"We have an entire generation of people in their twenties and thirties who have never gone through a war...the media and government have gotten so good at the creation of messages, people don't know the reality" - Casey J. Porter
Army Sergeant Casey J. Porter has many battles to fight, and unlike the dramatizations of politicians and media commentators, his battles are concrete, real, and hard fought. During his time as an enlisted soldier deployed in Iraq, Casey has undergone an evolutionary process, one that has taken him from warrior to peace activist. His talent and passion for filmmaking have given him the perfect medium for his personal expression. Utilizing his current circumstances and natural talent as a filmmaker to speak out against the war, Casey's films have turned the heads of people like Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! and filmmaker Michael Moore.
I was fortunate enough to spend some time with Casey recently. Phoning from Iraq, his soft-spoken voice was not quite what I expected - his intellect, courage, and tenacity are apparent, even from three thousand miles away.
"Most Americans are not affected on a daily basis by this war; it is not personal for them...I can tell you for example, that what is happening in Iraq is always in the daily thoughts of my mother."
After serving one tour of duty in Iraq, and completing his voluntary commitment to the military, Casey found himself entangled in the controversial military policy, "stop-loss." The "Backdoor Draft" as some have called it, is the means by which the United States Military may extend the terms of service of a United States soldier to retain them longer than the period for which they volunteered. Critics of "stop-loss" say the policy hurts troop moral and unnecessarily places the burden of war on relatively few families, shielding the majority of Americans from any real sacrifice during wartime.
Shortly before his second deployment to Iraq, Casey became a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) and helped found its Fort Hood chapter. For Casey, the decision to join the anti-war group was natural. As he experienced the plight of the Iraqi people and the injury and loss of friends who served, his opposition and activism grew into an all out personal mission. Casey has taken his misfortune as a "stop-loss" soldier and turned it into an opportunity to make a difference in how the occupation of Iraq is perceived by Americans. Unwittingly, he is humble about his activism. While discussing his films, Casey says, "most importantly, this is not about me at all, but the soldiers around me and those who continue to deploy year after year. This has been, and will always be about them."
To watch his films, What War Looks Like and Deconstructed (see below), one cannot help but feel an intimate connection to the reality in Iraq. Images of dead bodies, blown-out Humvees, and services for soldiers who have lost their lives challenge the myths, sound bites, talking points, and infotainment created by politicians and media pundits. "The photos you see of soldiers' services in What War Looks Like were taken by me," Casey explains. "Standing there and watching fellow soldiers experience such loss changes you. Watching Iraqi children dig through landfills for food changes you. Seeing the senselessness of it all compels me to speak out...I know that I am not the only soldier who feels this way about the continued occupation of Iraq. Whether they're soldiers who have been stop-lossed or this is their first time over here - they are seeing the truth for themselves."
Casey cites the stark contrast between his daily experiences in Iraq and what is reported in US media as an important reason for taking action. By keeping the truth from the American people, he says they are unable to make sound decisions about the continued occupation of Iraq. Crucial details are kept from view - details that dramatically influence the daily lives of thousands of Americans and their families. The hardship of these families, which goes largely unrecognized except for the splattering of yellow ribbon magnets on cars, is the main reason Casey finds himself motivated to act. "I could not live with myself if I kept my head down and went into another deployment without taking any action...the hardest stand to take is from within," he says.
After the creation of What War Looks Like and the subsequent Internet stir it caused, Casey realized the potential he had to make a difference with what he calls "guerrilla-style filmmaking." Casey's vision for telling the truth and reaching large audiences is slowly gaining momentum on YouTube; his short films continue to garner support from thousands of activists, fellow soldiers, and concerned Americans.
Before we hung up, I asked Casey to comment on the recent lull in the violence in Iraq, which has been credited to "the surge" of forces injected by the Bush Administration in 2007. Casey points to the stifling heat, the re-organization of resistance fighters and the continued construction of walls throughout Iraq's cities. The effects of walls and checkpoints, he notes, rarely make it into US media headlines or political talking points. But one recent report by AP writer Hamza Hendawi supports Casey's assertion: similar to the walls and checkpoints constructed by Israel throughout the West Bank, Baghdad's walls lead to gridlock, rising prices for food and homes, and complaints about living in what feels like a prison.
Casey points out that the construction of these walls brutalizes an already brutalized population. "The look on the faces of the Iraqi people shows just how angry and worn out they feel...and I apologize every chance I get." As long as these walls and checkpoints remain, Casey says Iraqis have no real hope of rebuilding a strong stable economy. This is hardly the free and democratic society promised by the Bush administration.
The continued contradiction between the reality of the war and deliberately inaccurate rhetoric has compelled this soldier to turn his personal misfortune into a source of hope. Casey believes a populace armed with knowledge will act to end the unjustified occupation of Iraq. It is here that Casey has placed his hope for a safe return and an end to this war. And it is in Casey that many have placed their hope for humanity.