VERMONT - United States Marine Corps Sgt. Liam Madden was opposed to the Iraq war even before he was deployed in September 2004 to al-Anbar, the mostly Sunni province that's seen some of the war's fiercest fighting. He became even more opposed after returning to Quantico, Virginia, in February 2005.
As an active-duty service member, Madden was prevented by military regulations from organizing protests or speaking out publicly against the occupation, which he describes as "a pre-emptive and immoral war of aggression." Nevertheless, the Bellows Falls native felt compelled to take a decisive step to help end the conflict, which he believes is needlessly costing thousands of American and Iraqi lives, depleting military and financial resources, and doing irreparable harm to U.S. prestige around the world.
With the help of a Navy seaman and several antiwar groups, including Iraq Veterans Against the War, Military Families Speak Out and Veterans for Peace, Madden discovered a legal avenue for voicing his antiwar sentiments. He launched an online appeal to Congress from military personnel. Known by its organizers as an "Appeal for Redress," it calls for an immediate end to the nearly 4-year-old U.S. conflict.
"As a patriotic American proud to serve the nation in uniform, I respectfully urge my political leaders in Congress to support the prompt withdrawal of all American military forces and bases from Iraq," the appeal reads. "Staying in Iraq will not work and is not worth the price. It is time for U.S. troops to come home."
Unlike a petition, an appeal for redress is a legally permissible form of dissent by service members. Although active-duty personnel are prohibited from some types of political activism, they are allowed to communicate with members of Congress, as long as they make it clear they're speaking on behalf of themselves and not of their military unit.
On Monday, as the nation celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Madden, 22, and Navy Seaman Jonathan Hutto, 29, of Atlanta, were on Capitol Hill to present their appeal for redress formally to Congress. More than 990 other active-duty, Reserve and National Guard personnel have signed the appeal. It comes just as Congress debates the president's request last week for an additional 21,500 troops to quell the rising sectarian violence in Iraq.
The idea of an appeal for redress originated last June, when Hutto, who was stationed in Norfolk, Virginia, organized a screening of the 2005 antiwar documentary Sir! No Sir!, which chronicles the efforts of American GIs to end the Vietnam War. Among those who attended the screening were Madden and David Cortright, a University of Notre Dame professor and author of Soldiers in Revolt and Left Face, two books that explore soldier-resistance movements in modern armies. After the screening, Madden says, he approached Hutto and Cortright, and the three got together to launch the online signature drive.
This appeal for redress isn't unprecedented - many soldiers during the Vietnam War made similar appeals to their congressional representatives. However, this missive is the first of its kind to come from an all-volunteer military, according to Madden.
The Vermont native says he encountered very little resistance from his fellow Marines and no retaliation from his superiors. He didn't expect such a benign reception, he says, since the Marine Corps is typically the most gung-ho and conservative branch of the armed forces.
"It's really been hands-off, and that was surprising," Madden continues. "I thought at the very least, they would scrutinize me completely and make sure that every nook and cranny of my performance and appearance were perfect."
His fellow Marines' acceptance of the appeal may reflect their own growing disillusionment with the war, even if many of them are reluctant to voice their opposition publicly. "Actually, I've had a lot of positive feedback," Madden notes. "The biggest percentage of my peers [in the Marines] disagree with the war, but are not sure if getting out is the right answer, either."
One notable exception was an email Madden received shortly after going public. It came from a Marine Corps lieutenant colonel, who accused Madden of cowardice and lending aid and comfort to the enemy.
Rather than ignoring the hostile missive, Madden wrote back and explained his rationale for opposing the war and launching the appeal. "It ended up being a back-and-forth correspondence for a couple of weeks," Madden says. "I was definitely glad that I didn't resort to slinging mud back."
Madden, whose mother lives in Rockingham and whose father lives in Keane, New Hampshire, is due to be honorably discharged in the next few weeks and says he'll attend college "somewhere in Boston" in the fall. Until then, he intends to travel around New England speaking on college campuses and in other venues. Adding his voice and those of other soldiers to the chorus may just bring the antiwar movement to its tipping point.