Monday, February 11, 2008

A Chance Encounter With GOE National Director for Operations Chris Hill, An Apology, and a Challenge

On my way to a speaking engagement at Wesleyan yesterday, I ran into Chris Hill. I was at Union Station in DC when he approached me, got in my face, and asked me if I wanted to hit him. “Remember, ‘heaven help this guy.’ This is your chance. Take your best shot.” Of course, I had no intent to physically harm him, but he was very angry about the story that I reposted on this blog about him. I repeatedly asked him why he was so angry, and he started to calm down.

He explained to me that after the incident on September 15th of last year and the allegations that he had beat up gold star father Carlos Arredondo, he had received numerous threats, including one against his three-year-old daughter. I won’t get into the details of the event that day, but he claims that when Carlos was surrounded by members of GOE, he was trying to help him and that Carlos later thanked him. I have not been able to confirm or disprove this and there is no clear evidence to show that’s what he was doing. There are only the photos that show he was there and various conflicting accounts of what happened. However, the version of events that I posted here accused him of harming Carlos. He believes that this has contributed to some of his personal harassment. I have apologized to him personally, and would like to publicly apologize now for using unnecessarily inflammatory language.

I have also received death threats for my activism, and can relate to what he has experienced. The people that do this, for whatever reason, are usually mentally disturbed. There are certain things that those of us in the public debate say that can trigger them, and the language that I used may have done so. I hope that everyone who may read this realizes that things said in the public arena can have repercussions in private lives, and for those of us that have any kind of platform, we need to take this seriously.

It turned out that Chris and I were on the same train, and so when the call for final boarding came, we walked and talked our way through the gate and onto the platform. He was still quite agitated at this point, but when there was no one else on the platform, I suggested we board before we get left behind. We ended up talking in the aisle by the bathroom on the train for the next hour.

It turns out that Chris Hill and I have a lot in common. We both believe that Americans in general don’t have nearly enough of an idea of what goes on in Iraq to appreciate what our troops are going through. We both believe that going into Iraq was a mistake. We both believe that the war has been grossly mismanaged. We both believe this country needs to do a better job of taking care of veterans. Surprisingly, we both consider ourselves libertarian. (At least with a little “L.”) Chris also describes himself as “socially liberal,” and told me about how he actively supports pro-choice causes.

We talked a lot about Winter Soldier, and although he wants veterans to tell their stories, he kept saying, “I disagree with your tactics.” He asked if he could attend Winter Soldier along with Pete Hegseth, the ED of Veterans For Freedom and I told him that we would at least consider it. There may be a lot to be said for inviting the most scrutinizing eyes possible to hear the testimony. We are putting so much effort into our verification process, that I know we will all be proud to stand behind the veracity of the testimony.

Now, he described himself as libertarian, but only as a framework. I am a libertarian not as a framework, but rather as a matter of principle. The fundamental principle of libertarianism is the non-initiation of the use of force, or as it says on the back of my Libertarian Party lifetime membership card, “Statement of Principles - We hold that all individuals have the right to exercise sole dominion over their own lives, and have the right to live in whatever manner they choose, so long as they do not forcibly interfere with the equal right of others to live in whatever manner they choose.”

Because Chris’s political views are not grounded in principle, they are subject to circumstance. By contrast, I extend the principles of liberty into a foreign policy of free trade, and non-intervention. In regards to why we need to stay in Iraq, he repeatedly referenced 9/11. Chris is not stupid, and made it clear that he understands there is no direct link between 9/11 and Iraq, “but 9/11 changed things.” Tragically, he’s right. 9/11 gave our “leadership” a chance to change things by exploiting the fear it caused in average Americans.

Before 9/11, we knew how the world was growing smaller and how technology changed the threat of terrorism. Suicide “bombers” hijacking airplanes to use as missiles could have happened decades ago. 19 guys with box cutters do not by themselves justify an entire reorientation of our foreign policy to justify a preemptive strike doctrine. Chris believes they do. His theory of the manipulation of the intelligence process that led us to believe in the big yellow cake lie is that a few eager to please hacks at the CIA made a mistake. Knowing Cheney’s involvement in the process, that’s hard to believe.

He thinks that the war has been mismanaged, but now has faith in “the surge” and General Petraeus. I had to point out that “THE surge” is really the third or fourth surge, it’s just the first to be advertised as “the surge.” He agreed, but believes that the change in tactics is significant enough to give it a chance, and that “winning” is the important thing. I have a bad feeling that if we stay in Iraq for a hundred years as McCain suggests, there will be a new strategy every two years, and there will always be people saying, “but this time the new strategy is going to work.”

This is how people in abusive relationships view their partners. “I know he hurts me, but he really loves me.” “I know he’s lied in the past, but this time it feels like he’s telling the truth.” “We’ve been through so much, I have to give him one more chance.” The American people seem to be behaving a lot like the kind of person who goes from one abusive relationship to another, always desperate to believe what we are being told, always hoping for something better, and even now, after realizing how bad Bush has been for us, we look to the next leader, hoping things will be better. But until we change, the leadership won’t. Despite repeatedly being lied to, most of us so desperately want to believe our government.

While Chris is generally a good guy, an assertive one no doubt, and a proud veteran who has served honorably, he seems to represent a tragic part of today’s American psyche. We were attacked, and we are afraid. We have been lied to, but we want to believe. We know how we are being screwed, but we let it continue. We know that people are dying every day in Iraq, and we can’t stop talking about Heath Leger. We know that torture is being done in our name and we go back to watching TV.

Towards the end of the conversation, I asked Chris, “So with all of our common beliefs and shared objectives, where does this conversation leave us? What can we do to work together to achieve our shared objectives?” That was when he challenged me to a boxing match. I thought he was joking, but we tossed the idea around a bit and decided that we could do it as a fundraiser for a charity we both support like the Disabled American Veterans or Homes For Our Troops. Someone I mentioned the idea to said, “Why don’t you just have a debate?” “Because no one would come.” At least not nearly as many as would come to see “the anti-war movement” versus “the pro-war movement” duke it out in a boxing ring. And this way we could sell tickets and actually raise some serious money for a good cause. Of course for fairness’s sake, we would have to find a charity that would host it, so that neither of our organizations have anything to do with putting the event together. Given that, Chris, I officially accept your challenge. Let’s do it for our shared American values.