Mohsen Abdelmoumen: You are a veteran of the war in Iraq and you testified to Congress. What can you tell us about this?
Vincent Emanuele: My experiences during the war in Iraq were the catalyst for my personal transformation which eventually led to my testifying to U.S. Congress. What can I say about the war? It was horrific. War, as the old saying goes, is Hell. But it’s primarily Hell for those who are being occupied. In this case, the people of Iraq.
U.S. Marines were routinely killing innocent people, torturing prisoners, mutilating dead bodies, taking pictures with corpses and the whole slew of barbaric behaviors too numerous to mention. In the end, I decided that I could no longer participate in such things, so I refused to go on another deployment and the Marine Corps discharged me.
After returning home, I attended some local antiwar actions and eventually met a guy by the name of Nick Egnatz who introduced me to Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) and Veterans for Peace (VFP). I toured the country, giving talks at churches, union halls, schools, and so forth, about U.S. foreign policy and my experiences in the war.
Eventually, these actions culminated in the Winter Soldier Hearings of 2008, where dozens of veterans testified about war crimes and atrocities committed in Iraq and Afghanistan. A few months later, nine of us testified to U.S. Congress about these issues.
In your opinion, is the invasion of Iraq by US troops a major mistake of the empire?
It depends whose perspective we’re considering. On the one hand, sure, the war in Iraq has produced so much blowback that it’s hard to argue that the U.S. Empire wasn’t seriously damaged by Bush’s occupation. Yet, at the same time, plenty of entities benefited from the war.
So, from the perspective of the U.S. as a nation-State, I would argue that the war in Iraq has been disastrous. While the U.S. will eventually spend over $6 trillion on the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq, the U.S. falls apart internally. Our infrastructure is crumbling and at least a third of the population is living in poverty.
We have a fascist in power and class tensions are reaching a boiling point. White nationalists and the most reactionary elements of U.S. society are more empowered than at any point in recent memory. Yes, I would say that the war in Iraq has had a profoundly negative impact on the U.S. Empire.
But, as history shows, this is how most empires collapse: hubris, corruption, concentration of power and the over-extension of the military. The U.S. is following the path of Rome.
Has your passage in the army influenced your way as a militant of the left?
I’m not sure if I would consider myself a “militant.” In other words, I wouldn’t say that I’m a violent person for the sake of being violent. But I’m also not a pacifist, so to answer a different question: yes, the military has influenced my view of violence.
It’s very cliché to say that violence is catastrophic and all the rest. Yes, violence ruins lives. But violence also saves lives. In Iraq, for instance, we rarely patrolled areas that were the most hostile. Now, I’m not sure if that was the case for every unit or platoon, but that’s how we operated. Bullies don’t like when their victims fight back.
There is a very popular story going around in the U.S. about a woman who was jogging in Seattle, Washington, where she was attacked by a potential rapist. The guy was hiding in the public bathroom and tried to rape the woman. However, the woman who was attacked fought back. She knew self defense techniques and used them to save her life.
Sometimes, people deserve no mercy. But those are very subjective forms of violence and self defense. In terms of political violence, I don’t think it makes much sense for political movements in the U.S. to use violent tactics in our current context. The Left is already very disorganized and fractured. I can’t imagine what would happen if certain groups started blowing things up or taking up arms against the police, for example.
But I think people should be armed, and trained to use those weapons. I think people should know how to defend themselves with their hands, feet, knees and elbows. Martial arts are great. Community self defense is great, especially if we’re talking about defending ourselves from militias or renegade cops, and there are many.
How do you see the evolution of the anti-war movement in the USA?
Well, to be perfectly honest, the U.S. doesn’t have an antiwar movement. It simply doesn’t exist in any meaningful way. There are individuals and groups, people like Kathy Kelly and groups like Code Pink and Veterans for Peace, who have kept the torch lit, but their numbers are few and many of their most prominent members and supporters are quite old.
The antiwar movement as it was understood in the 1960s or during the Bush era is dead in my opinion. The U.S. Empire and militarism are much more complex and decentralized than they were in the past. There is no draft. The ground wars are small in scale compared to Vietnam, yet Uncle Sam’s current wars have now lasted longer than, in the case of Afghanistan, than Vietnam.
The U.S. is currently engaged in the longest war in its history and you’d have no idea if you turned on the TV, read a newspaper or went to a local political meeting. It’s probably the most frustrating aspect of modern U.S. society and culture. So, the question becomes: how can we build a new antiwar movement for the 21st century?
First, we must understand how the new empire functions. Here, the work of Nick Turse and the folks at TomDispatch is absolutely indispensable. Uncle Sam has been ramping-up operations in Africa for some time now, with little to no mention in the mainstream press. Obama and Clinton’s so-called “Asian Pivot” has sent shockwaves through eastern Asia and the South Pacific, creating increased tensions, hence further militarizing and already overly militarized part of the globe.
Those are some of the geopolitical challenges. A new antiwar movement will also face the prospect of more unmanned robotic war fighting machines, much like drones, but in different forms. Artificial Intelligence will play a significant role in the future of U.S. Empire and global militarism. Right now, over 30 nations are developing drone technology. That number will increase, unfortunately.
On a positive note, new alliances are forming across the ideological spectrum. Standing Rock is a good example. Yes, we lost. But I saw and experienced new coalition-building opportunities. White libertarians in solidarity with black and brown leftists who were in solidarity with indigenous peoples and so on. Then, of course, you have veterans who joined the fray. Those relationships shouldn’t be downplayed. They could be the seeds for a new antiwar movement.
Where is the American left? I’m talking about the real left, not the left urban petit-bourgeois.
To be honest, I’m not sure what or who I consider “left.” For lack of a better term or due to a lack of imagination, I sometimes refer to myself as a leftist or tell people that I’m “on the left.” Yet, I don’t know what that actually means in many ways. Sure, I’m anti-capitalist. Yes, I want to radically change society. But I know a lot of people who feel the same and yet they don’t call themselves “leftists.”
If you’re asking where are the massive political, cultural and social movements that have existed throughout time and exist elsewhere, I would say that there are a lot of people who are active, but their actions and organizations are very alienated and fractured.
Most of the small business owners that I know are actually not on the left, at least as I understand the left. I think petit-bourgeois yuppies are mostly Democrats or Republicans. The left has its head up its ass too often, which is another reason why more radical political movements don’t exist.
The left lacks discipline, solidarity and leadership. Sectarianism and selfish behavior has destroyed large segments of the left. At the same time, there is great potential in today’s political climate to organize large segments of the American population. As I mentioned before, plenty of Americans, some estimates say 40%, are living in poverty. Many more are alienated and/or oppressed and repressed in a variety of ways and, as a result, things are coming to a boiling point.
You wrote an article in which you said that you helped to create the Islamic State in Iraq. Can you explain us that?
Well, I participated in the biggest war crime since the U.S. invasion and occupation of Vietnam – plain and simple. We did brutal and horrific things to the Iraqi people, things that will forever haunt me, and those violent and despicable acts helped create the climate in which ISIS now exists.
We patrolled Sunni areas. Killed Sunni political leaders. Overthrew a Sunni government. Helped rival religious and political factions destroy Sunnis around the nation and we’re surprised that a radical Sunni political group emerged? I don’t think so.
I really like your political commitment and I share a lot of your ideas. How do you live your commitment as a left-wing man and anti-war veteran?
Here, you might not like my answer, but I don’t think too much about lifestyle politics in terms of how I live my day-to-day life. For me, it’s about much more than politics. Yet, I’m also not a religious person. I enjoy philosophy, in the end. I enjoy thinking, reading, learning and talking with people about big issues and ideas. Those things help mold how I live more than thinking of myself as a man of the left or an antiwar veteran.
We only have one life, as far as we know. Since we know that to be the case, we should act like it. We shouldn’t waste too much of our time. We should always be engaged in meaningful work and spend our time with worthwhile people. We should eat healthy and workout. We should be well-rounded people. I try and live my life by that motto, but I’m human, so I often fail.
According to you, why the resistance against the empire is not structured or effective while the capital has many disciplined troops and soldiers?
Probably because the “troops and soldiers” of capital know what they’re fighting for: money and power. The left doesn’t have a clue what it’s fighting for, outside of a few vague and/or simplistic slogans. What, exactly, is the global left fighting for? Human rights? Democracy? Those things are great, but they have to be defined and refined over time and I’m not hearing those conversations.
Someone who works at Goldman Sachs knows exactly why he or she gets up in the morning, and that’s to make money. The left has an aversion to the word and concept « discipline. » It’s a major problem.
I can see why Dr. King, Gandhi and Malcolm X had a religious bent to their work: it helps to instill a sens of discipline, order, hard work, commitment and selflessness. We are fighting the most well-oiled machine man has ever created: global capitalism and empire. In order to defeat that machine, to that extent that people want to defeat these systems of power and control, our resistance movements must also be disciplined and ready to sacrifice.
In your opinion, what tools would be needed to create a real left?
First of all, people need to learn how to organize. Look at the left alternative medias sites: they publish articles mostly about how screwed up the world is. They don’t give people the tools they need to navigate that screwed up world. We need more community organizers and less keyboard warriors.
We need people to get off their asses and commit themselves to something that’s not inherently individualistic and selfish. The more people spend time with local community groups, the better off they will be in the long-term. We are inherently social creatures. Sure, some people are more social than others, but generally speaking, people need human contact.
Yet, as time moves along, people are spending less and less time together in the flesh and more time interacting with each other on social media sites or various other entities that are mediated through a two dimensional screen. Those very basic social challenges pose great problems.
In other words, the tools I have in mind are very basic. I see and hear a lot of leftists and activists talk about revolution and so on, but they are trying to decorate a home that doesn’t have a foundation. We need to build truly independent organizations that are based in real communities, and I’m not talking about NGOs or PACs or anything along those lines, I’m talking about real people getting together, having difficult conversations and deciding how to respond to those difficult issues and conversations.
In the long-term, the issues is, once again, a lack of vision. What, exactly, are we fighting for? And that should be much more broad than universal healthcare, minimum wage increases, etc. To put differently, let’s ask interesting questions and propose big ideas and alternatives. That’s what people get excited about, not piecemeal reforms, which is one of the reasons Obamacare will get gutted without much of a fight: it was milquetoast bullshit.
You host a radio program, what is its impact?
Yes, I host a weekly program called « Meditations and Molotovs » on the Progressive Radio Network (prn.fm). As far as its impact is concerned, it’s virtually impossible to gauge. I get emails all the time from people who love the program, but are they getting involved? Are they staying involved? I hope so.
The aim of the show is twofold: the first goal is to get people to think and the second goal is to empower them to fight back. If the show helps people do that, I consider it successful. Of course, it can always be better. I can always be more effective and organized, so hopefully that’s the case as time move along.
I never want to feel stagnant or unoriginal. If the radio program reaches a plateau or fizzles out, then it’s time to move on to another project. All that being said, I absolutely love doing radio. I love doing solo programs as much as I love interviewing some of my favorite artists, activists, musicians and friends. It’s a tremendous medium, and also my favorite. I like writing, but I love having conversations with people even more.
Interview realized by Mohsen Abdelmoumen
Who is Vincent Emanuele?
Vincent Emanuele is a writer, activist and radio host who lives and works in Michigan City, Indiana. A combat veteran, Vincent joined the antiwar movement after being deployed to Iraq with the United States Marine Corps. Since then, Vincent has worked with leftwing political movements around the globe. His writings and interviews have appeared in CounterPunch, Al Jazeera, teleSUR English, ZMagazine, TruthOut and ROAR Magazine. Currently, Vincent hosts a weekly radio program called « Meditations and Molotovs, » which airs every Monday @1:00pm (Chicago Time) on the Progressive Radio Network (prn.fm). He is a member of Veterans for Peace and the National Writers Union.
Published in American Herald Tribune, April 6, 2017: http://ahtribune.com/in-depth/1592-vincent-emanuele.html
In French in Palestine Solidarité: http://www.palestine-solidarite.org/analyses.mohsen_abdelmoumen.070417.htm