The war in Iraq is at once a war on Iraqis and a war on America's working and lower classes, said Sgt. Kelly Dougherty, who spent 10 months in Iraq in 2003 as a member of the National Guard. She spoke to about 50 people on Feb. 1 in a talk sponsored by the MIT Greens, Thistle and the MIT Free Radicals.
Dougherty spoke two days after the Jan. 30 elections in Iraq, and said she expected those elections to prove as futile for the Iraqi people as the 1967 elections in South Vietnam were for the Vietnamese. The Colorado native has spent the last week touring Massachusetts, speaking to groups about the need to end the war in Iraq.
"We hope her comments will be part of a future discussion," said Anne Pollock, a graduate student in the Program in Science, Technology and Society and co-founder of the MIT Free Radicals, which she describes as a broad-spectrum, progressive political group. "She is so articulate and tells her story so well," Pollock said.
Dougherty said she never expected to end up in Iraq. She received her orders in January of 2003. When she got there, the first thing she noticed was the extreme poverty. "It was like nothing I had ever seen," she said. After spending time in Croatia and Hungary during the conflict in Kosovo, she was no stranger to extreme deprivation, but Iraq still overwhelmed the 24-year-old member of the 220th Military Police Company. "What I saw there [in Croatia and Hungary] was nothing compared to the conditions Iraqis were living in."
While she was happy at first to be able to help, Dougherty quickly became disillusioned by the lack of changes she saw for Iraqis, many of whom still lived without electricity and other basics when she left in October 2003.
Iraqis were initially glad to see the troops, but as time wore on, many grew tired of the occupation, she said. "As long as we continue to occupy Iraq, the Iraqis will continue to fight against us," she said.
Dougherty spoke of the devastation to the lives of military personnel as a result of long tours of duty. "I saw many marriages fall apart," she said. Additionally, she told stories of small business owners whose livelihoods fell apart while they were away and of soldiers whose first active-duty paycheck did not come until they were gone six months. "They were late with mortgage payments and worse," said Dougherty.
On Dec. 13, 2003, the day Sadaam Hussein was captured, little changed for the troops on the ground in Iraq, she said. The same was true of the day President Bush declared "mission accomplished."
Ultimately, the message Dougherty aims to share is one of peace. "I am trying to take something positive out of my experience," said Dougherty. "I am honored to be a part of this movement to end the war."
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on February 9, 2005 (download PDF).