In some circles, one man’s coward is another man’s hero, or at least that’s the case when it comes to U.S. war resisters.
Chuck Wiley, a veteran of the United States Navy and a member of a family with a strong military background, found this to be true yesterday.
Wiley was hailed a hero by peace activists, war resisters, and academics who were gathered at the Steelworkers Hall on Cecil St. to discuss perceived war crimes committed by former U.S. president George W. Bush a week before he arrives in Toronto for a public speaking event.
A native of Kentucky, Wiley was deployed in the U.S. Navy for 17 years before fleeing to Canada in Jan. 2007 to seek refuge from the Iraq war. He served as a nuclear engineering technician in the Navy, before rising to a supervisor position. He said that when he was promoted to Chief Petty Officer (CPO) while serving in Iraq, he gained access to previously restricted information that disturbed him on a personal level.
“There are a huge amount of responsibilities that an occupying power like the U.S. has, many of which are ignored,” Wiley said. “Most have to do with civilian treatment.”
Wiley personally came into contact with these responsibilities as CPO as part of Operation: Iraqi Freedom, where he co-ordinated air support and bombings missions at the request of the ground troops.
At this point Wiley started to feel conflicted morally because he felt a lot of the requested targets were reckless and unnecessary.
“The problem was that a lot of these missions are being done against illegitimate targets, like abandoned civilian buildings,” he said.
According to Wiley, the military frequently bombed abandoned civilian buildings because they did not want the opposing forces using them as shelter. However, this also effectively destroyed the country’s infrastructure and many civilians were left with no homes to return to.
Wiley also said that frequently, civilian infrastructure was targeted regardless of the potential loss of innocent life. But when he questioned his superiors, he said he was told “It’s not your place to worry about, shut up and do your job.”
“I didn’t understand how what we were doing was legal,” Wiley said. “But when I asked an honest question, I was told to be quiet.”
As a result of the experience Wiley felt disillusioned and lost faith in the war of Iraq. He deciding not to re-enlist and returned home in Nov. 2006. He left the United States over two years ago, saying he was going north of Toronto for a camping trip, and never returned. He currently resides in Toronto, where he has applied for refugee status and still awaits a response.
Wiley no longer considers the U.S.A his home and said he doesn’t feel the military is part of his identity anymore. He is considered a deserter by the U.S. army and his family, who have significant military roots, do not speak to him.
However, while Wiley may be considered a betrayer, coward, or traitor to some, many others would call Wiley anything but the above.
“You are the true hero,” shouted a member of the audience, as the crowd erupted in applause. “For having the guts to speak the truth.”