New York, NY – May 27, 2007. One day before the City observed the Memorial Day holiday, New York’s Union Square South was the site of an action called “Operation First Casualty” by organizers. Members of several chapters of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) held a noon time press conference on Union Square’s south steps announcing their street theater action. The purpose of the event was to vividly and accurately depict aspects of ordinary life in war torn Iraq – and to build support to bring the troops home now. Leafleters handed out postcards which explained the theatre:
Right now somewhere in Iraq a scene like this is playing itself out, often with deadly results. Our troops are caught in the middle of a violent occupation where they are unwanted by the majority of the Iraqi people. In order to survive daily missions soldiers are taught to use brutal, dehumanizing search and seizure tactics. The detention of Iraqi civilians combined with corporate fraud has inevitably led to resentment, distrust and frustration. This is what is fueling the insurgency and our troops are paying the consquences with their lives and limbs. The average American and Iraqi citizen pays for the occupation in blood and taxes.
“On the other side of the world you can die in a futile occupation. Only by Bush Logic does this constitute support. When we say bring our brothers and sisters in Iraq home now – who are we talking to? The electorate said it last November but we have yet to see any results. We are the weapons of this democracy – ruled by the people,” said Paul Abernathy of the Pittsburgh chapter of IVAW. Abernathy was one of several IVAW activists to speak at the press conference.
“Operation First Casualty is a demonstration that is patterned after similar demonstrations performed by Vietnam Veterans Against the War during the Viet Nam era,” said Demond Mullins, of the New York City chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War. Mullins, a member of the National Guard, served in Iraq, September 2004 through September 2005.
The demonstration began with a group of “Iraqi” protesters clad in white tshirts. They approached the south steps from the west side of Union Square waving fists and shouting. A platoon sized contingent of IVAW, in battle dress – some carrying full packs – advanced cautiously on the protesters from the east. The IVAW vets held their arms and hands where they would be if the actors were carrying weapons. A confusing scene of shouting and protesters being thrown to the ground ensued. Protesters were forced to the pavement, searched and cuffed in nylon flexcuffs all too familiar to many New York City protesters. Eventually the IVAW contingent withdrew pointing their “weapons” at the protesters, some of whom lay still on the ground – handcuffed in the prone position. Media ran to and fro – taping the display for evening news broadcasts. According to the IVAW website – the action was entitled Operation First Casualty “because truth was the first casualty of the Iraq war. It is time for the American people to know the truth so they will act to bring the troops home now.”
Local activist volunteers were recruited to portray civilians in the reenactments of actual interactions between U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians. The shouting and rough treatment of civilians is what Iraqi civilians experience on a daily basis according to IVAW.
NLN photographed/videotaped portions of the press conference and the street theatre. Several members of Movement for a Democratic Society (MDS) took part in the action as “protesters”.