He didn’t sleep at all that night. Instead, the memory of the Iraqi man’s pleading eyes remained frozen in his mind, and Prysner knew all too well, that it was really Prysner who would never be forgotten in that man’s mind.
The next morning Prysner woke up to find that the squad leader, a big country hick from West Virginia who would cackle loudly about killing the “towel heads” had quit without warning. Just like that – he was gone.
Back at the interrogation station, 60 people were huddled together, waiting their unknown fate.
If there was ever a justifiable time for a tense moment of resistance, this was it.
Without any prior discussion, a continual scene played out for Prysner and his co-interrogators.
“Do you know where Sudan Hussein is?” asked Prysner, his voice barren and detached.
“No,” they all said.
“Do you know where the weapons of mass destruction are?” his friend asked flatly.
“Do you know where Osama Bin Laden is?”
“Ok, you can go. I recommend you for release,” said Prysner.
And so it continued day after day until one day, one civilian at a time until as quickly as it started, the experience was over.
Falling of the Veil
“Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself.” - Confucius
Prysner’s roles in the military shifted. One day he worked convoy security or ground surveillance, another day he worked counter-intelligence.
One day, while on an artillery unit assignment raiding homes, Prysner and his friends broke through the door of a sparse concrete two-story Iraqi home that housed several generations inside. No explanations were given for these raids and the soldiers quickly learned not to ask any questions.
The unsuspecting family shielded their hands in front of their faces at the tribe of machine guns that swarmed in on them.
“Don’t move!” the men hollered, as they yanked the crying, screaming family members outside into the shimmering heat.
The children wailed in panic and stretched their arms towards their parents who were the first ones shoved to the ground.
Prysner gripped his rifle. He wiped the dust from his eyes. The sunlight was blinding, and he could barely see through the barrel of his gun. The world seemed to move in slow motion now and he couldn’t make out the screams the artillery men were shouting.
Suddenly, the dust cleared and opening the door, another child emerged.
Prysner’s heart pounded. It was – no, it couldn’t be – it was a little girl exactly the same age as his sister – and the spitting image of his little sister. The girl stared at Prysner and suddenly time seemed to stop.
He called his sister’s name.
Could he trust what was in front of him was real? Prysner walked up towards the girl as if in a trance. He reached a trembling hand towards her and she stared up at him curiously with big, brown eyes, her hands clasped on the door handle.
“Prysner! Grab her!”
Suddenly another soldier ran past him and grabbed the girl, shoving her to the ground.
Some days later, a friend on the unit was sent back to the states.
“What happened?” Prysner asked.
“Mental breakdown,” a soldier said. “That’s all they told me.”
That night, Pryser had a dream.
In his dream, the girl from the home raid appeared to him.
“Mike!” she called to him. She opened the door to her house, beckoning him inside.
He followed her through the door. Inside the house was not her family, but his family - right here in Iraq. His younger brother, his mother, and father, and the tiny girl – his sister.
“Mike, I’m so proud of you,” his mother said, opening her arms.
Dear Michael Moore
“Anti-social behavior is a trait of intelligence in a world full of conformists.”
– Nikola Tesla
As the long Iraqi months went by and Prysner saw that he was not making anyone’s life any better, but in fact the opposite, the lie that he believed about liberating the Iraqi people collapsed.
“It helped me realize that that’s the entire line given for the U.S. military is we go and free the oppressed to help those in need. When I saw how much of a lie that was in Iraq, I wondered, what is our real purpose? And that’s what started to make me question what the real job of the military was,” says Prysner.
He tried not to think about the lie too much then. His days were busy and he had to focus on what he felt comfortable doing on a day-to-day basis. It wasn’t until his 12-month tour in Iraq was over that he had time to really look into what the military’s been used for.
Prysner saw a surfacing theme.
“The common thread is countries that don’t bow down to economic interest of U.S. business and they use the military as a battering ram when they want to do that,” Prysner says.
“And that was just true in every example [Chile, Iran, Vietnam, etc.]And I realized that that’s what happened in Iraq. But it has to be systemic because otherwise, you wouldn’t be able to use the military to do what an oil company wants to do. It has to be something that’s actually built into the very structure of it,” says Prysner of the embedded capitalism.
By the time Prysner’s four-year stint in the military was coming to an end, the commanders were pressuring Prysner to reenlist. “Only four years?” they all exclaimed. They thought he was a lifer, for sure.
One morning, Prysner was rounded up to sit amongst others in his unit for a good dose of a PR talk on reenlisting.
Prysner scanned the room of young men brimming with excitement about the idea of being an army-action war hero and realized that he was the only one who had been deployed. Their voices hushed when an officer dimmed the lights and moved to the front of the room near a white pull-down screen.
“You see these guys?” the officer asked the room full of men. He dangled a red laser pen between two fingers, and pointed to a picture that flashed on the screen.
There was Prysner – right smack in the middle of the picture, smiling dopily with his arms draped around two other soldiers.
Another picture flashed onto the screen of Prysner polishing his gun outside the base.
“How can you leave these guys behind?” the officer asked.
He swiftly plucked a key and the picture on the screen changed, this time of Prysner and his artillery unit.
“Look at what these soldiers are doing!” the officer exclaimed, his voice trailing into a story about the brave missions these men embarked on.
The room of young men gazed admirably at the men in the pictures, and Prysner gazed at himself.
Click, went the slide.
“Just look at these faces,” the officer said, his red pen now making swirling motions around Prysner’s head, unaware that the head was sitting two feet in front of him.
“Fighting alongside your brothers is the noblest thing you can do,” the officer concluded. “You’ll look after each other out there,” he said of Iraq, “and you’ll become men.”
“Ok, I’m like in all these pictures,” thought Prysner. “Can I go now?”
No one could convince him of reenlisting. And he could confide in no one about why.
In fact, the only person he had confided in was the famous American documentary filmmaker Michael Moore.
Prysner remembers watching Moore’s Oscar acceptance speech on TV the day before he was deployed to Iraq.
“We live in a time where we have a man sending us to war for fictitious reasons…Shame on you Mr. Bush, shame on you!” Moore had passionately shouted into the microphone as the celebrity crowd on TV erupted in equal applause and hecklings.
Dear Mr. Moore, Prysner wrote late one night in his bunk bed.
I’m writing it from the trenches of a war (that’s still going on,) not knowing why I’m here or when I’m leaving. I’ve toppled statues and vandalized portraits, while wearing an American flag on my sleeve, and struggling to learn how to understand.
I was in Vicenza, Italy when I heard your Oscar acceptance speech. It was the day before I boarded a plane and experienced a “combat landing” in uncharted territory in northern Iraq. It was such a surreal feeling—the only light came from a red bulb—we sat shoulder to shoulder in silence. We were told to expect heavy artillery/chemical attacks. I can’t say I know what was on the minds of those men packed next to me, but I assume it was thoughts of family and religion. But me, a single 20 year old, I was thinking about what you had said. I joined the army as soon as I was eligible – turned down a writing scholarship to a state university, eager to serve my country, ready to die for the ideals I fell in love with. Two years later I found myself moments away from a landing onto a pitch black airstrip, ready to charge into a country I didn't believe I belonged in, with your words repeating in my head…
Everything the anti-war voices were saying all along turned out to be true and it made me rethink everything that I had been told. I now realize that the history of the U.S. saving others isn’t accurate.
He mailed it the next morning.
Nearly two months later, a letter arrived.
I was touched by your sincere letter you wrote me last month from Iraq. I think nothing comes closer to the truth than viewing this war through the eyes of an American soldier. May I publish your letter?
Prysner dropped the letter and read it again. He walked outside his base tent and sat down in the hot mid-day desert sun. He looked around at the soldiers and back out into the desert. There was nothing to see for miles.
In this foreign land, Prysner had come to terms with his mortality. Since his first week in Iraq, he woke up every day knowing it might be his last. He had seen others wake up the same way, holding onto a distant hope that an unpromised future awaited them once this hurdle of war was over. He thought of those empty bunk beds and was reminded of his friends who were instantly erased. “How easily it could have been me,” he thought.
Dear Mr. Moore,
Yes, publish my letter. I might die out here. I want people back home to know the truth and this might be the last that is ever heard from me.
“So…I didn’t die,” says Prysner. “But then word got around.”
“Mike!” barked a voice behind Prysner one evening outside the base.
Prysner spun around this see one of his commanders behind him, his hands resting on his hips.
“You’re needed with at the battalion headquarters,” the commander said.
Prysner ran in to grab his helmet. The commander followed him.
“And one more thing.”
“Yes?” Prysner whirled around.
The commander approached Prysner so close, he could feel his breath.
He lowered his tone and raised a finger in front of Prysner’s face.
“Don’t go writing any more letters.”
It wasn’t until later when Prysner was back home in the states that he would receive the middle-of-the night phone calls.
“I’m coming after you,” one chilling deep voice said, and Prysner found himself locking his doors and shutting his curtains.
But while he was still in the army, the severe threat of disciplinary action hovered over him. He was silenced.
Very soon, this would all just be a bad nightmare, he thought. Only months of war remained. He would free soon.
Then Stop-loss happened. People weren’t joining the army because they didn’t want to go to Iraq and get their legs blown off, so due to the shortage of soldiers deployed, all the soldiers who signed contracts or four years were automatically recycled in the military for another four years.
“You’re going to Baghdad for 18 months,” his commander had told him. It was the death sentence that every cell in his body needed to signal an explosion in his hip – something that began throbbing in the middle of Baghdad training.
Indeed, days later Prysner was wheeled into the hospital and an X-ray revealed a giant bone cyst in his hip that ended later in a hip replacement. He would not be going to Baghdad after all.
“All of my friends who I was deployed with the first time all had to go back. It was much worse the second time around,” Prysner tells me, his voice trailing off, and I know what he’s talking about.
Where Have all the Soldiers Gone?
“There will come a time when you believe everything is finished.
That will be the beginning."
Prysner’s long imagined freedom was finally here and he wasted no time heading south to Florida to disappear from the cold and civilization. After being stationed in upstate New York where temperatures had plummeted 70 below zero a couple times, causing ice to crack and boom and numbing his body as soon as he opened his door, nothing now made him feel freer than the warmth of the sun and sitting at the expansive ocean watching the waves crash. He had been to the ocean many times before, but he watched it now as if seeing it for the first time.
He had enrolled in a small South Florida college and while walking on campus one day, a guy handed him a flyer.
“Miami Anti-War Demonstration,” the bright flyer read.
Prysner knew nothing about the anti-war movement except a scattered picture of fuming mobs painted by the media.
“I was actually in the war,” Prysner told the guy, turning the flyer over in examination.
“And…” what did you think?” asked the guy.
Later that evening, Prysner was on stage at the small demonstration speaking about the massive violence in Iraq unacknowledged by the U.S. media.
He remembered watching Michael Moore’s documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 in theatres when he was still in the army and all of the scenes of soldiers getting blown up by IEDs.
“I was just so happy. I felt up until that point no one acknowledged that that was happening,” he tells me.
The news report mentioned there were casualties but highlighted how it was mostly peaceful, occasionally showing a rocket hitting a building with an injury.
“But there were like 50 rockets hitting every base every day and night!” Prysner says.
“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls;
the most massive characters are seared with scars.”
- Khalil Gibran
Prysner was never able to resuscitate the normal life he once had. Speaking at vigils was his only temporary therapeutic relief from his isolation and thoughts from the war. The people were restless for truth and nothing else seemed worth talking about.
Then one day he heard about a national march on Washington D.C. He hadn’t the slightest idea of what the march entailed, only that he simply must go, so he helped organize a caravan from Miami to Washington D.C.
The morning of the march he threw on long-sleeved shirt and opened his closet, combing his hangers back in search of a coat when he saw it – his army dress uniform hiding in the back, its gold medal reflecting in the light, a palimpsest of its turbulent war-stained days.
Then he remembered the scene in Ron Kovik’s “Born on the 4th of July,” a story he found repeated solace in, about an ex-soldier turned anti-war protestor. He seized the jacket and held it up the mirror in front of him in contemplative examination. He would probably be the only one wearing it, but the dress jacket spoke loudly in ways Prysner could not yet voice himself back then. He threw it over his shoulders and left the house.
He was standing somewhere near the White House in a pack of excited chatter and yellow signs when he saw something familiar.
A man who looked to be in his 60s wearing Prysner’s identical dress uniform jacket with an identical combat patch bobbed through the crowd.
“Wait!” called Prysner after a stiffened moment of disbelief. He slipped his way through the crowd, which was now well in the thousands until the man was just inches behind him.
“Hey man!” Prysner said, grabbing the man’s shoulder. The man whirled around and smiled at Prysner. A lock of gray hair fell in front of the man’s face, and when his eyes rested on Prysner’s identical patch, he burst out laughing.
“173rd Airborne Brigade,” he said, pointing to his own patch from Vietnam.
Prysner didn’t know what to say to the veteran, he simply felt joyful by the fated coincidence that for many years since then has spun into a close friendship.
“You here with the other Iraq war vets?” the man asked. “Wait - there they are!” He pointed ahead of him to a group of 15 other Iraq war veterans near the front of the march all wearing some piece of their uniform.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” thought Prysner. He and the veteran caught up with them.
The march had begun and the excited buzzing turned into an ignited crescendo.
“End the war!” the crowd yelled.
“If only I would have known about you guys years ago!” Prysner screamed happily over the layers of voices, still grasping the extraordinary discovery of his new tribe that now he marched shoulder-to-shoulder with. The veterans laughed and smiled at him, and despite the fact that he was shivering on that cold, winter day, he had never felt warmer. A joyful glow radiated from his heart and for the first time in a very long time, he felt good.
"The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself."
- Rudyard Kipling
That’s when the obsession began. Prysner knew that there were so many isolated soldiers against the war, just like himself, silenced, feeling imprisoned in their own minds, plagued by a spiral of helpless thoughts, and many suicidal. If they only knew help like this existed outside, if they only knew they didn’t have to go to war, just think about how many lives could be saved!
Marching wasn’t enough. So he joined the organizers of that Washington D.C. March, ANSWER Coalition, then the Iraq Veterans Against the War, then PSL (Party of Socialism and Liberation), and many more. The national organizing and speeches he gave for the groups launched his swift progression onto the forefront of tireless a campaign on the truth about war.
“The revolution is over,” many people told him. That was part of some story going around that the big social movement in the 60s was resolved and life carried on as usual.
But as Prysner glanced around at hundreds of thousands of people marching with him along Pennsylvania Avenue on that winter day, nothing seemed further from the truth,
“Well,” he thought, “looks like this shit’s still happening!”
But thousands more troops were being swiftly deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan and too many soldiers were coming back in coffins. So Prysner went where help was needed – outside the military bases.
He co-created March Forward!, an anti-war group inspired by the widespread rebellion and mutiny among soldiers in the Vietnam War with the message that not only is the Iraq war wrong, but all U.S. military ventures are wrong and that everyone in the military should refuse their orders and not take part in it. A militant community of radical anti-war activists was born.
It was during March Forward!’s popular campaign, “Our Lives, Our Rights,” when he stood outside the military bases where deployments were launching to Afghanistan.
Prysner’s hair was long now, and it flapped freely in the wind, a look he said he knew would draw “a high potential for someone to want to fight me,” but he showed up anyway, undeterred by the warnings, to distribute thousands of leaflets, literature, and hold meetings with soldiers who were thinking about refusing deployment. Prysner and his friends also held up giant signs that read, You Don’t Have to Go to Afghanistan. How many more will die for a pointless mission? Learn your rights, next to a helpline phone number and website.
The campaign worked. Several soldiers refused to go and it was that pivotal push that Prysner needed to raise political consciousness in the military. All day, every day he helped veterans become activists and reach out to people who were going to deploy and get them out.
But for so many, it was too late.
As covered by the Empire Files, Soldier Matthew Sitton wrote an important letter to his Congressman during his third tour in 2012:
I’m only writing this email because I feel myself and my soldiers are being put into unnecessary positions where harm and danger are imminent.
There is no end state or purpose for the patrols given to us from our higher chain of command, only that we will be out for a certain period of time.
As a brigade, we are averaging at a minimum of an amputee a day from our soldiers because we are walking around aimlessly through grape rows and compounds that are littered with explosives.
I am concerned about the well-being of my soldiers and have tried to voice my opinion through proper channels of my own chain of command, only to be turned away and told that I need to stop complaining.
Thank you again for allowing soldiers to voice their opinions.
If anything, please pray for us.
SSG Matthew Sitton
Weeks later, Sitton was killed, never to return again to his wife and newborn baby.
The Biggest Crime of Our Time
"The first problem for all of us is not to learn, but to unlearn." - Gloria Steinem
On December 15, 2011, President Barack Obama announced the end of the nearly nine-year war in Iraq. Nearly 4,500 U.S. soldiers were dead. A crowd of dozens of military personnel stood behind Obama’s platform in North Carolina on that day as he thanked military members for keeping the “outstanding operation” going. But nobody knew what either of those words meant.
The U.S. invasion of Iraq left it a “completely crushed state,” says Prysner. “And we’ve ruined it in the most obscene ways.”
It was a place that looked completely different one year later upon Prysner’s arrival. Colorful buildings and vibrant trees once reflected onto the glassy water off its still port, children frolicked in its city playgrounds and pools, and traffic merged on wide paved roads.
Their government was not ideal, but they were dealing with it, and its fallacies paled enormously in comparison to the hovering threat of the home raids, interrogations, and death that could strike anywhere, anytime by invading U.S. forces.
Today, parts of Iraq are still defensively clinging in survival. As its infrastructure repairs itself one beam at a time, the unrepairable remains: the thousands of babies born with defects from the U.S. military’s chemical weapons. This, combined with the invasion, killed over a million of the country’s civilians (not including the million who died before in Iraq as a result of the U.S. sanctions and the bombings) and left 5 million orphans.
1 in 3 people in Iraq were killed, wounded or displaced by the U.S. invasion, in what Prysner refers to as “the greatest atrocity of our generation.”
“A million died,” Prysner said one stage one evening at a 2011 Ashville, North Carolina veteran’s anti-war event.
“And for what? For a war based on lies. We are told that there is this threat of weapons of mass destruction, and not only did it turn out that there were no weapons of mass destruction, but that when the politicians and the generals were presenting the evidence, that they knew that it was fabricated. They knew that it was a lie. And they sold it to us anyway. They sent thousands of us to our deaths, tens of thousands to be maimed, hundreds of thousands, perhaps over a million to be psychologically traumatized.
But you know, the Iraq war is not out of character for the U.S. government. It’s nothing new, they actually lied quite a bit. They lied about the Gulf War being about to protect the people of Kuwait, they lied about the Vietnam war being to bring democracy to the Vietnamese people and they lied about every single popular democratic government that they overthrew and installed the most brutal dictator, whether it be in Haiti or Chile or Iran or the countless other examples for U.S. history.
And they’re lying to us right now as we’re launching these very expensive cruise missiles into Libya. How dare the U.S. government even utter the words humanitarian intervention? You know that we’re supposed to believe it’s a coincidence that Libya is Africa’s largest oil producer? They’re telling us that we have to be in Afghanistan to protect our friends and family here at home. We’re supposed to believe that it’s just a coincidence that Afghanistan would give the U.S. military a foothold in the most strategic and important resource-rich region on the entire planet – one that they had long hoped to dominate and actually tried to develop quite friendly relationships with the Taliban government at the time for plans for oil pipelines?…All of these wars from the beginning of this country are based on lies and deceptions….that’s why we must continue to tell the truth….”
There’s something about the way Prysner tells this truth that signals he’s ahead of his time and his age. For we have no choice but to progress as a species into a higher consciousness that thinks collectively and cares for its weakest members –a naturally-evolving civil arrangement some might refer to as socialism. And it’s usually society’s elderly people who think collectively – not just in terms of its own nation, but all human beings – including Iraqis and other countries the U.S. invades.
But even a decade ago, in Prysner’s early 20s, he was already philosophically wading in the last two pools of life, coined by Carl Jung as a human’s “Statement” and “Spirit” stage where “we find ourselves asking, ‘What have I done for others?’”
According to Jung, in our last stages of life, we shift our focus from a sole-centered view to a world-centered view, mostly because want to leave a legacy and better life for our children.
I can tell that Prysner will never feel rectified for being a part of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, or being associated with a country that was run by people like Bush, Rumsfeld and Cheney, who he described as “completely pampered rich dudes who probably don’t even know how to make their own bed or probably have never even worked a day of real work in their life. Thinking that they had the genius idea of, ‘Oh of course! We’ll just send this many troops and then we’ll run the country!’”
Fortunately, it’s the guys like Prysner who were waiting tables and driving delivery vans for catering companies, guys like him who needed a GI bill to get into college, who would fight their wars.
In a 2011 North Carolina speech, he said:
“…They keep sending those soldiers to be killed, to be blown up because they don’t want to take the responsibility of a political set-back of tarnishing the image of the invisible empire.
“If you took a survey of soldiers in Iraq, how many of their parents were executives at oil companies? How many own stock in the defense industry? The answer would be zero. Because when the rich need someone to fight their wars, they get the people who can’t afford to go to college and need healthcare for their families who need a home – that’s who they send.”
The U.S.’s responsibility in Iraq is a timeline that goes back further than most people know. It all started the day that Iraq nationalized its oil, suddenly targeted with CIA operations and worse. And then the genocide of Iraqis happened during the 90s under the Clinton era where the U.S. created such a cruel policy targeting civilians and intentionally killing Iraqi’s babies to make the lives of Iraqis so miserable they would revolt against Sudan Hussein.
In a recent anti-imperialist panel in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, Prysner spoke of the U.S. legacy leading up to the invasion of Iraq:
“The U.S. strategy in Iraq to create regime change was blatantly and clearly to bomb all things civilians need for life. They bombed all of the farmland, hospitals, and factories. In particular, the U.S. targeted all the water treatment facilities in the country. And to compound the effect of that, blockaded any medicine associated with drinking dirty water, intentionally caused the death of around 500,000 children and babies, causing babies and elderly people to suffer the most. And the U.S. officials admitted this cruel policy and admitted that it was worth it.”
“I think this is a very hard choice, but the price—we think the price is worth it,” Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told 60 Minutes’ Lesley Stahl of the Iraqi genocides in 1996.
It’s these kind of evil tactics that will forever puzzle Prysner as long as the U.S. continues its rampant game of imperialism.
“We live in a country that has the capacity to make everyone’s life great 10 times over but instead all of that capacity has been sucked into like a .1 percent of the population and used for the most treacherous, evil things in the world,” Prysner says.
“It has no parallel in history. We look back in history at evil empires and conquests and you can’t compare the size and scope to what the U.S. does today abroad and at home.”
Indeed, the U.S. spends roughly $1 trillion a year on its military and has roughly 800 of its bases in foreign countries.
“Launching a war of aggression is a crime that no political or economic situation can justify,” said the Chief U.S. prosecutor for the Nuremberg Tribunal, Justice Jackson.
The Nuremberg Principles were a set of guideless developed to constitute a crime that were created when trying Nazis for World War II. When it came to the Iraq war, the Nuremberg Trials’ chief prosecutor Benjamin Ferencz found the U.S. guilty “of the supreme crime against humanity – that being an illegal war of aggression against a sovereign nation.”
Despite all the years of genocide and torture, Prysner is surprisingly hopeful of an Iraqi resurgence of normalcy after a couple generations of the most extreme misery.
“That is 100 percent because of the U.S. government’s decision to go in there and destroy it. There is no one else responsible at all.”
George W. Bush: Just a Regular Guy
"You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time." – Abraham Lincoln
It’s no surprise that our then-President George Bush who sent Prysner and the other young men to fight for him, (described by Prysner as “not very compelling leader who was never very charismatic to soldiers to begin with,”) has now disappeared for the most part, known as one the most disgraced, most hated president in history, resurfacing only recently as a goofy poncho-battling guy who’s taken up painting and frequenting hip talk shows.
“Do you know what he’s painting?” Prysner asks me, hushing his tone.
“No,” I say.
“He came out with a book of paintings of portraits of soldiers who died in Iraq. I couldn’t even….I didn’t even say anything about it. It’s like the most repulsive thing I can imagine.”
Up until this point in our meeting, Prysner has guilelessly painted a war story with humor and introspection, but this is the first time I see him quietly disturbed, and as the signs of pain are illuminated in his dark brown eyes, I know it’s a story with no ending.
“He did that. I mean, he killed all those soldiers – he killed them all. He lied and killed them all. He knew he was lying, he knew that this was about profits. He knew that everything they were saying about Iraq was wrong - he completely knew it. And, not only that but when the war started going bad, when it was like, Ok, they’re not going to accept us occupying them, they’re going to fight us, they threw so many more people to their deaths needlessly just so they could leave. He is responsible for the Iraq war alone for so many ruined families, ruined lives, both Iraqi and American and the audacity to do like a book of portraits like he feels some kind of guilt?”
I know Prysner is thinking about his friends and the nearly 7,000 American soldiers who have died for George Bush’s fight, including the thousands with amputated legs and physical and psychological wounds since the war in Iraq began in September 2001 – a war so unwinnable it halted the U.S.’s plans of colonialism that sketched further than Iraq – Syria, Libya, Iran, and Lebanon. The $4.8 trillion cost of war since 2001 has been a lavishly profitable side-effect for weapons contractors (and it’s only getting bigger with an extra $54 billion in federal funding to the Department of Defense’s 2018 budget – the biggest increase in history) but the consequence for the soldiers are much different.
If you haven’t been sent to war, you’ll never understand the feeling of sheer disposability that Prysner and the soldiers felt in Iraq, a war that left so many young people silently succumbing to their martyrdom in muted resignation, and more soldiers dying of suicide than in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. (One person per day was killing themselves in the active military).
And I know there is nothing I or anyone can say to him in consolation. That 18-year-old teenager with a spark of adventure he had inside him on that first day as the U.S. Army recruiting car rolled slowly out of his driveway into his military adventure is gone, and now is replaced with a man who feels has no alternative but to tell a weighted truth, a truth that lies hidden somewhere beneath centuries of societal conditioning. For a moment, I see Prysner surrender to a sentient wave of grief that crashes as quickly as it was formed.
The price he pays for telling the truth is of little relevance to him. For the most part, he’s misunderstood.
But “Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood?” Ralph Waldo Emerson asked in Self-Reliance.
“Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.”
The grief and shadows that Prysner has confronted in himself are now transmuting into a legacy of hope that change is imminent. The only question is: when will the rest of the world catch up?
What are We Fighting For?
“I am not an Athenian or a Greek, but a citizen of the world.” - Socrates
We are at a crossroads now, forced to ask the same questions about these current wars that Prysner has been asking himself about the Iraq war.
When we look at the surge of troops President Trump is sending to Afghanistan who he says will “fight to win,” we need to ask ourselves, is this really about democracy, freedom and human rights?
Is it about “attacking our enemies, obliterating ISIS, crushing Al Qaeda, preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan, and stopping mass terror attacks against America,” as stated by President Trump during his Afghanistan revival address on August 22, 2017?
Or is this about the U.S. expanding their colonial power into Central Asia?
Is it just a coincidence that Afghanistan and Central Asia are an intersection to the world where 85 percent of the world’s population lives and in a matter of proximity to vital trade routes in Eurasia?
And is it just a coincidence that the majority of the world’s natural gas and oil is in Central Asia, the Caspian Region and the Middle East?
Are these poor people who haven’t even heard of September 11 the biggest threat to the U.S., and that after a decade of invading their country, the U.S. needs to post up there for at least seven more years?
According to philosopher Noam Chomsky, terrorism is a real thing – but the U.S. is not dealing with it.
“When the U.S. and Britain invaded Iraq, they were aware that it was very likely to increase terrorism. In fact, that was the analysis by the intelligence agencies and experts, and it happened. Terrorism increased by a factor of seven in the year following the invasion.”
Chomsky gives three ways to stop it: One way is to “stop your own terrorism – that makes a big dent in it. The other is to stop supporting the sources that encourage it. Another way is to do what the British finally did in Ireland: pay a little bit of attention to the grievances that lead people to give sympathy or direct support for terrorism, and terrorists are of course criminals, so find the criminals, apprehend them, give them fair trials – none of this is being done.”
Costs of War Project at The Brown University reports that about 104,000 people have been killed as a result of armed conflict in Afghanistan since 2001 and 31,000 were civilians. Just this year alone, at least 5,243 civilians have been killed or injured, with much higher numbers of women and children than previous years.
What is the purpose of these poor American soldiers being killed and getting their legs blown off in a bunch of scattered outposts across Afghanistan’s countryside where they are forced to just sit on the base and wait to be attacked by well-equipped resistance forces? Is this obsession with holding valleys, then ditching that valley and moving onto another valley for more soldiers to get killed by massive amounts of resistors really about democracy, freedom and human rights?
Or is this really all because, as Prysner stated, “some rich politicians and arrogant generals don’t want to be the ones to accept responsibility for a military defeat under their command?”
Since the election of President Trump, the impending threat of nuclear war with North Korea, a resurgence of war in Afghanistan, turbulent climate change resulting in floods fires and hurricanes, and a revival of extremists focused on skin color, our species is being forced to recognize that we’re at a major turning point in history. A tense, collective shadow has swept over the country in the past year, forcing us to claim ownership of an old paradigm littered with societal rules that no longer make sense anymore.
What is the purpose of all of this?
“Nothing will end war unless the people themselves refuse to go to war.”
– Albert Einstein
The only illuminated truth is that massive change of the human race is imminent, and Prysner is one of those holding a torch to this change.
For now, Prysner’s only goal is to build a resistance to an old crumbling archetype of capitalism, greed and colonial expansion, to create a world that empathizes with the human condition.
“That’s the part of our history that’s not written,” says Prysner on resistance fighters.
“There has always been really dedicated principal resistance to every single thing the U.S. Empire has done and they don’t get written into the history books. And in fact, the history gets changed into something else. All these leaders of the past are just made into caricatures and are not really remembered for what they did so I feel like once it falls, all of those people who were the history makers will finally get some kind of recognition.”
And people are listening to Prysner – mostly young people.
“I think that millennials are far more conscious and active than people think but it’s also an unrealized potential right now and that is going to merge as a very major political force at any time. We don’t know when that’s going to happen but we’ve seen little bubblings to the surface.”
“You see this street?” Prysner says, pointing across at the Los Angeles street behind us, lined with colorful buildings.
“It’s all high schools along here for miles,” he says, waving his arm down the street.
“During the Immigrants Right Movement in 2006 – hundreds of high schools in L.A. – everyone walked out. People that say millennials are apathetic or not politically active – that’s a total lie,” says Prysner.
"It’s promising that polling on young people shows a growing positive view of socialism and a negative view of capitalism. That wasn’t true a decade ago and it shows that there’s a real consciousness that’s growing in a positive direction,” says Prysner.
I look at Prysner and see a faraway glimmer is visible in his eyes again, and I can’t tell what he’s thinking, but it’s probably a thought outside society’s sphere of profundity.
“I think we’ve seen some harbingers of what’s to come like the Occupy movement, the Bernie Sanders movement, and, for all of their flaws and contradictions it’s just a sign of what’s under the surface right now,” Prysner says.
And, he adds, “It’s ready to explode in a big way.”