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Saturday, July 16, 2005

 

Lieutenant Harvey Tharp: 'Keep Them From Getting Fresh Mortar Bait'

Former Navy Lieutenant Harvey Tharp of Iraq Veterans Against the War spoke publicly for the first time on July 4 during a lunchtime break of the National Education Association's Representative Assembly. His talk was sponsored by the NEA's Peace and Justice Caucus.

Tharp was honorably discharged from the Navy in March 2005. Six months after the invasion of Iraq, Tharp, along with five others was, in Tharp's words, raided from the Navy Staff Corps. Tharp was called upon because he had studied Arabic five years earlier. Although Colin Powell had spent five million dollars on a study for how to operate in post war Iraq the study was nixed and the neo-conservatives wouldn't send experienced Arabic speakers or diplomats to Iraq.

Tharp says that when he showed up in Baghdad his co-workers said, "Wow, we have people to send out." Tharp, armed with 180,000 dollars in reconstruction for a population of one million was sent to Kirkuk. When asked how he could communicate with Baghdad, he was told to sign up for a hotmail account. As for security he was armed with an AK-47 and provided a security briefing. Having no body armor, Tharp sent off to bulletproofme.com to acquire his own. When he asked who his CO was, he was told, "We're working on it." Kirkuk wasn't as important as the Oil Ministry, which had the South African Army and Halliburton to provide security as well as an unlimited budget.

The Navy was unable to rob Tharp of his humanity. Working with Iraqis he was impressed by their manners and decency. When he heard about Abu Ghraib, he thought to himself that he was glad that he was no longer in Iraq because he didn't think that he could face the Iraqis who worked for him. "This was not Animal House," he said about Abu Ghraib. He quoted the British Major General who said that Americans treated Iraqis as if they were untermenschen and remarked, "American society doesn't care about lives of people overseas."

The lies perpetuated by the Bush administration are mere "window dressing for the ultimate reasons we're in Iraq." Reasons cited by Tharp include oil, protecting allies, and control of the world.

Tharp, faced with another tour in Iraq, which would require him to direct combat, felt certain that "having met those people changed my perspective [and I knew that] I could not voluntarily nor involuntarily kill them." Luckily for Tharp, the Navy had a surplus of lieutenants and he was able to resign; unfortunately this is not the case for enlisted personnel.

"I am going to do everything I can to end this war as soon as possible," Tharp says. "The one thing that we can do is to keep them from getting fresh mortar bait." His mission now is to caution children that to join the Army or Marine Corps right now is a "bad idea." For teachers, it is important to understand that the "weak point of the military machine" is in the recruiting.

Harvey Tharp is the first person in the US Military whom I have encountered who acknowledges the humanity of the Iraqis and who has not been brainwashed regarding the reasons we are there.

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