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Marine discusses opposition to war

Meaghan Wons | Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The war in Iraq has been a controversial issue for both American citizens and soldiers on active duty since it began four years ago. Liam Madden, a former Marine sergeant, spoke last night in DeBartolo Hall at a public lecture sponsored by the Progressive Student Alliance, Notre Dame Peace Fellowship, Center for Social Concerns and the Joan B. Kroc Institute entitled, “The Ground Truth in Iraq: A Marine’s View.”

Madden, honorably discharged in January, spoke about his experiences in Iraq and what made him begin to disagree with U.S. participation in the war.

“There are two futures colliding – there is the future we can create, or the one that can be made for us,” Madden said.

He is currently on a speaking tour, promoting awareness about the war and urging college students to reject complacency in this “time of moral crisis.”

Madden opened his talk with a question – what does it take to burn down a forest? After someone in the audience responded, “a spark,” Madden said he spent the last few months questioning, “how do you burn down a war?”

Madden said imagination and leadership are important if Americans hope to effect change. As co-founder of the Appeal for Redress movement – a movement of active duty, active reserve and Guard soldiers filing private grievances with their elected officials against the war – Madden knows that “people gravitate toward leadership.”

What started out as a two-person movement now has 1,700 signed members.

“You never know what fires your sparks will create,” Madden said.

Madden drew several parallels between the current situation in Iraq and the Vietnam War.

“I don’t want to wake up in 2015 to a war in Iraq like [the Americans] did in 1971, questioning if they could have done more in ’64 or ’65 to stop the war in Vietnam,” he said. “I’m not pretending to be great, but I felt there was a great need to be filled.”

This need, he said, is to open the eyes of the American public to the fact that the war he believes America never should have gotten involved in will not go away without a struggle.

He spoke about the importance of understanding the history of social change if our generation of college students hopes to effect change today.

“Research shows that no social change has occurred because Congress granted it,” Madden said. “It was because people wanted it … they had to struggle for it. People didn’t ask politely for these things, they struggled for them.

“We need to shift from a ‘me’ oriented society to an ‘us’ oriented society. While we are thinking about the ‘me’ decisions, the ‘us’ decisions are being made for us.”

Madden acknowledged the conflict many Americans feel between being patriotic and voicing dissent. Dissent and patriotism are not necessarily in opposition, however, he said.

“We need to distance ourselves from people who say that supporting our troops is the only thing we can do that is patriotic,” Madden said. “If I feel anything about patriotism, it’s that questioning … is the foundation of patriotism.”

Madden said he has done a lot of questioning since the war began, and that his “main qualm about the war” is that he believes the United States should not be in Iraq at all.

“I don’t think people should die for lies, I don’t think people should die for oil, and I don’t think people should die for empire,” he said.

He said that other things are “subordinate” to the “main crime that we are in Iraq in the first place.”

Examples of those “subordinate crimes,” he said, are the use of depleted uranium in weapons – a toxic substance that quickly infiltrates areas.

“The cancer rate has gone up over 1,000 percent in Iraq since we began using depleted uranium,” he said.

This substance affects American soldiers who return home, too, he said. The toxicity in their bodies potentially contributes to birth defects in their children or creates future illnesses for those exposed to the uranium.

Another problem with the war is that it is not and has never been a part of the Congressional budget, Madden said.

“We are not paying for the war now,” he said, “So our children and our grandchildren will be paying for it.”

Madden concluded his presentation with a call to action.

“I want to end by submitting my sincere plea – that we all consider doing more, that we all consider being leaders … so we don’t wake up in eight years to a war in Iraq,” he said.

Madden’s speech was followed by a question and answer period, when members of the audience raised issues such as the implications of cutting back on the defense budget and the role that rhetoric has played in the war.

Madden’s lecture was part of the Progressive Student Alliance’s “Week of Action.”

Michael Angula, vice president of the PSA, and Professor David Cortright, a research fellow at the Kroc Institute, both reflected briefly on the war and the importance of voicing dissent.

Cortright became a member of the GI peace movement after he experienced a “crisis of conscience” when he was drafted for the Vietnam War after his graduation from Notre Dame in 1968, he said.

Cortright met Madden in Norfolk, Virginia, after an active duty sailor contacted Cortright to speak to a group of sailors who had read his book, “Soldiers in Revolt: GI Resistance During the Vietnam War,” and wanted to know what it meant for them as active duty soldiers during the Iraq war.

Ultimately, Madden said Cortright started a discussion that sparked the creation of the Appeal for Redress.