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Views from a military past 

The Independent asked military veteran and activist Stan Goff of Raleigh to offer his views on unfolding events in response to the attacks of Sept. 11 and on how the anti-war movement must in turn respond.

The Independent: Please give us a brief overview of your military experience and the work you've been doing since.

Stan Goff: I entered military service in January 1970. I was a parachute infantryman. My first assignment was with the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Vietnam. In February 1996, I retired from the 3rd Special Forces. In the interim, I worked in three Ranger assignments, two Special Forces units, one counter-terrorist unit, taught military science at West Point, as well as tactics at the Jungle Operations Training Center in Panama. I worked in eight active conflict areas. I have also worked under the direct supervision of U.S. embassies.

I've worked as a writer and organizer for the last five years. Right now, I'm organizing for a new formation in North Carolina called the Network for Popular Democracy.

Indy: Once you recovered from the initial shock and bewilderment of the attacks, and began organizing your thoughts, what did you see as your role in articulating a response?

Goff: My role is the same as anyone on the left. I differentiate "left" from "liberal." I don't think there's a difference of degree, but a qualitative difference between the two. While I feel it's my duty to work with liberals and other peace activists to form a broad movement against the so-called "War on Terrorism," I think the left has an additional responsibility to provide a dispassionate and intellectually rigorous interpretation of both the events in motion now and the official discourse that legitimizes it.

Indy: What resources do you draw on from your military experience--or, in other words, what internal resources are common to an effective soldier and an effective anti-war activist?

Goff: Strategic thinking, and the willingness to accept realities that I don't like. With that, I also understand the value of initiative and occasional audacity.

Indy: What are we in for? Is the U.S. militarily prepared?

Goff: Depends on what you call "prepared." That's not really the question, given the political goals underwriting this so-called "war." The question is what the effect is going to be on all the surrounding countries and governments. This is the real wild card, and it's a very dangerous game. Can the U.S. occupy a portion of Afghanistan? Sure.

Indy: What must the left do to effectively mount an anti-war movement?

Goff: Quit accepting [the government's] framework. Just because they frame this as a battle between good and evil doesn't mean we take the bait and begin a polemic about how much evil the U.S. government has done. Quit emphasizing that bin Laden and the Taliban are U.S. creations. All that is true enough, but it misses the more crucial points that [the official] story about Sept. 11 is full of holes, that they have provided no evidence that the Taliban had anything to do with this and that Afghanistan was a target as long as five years ago. The left won't be a real left again until we regain our critical faculties and our absolute skepticism about any official discourse.

Indy: Do you foresee the left emerging from this movement stronger, more unified?

Goff: One can only hope. But there needs to be, again, a distinction drawn between the left and the broader forces that must be brought into an anti-war movement.

Indy: What do you suggest as a better alternative, than military action, to responding to the attacks of Sept. 11?

Goff: First, establish what happened and who did it, and the answer to your question will present itself from there. This was a crime, and it deserves a legal response. But the horrendousness of the crime doesn't excuse us from really finding out who did it and why, and following some basic rules of evidence and due process.


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