Trey Kindlinger, veteran member of VFP Chapter 99 in Asheville NC and Conscientious Objector wrote this piece for International Conscientious Objector's Day (May 15).
A few years after high school, I received a bulk mail card from the Navy. I had been the salutatorian in my small high school class in East Texas. I couldn't afford to go to college, was stuck in dead-end low wage work, and had never seen much of the world. I spoke with a recruiter and joined - two weeks later I was in boot camp in Orlando, Florida. In nearly nine years of service, I visited many countries, living overseas for five years in active duty. I was stationed overseas in Europe and Asia and visited ports all over the world, including Egypt and the Occupied West Bank.
I was stationed overseas on September 11, 2001. Everything changed in a single day: we were suddenly on a war footing. That November I transferred to a base that broadcast news sources besides American mainstream media. Chinese, Japanese, Australian, and British media had a bleaker view of invading Iraq. Through this milieu of media, I realized that invading Iraq was a war crime. With the help of a friend (an anarchist who was also active duty), I learned how to become a conscientious objector. We were on the precipice of risk and turning our backs on the military, when the base police ransacked my friend's barracks room for anything political -- including anything colored red or black. They took all of his writing, computers, and any clothing that was the wrong color. He was discharged for “commission of a serious offense” and lost most of his benefits even though he never went to court-martial or Captain’s Mast.
It was then that I saw we weren’t fighting "for freedom" or anything the recruiters said. We were fighting for a narrow view of what the military considered to be right. Most of the leadership of the military took a very dim view of anything that wasn’t pro-capitalist, conservative, and Protestant Christian. I could no longer consent - I completed the Conscientious Objector packet and turned it in to the command. I was terrified of rejecting the military, losing my job and benefits, and having to confront my local brass on what I felt to be an unjust war...but after about four months they granted me an honorable discharge.
Getting out of the military was definitely freeing, at least for a time. I was suddenly a “civilian” and could engage with groups and people who were coming to the same conclusions as me. The world started to make sense, and my political understandings were shaped by involvement with organizations such as Veterans For Peace, Iraq Veterans Against the War, and particularly the International Socialist Organization. They showed me what was really going on with the wars in the Middle East and historically with American wars in general. Reading other media outlets, especially Socialist Worker, provided honest reporting on the imperial project that both political parties were engaged in - remember, the Democrats got the military into World Wars I and II, Korea, and Vietnam, not to mention so many other smaller conflicts that overthrew democratically elected leaders for American puppets.
Eventually, all the little things that anyone trains for in the military came to the fore in my civilian life. I started sleeping less and less, wasted precious time on being 15 minutes early (because, really, who has 15 extra minutes when you have a family?), and generally losing patience with “civilians” and with having no “mission” in life. It was, ironically enough, through loads of counseling with a VA mental health provider that I slowly returned to a normal life.
I am but one person who tried to face down an immoral and illegal war. Others, such as Victor Agosto, paid much more of a price than I. But those who went before us, who objected to the Civil War, World Wars I and II, Korea, and Vietnam, laid the groundwork for those of us who objected to this latest round of wars. Becoming a conscientious objector truly helped develop my sense of action and my ability to gird those actions with theory, helped me become better prepared to be an activist.
Trey Kindlinger was born and raised in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. After graduating from high school, he served in the US Navy from 1994-2003. He graduated with a bachelor's degree from Excelsior College in 2008 and now lives in Asheville, NC, with his two children.