Why They Fight -- From Within

Jonathan Hutto, left, and David Rogers, who serve in the Navy, put together a Web site with names of active troops who are against the war in Iraq.
Jonathan Hutto, left, and David Rogers, who serve in the Navy, put together a Web site with names of active troops who are against the war in Iraq. (By Jay Paul For The Washington Post)
By Linton Weeks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 16, 2007

NORFOLK, Jan. 15 -- For Jonathan Hutto and David Rogers, life has become something of a surreality show. The two Navy men, comrades in arms, are waging a war against a war.

Working from within, Hutto, Rogers and others have established AppealforRedress.org , a Web site that enables active-duty, reserve and National Guard troops to appeal directly to Congress to withdraw military personnel from Iraq. On Monday, the group held its coming-out news conference in Norfolk, announcing that more than 1,000 people have signed appeals. On Tuesday, the pleas will be presented to Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio) on Capitol Hill.

All of this comes at a time when President Bush is sending even more troops to war.

"Just because you joined the military doesn't mean your constitutional rights are suspended," said Hutto, a petty officer third class and 1999 Howard University graduate. "True patriotism is having a questioning attitude about the government."

Redress in this situation means relief, he said. "Relief from this war."

Hutto, 29, works in communications on an aircraft carrier. Rogers, 34, is quartermaster on a frigate. They've been friends since boot camp three years ago. Neither has served in Iraq. But they say 60 percent of the signers have served in the war. The signers are not lawbreakers, deserters or conscientious objectors, Hutto says. They believe in obeying orders.

Some, however, are reticent to appear in public. Organizers estimated that about two dozen active-duty members showed up at the Norfolk event, in a church near the naval base here. They were expecting 50. Hutto pointed out that many of the signers do not live in the Norfolk area.

The Appeal for Redress group has its critics. "The military's job is to carry out and implement foreign policy, not influence it," said Wade Zirkle, the executive director of Vets for Freedom. "That's what separates our country from military dictatorships. That's why we don't have military coups and military people running our country."

For military folks to appeal for redress "is un-American in principle," Zirkle said, and he pointed out that some of the organizers haven't even been to Iraq. A first lieutenant in the Marines, Zirkle served two tours there and was injured by a car bomb.

In between fielding phone calls and hanging banners for the rally, Hutto and Rogers paused for a moment in a downtown park on Sunday. A memorial to Martin Luther King Jr. loomed in the sunny distance. Both men wore Martin Luther King Jr. pins.

The idea for the within-the-ranks antiwar group came after Hutto read "Soldiers in Revolt: GI Resistance During the Vietnam War" by David Cortright. Hutto showed the book to Rogers. They invited Cortright to come to Norfolk.

"I was so impressed by the seriousness of the discussion," said Cortright, who teaches peace studies at the University of Notre Dame. He said it takes guts for active military members to speak out. "But they do it respectfully."

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