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The Winter Soldier Returns

What is Winter Soldier?

Military Pilot

In 1971, a group of veterans—current Massachusetts Senator John Kerry prominent among them—staged a protest called “Winter Soldier” that helped end the Vietnam War but that also unfairly saddled the Democrats with a “soft on defense” label that dogged the Party for decades.

Today, a new generation of antiwar veterans similarly hopes to help end the Iraq War with its own Winter Soldier protest. But with “Certified War Hero” John McCain heading the Republican presidential ticket, the question already arises whether Democrats will once again suffer at the polls for years to come for ending another unjust, unwise, and immoral war.

In his first-time political campaign for a city council post in a suburb south of Los Angeles, Iraq War veteran Tim Goodrich (pictured) might help answer that question.

A Family Tradition

As nationally known voice on veterans affairs and cofounder of the Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), Goodrich’s Torrance City Council race promises to shed an authentic light on what might be the single most important issue—how we got into Iraq and what we do about it now—affecting the presidential race and the Democratic Party’s hopes for solidifying its gains in Congress in next November’s elections.

Following in his family’s footsteps, Goodrich joined the Air Force straight out of high school in Buffalo, New York. "One grandfather fought in World War II, the other grandfather in Korea, my uncles in Korea and Vietnam, and even now I have cousins serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. It’s in our blood,” he says. “Some of them disagree with the stand I’ve taken against this war, but they respect and support my positions. It has created some funny family relations.”

Based twice in Saudi Arabia and once in Oman for Afghanistan, Tim served three tours in the Middle East where he maintained electronics on the Air Force’s AWACs airborne radar systems used to monitor “no fly” zones before the Iraq War began in earnest.

“Six months before the invasion, President Bush kept saying we were trying diplomacy, but I knew it wasn’t true,” he says. “Bombing was up by at least 500% and the world didn’t really know.”

As with many soldiers in Vietnam, the reality Tim saw first hand turned him against the war. “I knew it was wrong from the start,” he says. “The threat wasn’t real. We didn’t feel threatened by Saddam Hussein at our base in Saudi Arabia, so how could America be threatened?”

Once out of the service, Tim returned to Baghdad on a fact-finding tour in January 2004. “We were the only two veterans to return as civilians to see what was really going on.” That experience led to IVAW’s founding, which Tim started in July 2004 with seven other veterans—a number that has grown to 1,000.

How Will That Play in Peoria?

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Torrance seems an odd place for arguments about the Iraq War to play out. Home to several major aerospace defense plants, it features neighborhoods that could have been plucked from small-town Iowa or Downstate Illinois.

Sitting between the hard-bitten streets of South Los Angeles on the north and east, the luxurious hills of Palos Verdes to the south, and the Santa Monica Bay to the west, this older, established 100,000-person enclave was once considered “white flight” territory, with a police force—in the past, at least—known to take a hard line with blacks and browns who might venture west to the big Del Amo Mall, the Redondo Pier, or Torrance Beach. Its city council is dominated by Republicans and its congressional representative is centrist Democrat Jane Harman, who beat back a primary challenge from Progressive Democrats of America founder Marcy Winograd last time around.

“But this election is about potholes, not bombing runs,” says Goodrich, who is now an organizer for the California Association of Professional Employees (CAPE), representing Los Angeles County employees at safety and benefits hearings. He feels we need to build a new generation of leaders who will stand up for people's needs, and he wants to be part of that. “Our council has only two Democrats—and one of them is leaving office—so it needs a progressive voice. Also, it used to be that 75% of elected officials were veterans. Now, it’s 25%, so we need more veterans in government.”

As a follow-on to his antiwar work with the IVAW, Tim founded the Iraq Veterans For Progress (IVFP) political action committee. “We supported five Congressional candidates around the country in the last elections—Jerry McNerney here in California, plus Sherrod Brown and Victoria Wulsin in Ohio, Bruce Braley in Iowa, and Patrick Murphy, the only Iraq War veteran serving in Congress, in Pennsylvania,” he says. “We were successful in all but one of those races—Wulsin lost with 49% of the vote.”

A Sincere Question

John McCain and his fellow Republicans are sure to make “Victory in Iraq” a central campaign plank in the coming elections. They have little choice. A few of them may have criticized the Bush Administration’s typically miserable execution of the war, but they overwhelmingly supported the original invasion and have fought back every effort to bring it to a close, instead wholeheartedly supporting the current escalation.

Last spring and summer, when the situation in Iraq had descended into chaos, with dozens upon dozens of American soldiers and hundreds of Iraqi civilians dying every week, the American public clearly had its fill. But Democrats in Congress lacked the mettle or the means to curtail funding for the war when they might have had the chance, just as they have lacked the will or the way to impeach any of the Bush Administration’s many miscreants for cooking the books and duping the establishment press to get into a war we had and have no business fighting.

A friend from church who recently recruited me to join a Vietnam veterans association has asked several times publicly and privately, “Why do Democrats want to lose in Iraq?” It’s a sincere question and it deserves a sincere answer.

My answer is that we need to elect Democrats with the spine to say that the invasion of Iraq was wrong from the start, was undertaken with dishonest and deceptive motives, and needs to end as quickly as possible. Only then can the Iraqi people sort out their own affairs and can the American people stop throwing trillions of dollars down the rat hole, instead using our wealth to rebuild America’s education system, its health system, its roads and dikes, and its economy.

From March 13 to 16, Tim's IVAW confederates will stage its Winter Soldier hearings in Silver Spring, Maryland, just outside Washington D.C., while Tim is poinding doors and walking precincts here.

Maybe Tim has spine enough.