’ and ‘all conduct of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces.’

Curiously, it took six months for the army to feel threatened by the song, and it was only after Hall sent the song to the Pentagon that he was arrested. The lyrics the Army seems chiefly concerned by are:

Still against the wall, I grab my M-4 / spray and watch all the bodies hit the floor / I bet you never stop-loss nobody no more

Jason Hurd, an Iraq war veteran, pinpoints the irony in the army’s claim:

From a military that has us, while we’re jogging, chant in cadence about killing babies, to then come down on someone for writing an angry song, is ludicrous. Marc is just expressing the anger that 13,000 soldiers are feeling right now, because there are currently that many who are stop-lossed. All he did was make his opinion heard.

Jeff Paterson, founder of the advocacy group Courage to Resist, says:

He’s over there saying I have no control over my life. I could be in here forever. We’re not talking about a war that is going to be over next year. We’re talking about a war that could go on forever. So poor old Marc Hall could possibly be in the military forever.

Once enlistment starts dropping, the Army maintains troop levels by keeping the ones they have. If you’re not going to go to one place, you’re going to another, but you’re not going to get out. I see this as an issue of political speech. The military may not like what they’re hearing, but that’s what it is. There are people in the military saying their being in it is/was wrong, and they want out.

Which appears to be true. Hall now says:

[My case] really got me thinking about the whole situation, and how we acted like thugs over there [in Iraq]. In good conscience I could not go back over there and do it again.

A third of US troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan identify as having mental health problems, ‘and 18.5 per cent of all returning service members battl[e] either PTSD or depression’. Suicides of soldiers and marines are at an all-time high and there has been ‘an 80 per cent increase in desertions since the invasion of Iraq in 2003’.

America’s homeless veterans is a 2007 audio documentary that exposes some of the burdens these veterans carry. Like the fact that there are, at minimum, 200,000 homeless veterans in America – without support from the state, or their former employer.

Resistance in the ranks

Unsurprisingly, military resistance is not a recent development within the US armed forces. According to Grossman, the mass resistance during the Vietnam War resulted in ‘politically unreliable’ ranks unwilling to deploy, disobeying orders, sabotaging equipment and organising, which all impacted significantly on US involvement in Vietnam.

However, as with most social and political movements, the Internet has provided a platform on which this kind of resistance can both educate and recruit.

A major change since the Vietnam and Gulf wars is that personnel now have access through the Internet to alternative sources of information and resources…it can be used by the military community to dialogue about the war and conditions outside official channels.

The power of testimony

The Best of American Nonrequired Reading, always pushing the literary form, published excerpts from the military blog, A Soldier’s Thoughts, in their 2006 edition.

As with Generation Kill, any mythology surrounding the competence of the US military is totally obliterated by such passages as the one where a soldier opens fire on a truck because he thought he saw an AK-47 lurking there.

We were out of breath when we got to the gun-truck nearest to the black civilian truck… There was a group of four Iraqis walking towards us from the black truck. They were carrying a body. When I saw this I ran forward and began to speak (in Arabic) to the man holding the body but I couldn’t say a word.

There right in front of me in the arms of one of the men I saw a small boy (no more than 3 years old). His head was cocked back at the wrong angle and there was blood. So much blood. How could all that blood be from that small boy? I heard crying too. All of the Iraqi men standing there were crying and sobbing and asking me WHY? Someone behind me started screaming for a medic, it was the young soldier (around my age) who had fired his weapon. He screamed and screamed for a medic until his voice was hoarse and a medic came just to tell us what I already knew. The boy was dead. I was so numb.

I stood there looking at that little child, someone’s child (just like mine) and seeing how red the clean white shirt of the man holding the boy was turning. It was then that I realized that I had been speaking to them; speaking in a voice that sounded so very far away. I heard my voice telling them (in Arabic) how sorry we were. My mouth was saying this but all my mind could focus on was the hole in the child’s head. The white shirt covered in bright red blood. Every color was so bright. There were other colors too. The glistening white pieces of the child’s skull still splattered on that so very white shirt. I couldn’t stop looking at them even as I continued telling them how sorry we were.

Was it the account of this child’s death that caused the military to temporarily shut down the soldier’s blog? Or the unflattering depictions of the military leadership?

Later that day those of us who had been selected to go inspect the black truck were filling reports out about what we had witnessed for the investigation. The Captain who had led the raid entered the room we were in and you could see that he was angry. He said, “Well this is just great! Now we have to go and give that family bags of money to shut them up…”

I wanted to kill him. I sat there trembling with my rage. Some family had just lost their beautiful baby boy and this man, this COMMISSIONED OFFICER in the United States Army is worried about trying to pay off the family’s grief and sorrow. He must not have been a father, otherwise he would know that money doesn’t even come close… I wanted to use my bare hands to kill him, but instead I just sat there and waited until the investigating officer called me into his office.

Or was it the the fact that neither the soldier nor The Best American series went through Operation Iraqi Freedom’s PR office first?

Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) have all experienced the alienation, disillusionment and carnage of life in the US military firsthand.

IVAW calls for:

• Immediate withdrawal of all occupying forces in Iraq
• Reparations for the human and structural damages Iraq has suffered
• Full benefits, adequate healthcare (including mental health), and other supports for returning servicemen and women

IVAW is comprised of veterans and active service people, and now has over 1700 members.

As Sarah Lazare from Courage to resist writes:

The never-ending nature of this conflict belies the real project of establishing US dominance in the Middle East and control of the region’s resources, at the expense of the Afghan civilians and US soldiers being placed in harm’s way.

The voices of refusal coming from within the US military send a powerful message that soldiers will not be fodder for an unjust and unnecessary war. By withdrawing their labour from a war that depends on their consent, these soldiers have the power to help bring this war to an end, as did their predecessors in the GI resistance movement against the Vietnam war.

And the longer the war in Afghanistan drags on – the more lives that are lost and destroyed – the more resistance we will see coming from within the ranks.

Jacinda Woodhead

Jacinda Woodhead is a former editor of Overland and current law student.

More by Jacinda Woodhead ›

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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  1. Thanks for this powerful and informed piece. How ironic that an institution as large and powerful as the US Army might feel ‘threatened’ by music. Laughable really. It is a demonstration of how correct Mike Prysner (last clip) was when he identified that war is about powerful investment insterests and not protection or defence of the population. If only these sentiments were more widely known, perhaps the US military’s might be forced by public demand to provide the protective service they are meant to provide.
    It’s a cliche – but it stands – what if we had a war and nobody came? I doubt the American miliatry justice system would be able to accommodate 13,0000 stop-loss soldiers who refuse to fight anymore. I would love to see thepowerbrokers of the military, the makers of weapons, the designers of policy, the wealthy business interests, be made personnally accountable for the consequences of their business. If they want a war let them fire the rifles, let them kill the civilians, let them destroy the buildings, let them suffer the PTSD, the nightmares, the guilt.

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