Graduate student Adam Kokesh’s tattoo is the only noticeable physical feature hinting at his deployment in Iraq.
“For those who fight for it, life has a special flavor the protected never know,” the tattoo reads.
But when sitting among hundreds of anti-war activists spelling “IMPEACH” with their bodies on the National Mall to protest the Bush administration, Kokesh’s views about the Iraq War are quite clear.
In the past few weeks, Kokesh has become a celebrity in the world of activism. A veteran of the Iraq War, he has spent much of his time in the District garnering support to halt the country’s involvement in Iraq. On Thursday, Kokesh was arrested on charges of unlawful assembly while protesting in the Hart Senate Office Building, he said.
“I’ve always wanted – through the system of American politics – to make the world a better place,” said Kokesh, who is pursuing a master’s degree in political management at GW. “That is my life goal.”
Kokesh first enlisted in the U.S. Marines Corps in 1999 when he graduated from high school. It was not until three years later – when the United States invaded Iraq – that he started his first tour of duty.
Today Kokesh is an active member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, an organization based in Philadelphia that encourages veterans to actively speak out to end the Iraq War.
Kokesh said he first served in Iraq as part of a civil affairs team that patrolled the area around Al Fallujah. After joining another company, his team distributed money for different reconstruction projects and helped handle civilian issues. Their motto, he said, was, “We care so that you don’t have to.”
“When I went (to Iraq), I was proud of the fact that we were cleaning up our mess; that was responsible foreign policy,” Kokesh said. “But it is obviously not that or we wouldn’t be there with our military presence the way it is now.”
After ending his tour in 2004 as a sergeant, Kokesh returned to Claremont McKenna College in California, where he was enrolled before joining the military. Kokesh said he joined IVAW last winter when he came to the District and had trouble finding a job in politics.
On April 19, Kokesh made national news when he attended Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Wearing a camouflage Marine Corps issue Boonie hat, Kokesh held up a sign marking the number of times Gonzales said “I don’t recall.”
“That was my first major media coverage,” said Kokesh, adding that creating the sign was completely spontaneous. “That was the first thing that led people on the street to recognize me.”
Sitting among activists Saturday afternoon, Kokesh said he thinks the reason student-led protest against the Iraq War happens at a lesser degree than it did in response to the Vietnam War is because this time there is no draft. The result, he said, is that troops rarely integrate entirely into civilian life when they return from Iraq.
“We’re cycling through the same troops over and over again, so it isolates them from society,” Kokesh said.
The loss of life, he said, is what inspired him to rebel against the war – something he feels most civilians cannot yet grasp.
“(Human casualties are) something you have to become awake to, because once you realize what the stakes are and you realize how that fits into your worldview and your reality, you have to do something about it,” he said.
Those helping Kokesh spell out “IMPEACH” with their bodies Saturday shook his hand and congratulated him on his arrest in Hart.
Midge Potts, a member of Code Pink, said veterans like Kokesh give the anti-war cause more credibility. Code Pink is an organization made up of women who oppose the Iraq War.
“When we have Iraq veterans like Adam coming back and telling their stories about why they are against the war, that really reminds us that we are speaking the truth,” Potts said.
Kokesh said his earliest experience with war activism was walking with Code Pink in the congressional office buildings while the members spoke with staffers and representatives. He would stand behind the women, looking serious, with his arms crossed, he said.
Although anti-war veterans like Kokesh are beginning to speak out, Potts said that not enough people understand the veterans’ movement.
“I think in some ways the media tries to portray Iraq veterans as protestors, so it’s going to take a bit of work to portray (to the media) that these are Iraq veterans,” Potts said.
In response to his critics, Kokesh said veterans have the most comprehensive understanding of the situation in the Middle East.
“To say that our politics are wrong is bullshit, because we speak from direct experience.”