Last July, Kenyon Ralph and four other military personnel, including a City College student, decided to try to stop the war in Iraq.
Ralph and his comrades have started an Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) chapter in San Diego, which has the largest concentration of military service members.
After going to Iraq, the war there became more personal for Ralph. He felt he could not stay complacent “while fellow citizens were being killed, Iraqis were being killed and having their land destroyed . for no good reason.”
Ralph signed a contract, with parental consent, with the Marine Corps when he was still in high school. This guaranteed that when he graduated and turned 18 in 2001 he would join.
After boot camp he entered the Civilian Affairs division of the Marine Corps, out of “a sense of duty and patriotism.” The Civilian Affairs division, as described by Ralph, “were supposed to be the good guys,” the ones who try to see how the Iraqis are living and better that situation.
In 2003, Ralph saw his first tour in Iraq, in which his squad served as “bodyguards” for the higher ranking officers who would contract projects and talk to civilians.
A year later, he did his second tour. He did the same sort of services but this time, he was doing more operations with the infantry unit, which is at the front line of the American ground war.
This was the year that Iraq gained its sovereignty; it was also the year that America saw some of its largest casualties in the Anbar region, where Ralph was stationed.
After returning from his last tour, he started to educate himself through history classes at Palomar College and MiraCosta College. He said he stopped listening to mainstream media and started digging for different perspectives.
He soon realized that the war he had been fighting was illegal and that the intelligence had been fabricated. He believes that Bush, with help from the conservative think-tank Project for a New American Century, had plans to attack Iraq prior to Sept. 11. “I felt betrayed to and lied to by the government,” he said, which drew him to the IVAW.
IVAW originated out of a 2004 Veterans for Peace conference in which six Iraq war veterans decided to start a group of post-Sept. 11 active and discharged military service members who were against the war and the treatment of its veterans.
From six original members in 2004, the group has grown to 604 members in 43 states, according to their website www.ivaw.org. They now have 24 working chapters, including chapters on the base at Fort Drum in Upstate New York and Fort Meade in Maryland.
IVAW tries to educate soldiers and civilians about the war through street performances such as, “Operation First Casualty”. The performances were conducted in large cities like New York, Chicago, and Washington D.C., and members perform mock military patrols to demonstrate how life is for the Iraqis.
Other projects include bus tours of the east coast. In these tours, members rode from city to city speaking out against the war and making stops at various military stations to talk with soldiers.
IVAW members also gave speeches at schools and universities and participated in several anti-war demonstrations.
Ralph and other San Diego IVAW members participated recently in a Washington D.C. demonstration on Sept. 15. According to the Washington Post, IVAW led a group of over ten-thousand people to the steps of the Capital building where they were met with blockades and police officers.
IVAW then started to direct the crowd over the blockades, leading to nearly 200 arrests, according to Capital police. Ralph describes the symbolism behind this action, saying “this shows how dedicated to the cause we are . we are willing to get arrested.”
Here in San Diego the group has stayed focused on local activities including their “Truth in Recruiting” campaign. In conjunction with Project Youth and Non-Military Opportunities, members go to recruiting stations and schools to talk with prospective joiners about information the recruiters don’t tell them about.
“The GI Bill [military funding for education] is inadequate,” Ralph says. He also said that the FASA and other grants are accessible for those who need them.
Ralph shares the belief of other IVAW member when saying that the military is able to continue the war because “there is an almost endless supply of na’ve but well-intentioned 18-year-olds like I was.”
The San Diego chapter also works with the Veterans for Peace and anti-war activists in a weekly protest on the Del Mar off-ramp of Interstate Five at Via De La Valle, where they usually get great responses. Ralph says they do get occasional negative hand gestures.
His response to those gestures is that “[The IVAW] is not unpatriotic…We want real support for the troops,” adding that they get little from neither Republicans nor Democrats.
He points to the fact $70 billion is allocated for the troops fighting in Iraq, which is a little more then 1/8th of the entire budget for the war not including emergency funding bills.
Another mistreatment of veterans has been medical treatment upon returning to home, a prime example being the exposed Walter Reed Hospital. According to Ralph, 20 thousand military members have been turned away for post traumatic stress disorder based on previous mental conditions.
“Our country was made when people wanted change and took action. If the current system is no longer satisfactory, then we need to act and change it, I think being patriotic means seeking change and progress,” said Ralph.
More information about IVAW can be found at www.ivaw.org or the San Diego chapter at www.ivaw-sd.org.