The Will to Resist

Dahr Jamail
Haymarket Books (2009)
Reviewed by Paul J. Comeau




Haymarket Books’ 2009 release, The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, by Dahr Jamail, is the most important nonfiction book published this year. In Will, Jamail captures the lives of our men and women in uniform, in their own uncensored words, as they relate the true situation of the occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan. He underscores the burgeoning resistance movement within the ranks of the armed forces.

Soldiers consistently face attacks from insurgents, supply shortages, and confusion about the purpose of their mission in Baghdad or Kabul. They question the ability of the US Military to push the restart button in Afghanistan, and Iraq is still a dismal place to be. Occupation duty is still in a dangerous region with a lack of infrastructure, clean water, or decent food.

The Obama White House promised to withdraw US forces from Iraq. That hasn’t happened to the extent people demanded. And while Defense Secretary Gates promised to review ’stop loss’ policies last year, the program continues to mean one deployment after another, longer tours, and exhaustion for men and women who have lost homes, spouses, and jobs in America.

All this leaves many US soldiers questioning the US war strategy and skeptical about the latest justifications from their superiors for remaining overseas. More potent forms of dissent arise, ranging from anti-war petitions to “seek and avoid” missions protesting the futility of their assignments. At their most resistant, soldiers refuse to deploy or seek to declare Conscientious Objector status. Jamail demonstrates that soldier’s stories are more than just isolated incidents of dissent, but rather, represent a growing resistance movement. Jamail cites a February 2006 Zogby poll that indicates that 72 percent of troops favored withdrawal within the year, and one in four favored immediate withdrawal.

The Will to Resist does more than reveal growing dissent against the wars within the armed forces. Jamail demonstrates resistance among service members to continuing social problems like racism, sexism, homophobia, and other dehumanizing conditions. Servicemen and women tell heartbreaking stories, and demonstrate that the institutions of the armed forces themselves perpetuate oppressive conditions. Meanwhile, the government does little to defend the rights of service members who find the courage to speak out against adverse conditions. Will also covers the struggle many veterans go through when they return from overseas, both to secure VA benefits, and to exercise their civil liberties. Says one soldier interviewed by Jamail: “There appears to be an ongoing effort by the U.S. military to censor overt displays of dissent by veterans upon their return to the United States.”

The Will to Resist is an essential read. Jamail captures the true conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan from the mouths of the American soldiers themselves, and the oppression they face from both the military apparatus and their fellow servicemen. The Will to Resist expresses our need to stand in solidarity with all active duty soldiers and veterans, in particular those who find the courage to speak out.

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