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Rebuilding Iraq

Dispatches

NEAR LATIFYAH, IRAQ

War opponent soldiers on in Iraq

By Brian MacQuarrie, Globe Staff, 4/4/2003

As US troops yesterday closed in on Baghdad, the big prize that could send them home, Specialist Ben Whetstone wasn't smiling. Whetstone, 21, of Brandon, Fla., wants to go home as much as anybody. But he doesn't believe in this war. As officers and men cheered each new development near a front that moved inexorably in the Americans' favor, Whetstone looked across farmland at the edge of the Fertile Crescent and shook his head.

"It's hard to be involved in something that you're so adamant against," said Whetstone, who helps maintain communications equipment. "This is a huge invasion of a sovereign nation whose defenses we helped build up in the Iran-Iraq war.

"Sure, it's horrible that Iraqis can be tortured. But it's also horrible that the US thinks it can stick its nose in everyone's business. If we can do this, why not go to Korea? Why not go to Iran?"

Whetstone said that he joined the military primarily to gain college tuition benefits. And he stressed that he's not a disobedient or problem soldier. But when he raised his hand to swear an oath to obey his superiors, Whetstone said, he didn't promise to stop thinking for himself.

"If someone tells me to do something, I'll do it," he said. "But on the inside, I might think the opposite."

In an Army where nearly every soldier touts the military line enthusiastically, Whetstone is a rarity. He writes letters to the editors of newspapers and magazines and shares his thoughts with fellow soldiers about what he considers a misguided mission.

"First, they told us the Iraqi army was a depleted military, that most of their equipment was from the Cold War era," he said. "So why are they now supposed to be this huge threat?

"Saddam's a bad dude, there's no doubt about it. But these methods," said Whetstone, his voice trailing off.

In one year, when his four-year commitment is up, Whetstone said, he will leave the Army. Until then, he'll "fake the funk" -- which, in this nonconformist's mind, means "basically doing what I'm told."

This story ran on page A24 of the Boston Globe on 4/4/2003.
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