Former Syrian Soldier Describes Life in Army at Start of War

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By Andrew Slater

A Syrian soldier who was ordered to shoot civilian protesters and imprisoned for refusing to do so speaks with Andrew Slater about life in the Army and the crimes of the Assad regime.

In the coming days the United States and other countries will make a decision on the use of military force against Syria. The consequences of this decision will affect not only the Assad regime loyalists but also the foot soldiers manning bunkers, barracks, and installations across the country. For the vast majority of Syria’s conscripted soldiers, military service amounts to a brutal prison sentence of unknown length now that the war has extended service periods indefinitely.

Syrian government forces patrol the Khalidiyah neighborhood in the central city of Homs on July 28, 2013. Photo: Agence France Press.

Syrian government forces patrol the Khalidiyah neighborhood in the central city of Homs on July 28, 2013. Photo: Agence France Press.

Though the Syrian army does contain true believers who believe that it’s their duty to defeat the rebels and any means justifies this end, many are draftees with no ideological sympathy for the regime and are merely following orders to survive.

Faced with certain death for desertion, and possible retaliation against their families, many conscripts have been put in the nightmarish situation of choosing between committing war crimes or being killed for trying to flee from a war effort they don’t support.

The excuse of “following orders” has its moral limits but to ignore the position forced on Syrian conscripts is its own form of blindness. Pretending that all Syrian soldiers are the same and equally culpable may be of some comfort if the decision to attack is made but it obscures the truth of the situation.

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4 Responses to Former Syrian Soldier Describes Life in Army at Start of War

  1. Eric Francis Eric Francis says:

    Ah this makes it a lot easier to understand the Mohonk Preserve.

  2. bodymindalchemy says:

    Note: Slater served three tours of duty during the Iraq War and two more in Afghanistan, where he was wounded by an improvised explosive device. He deserves to be honored for his military service.

    Nonetheless, we are wise to remain circumspect about his articles’ portrayal of the conduct of the Syrian army.

    Michel Collon, a Belgian journalist and author, has outlined how mass media and governments apply the “Five Principles of War Propaganda”:
    1. Obscure economic interests.
    2. Invert the victim and the aggressor.
    3. Hide history.
    4. Demonize.
    5. Monopolize the news.

  3. bodymindalchemy says:

    Army infantry and special forces officer Andrew Slater apparently is a very new author. His fiction work, “New Me” appeared in Fire and Forget: Short Stories from the Long War (2013), edited by Matt Gallagher and Roy Scranton.

    Slater’s two timely, purportedly non-fiction articles from the Daily Beast website claim to depict “the awful reality of the Assad regime’s war”:

    “Interview with a Syrian Soldier” (Sep 4, 2013 / Part 1 of 2-part article)
    Former Syrian Soldier Describes Life in the Army at the Start of War

    “My Part in this War” (Sep 5, 2013 / Part 2 of 2-part article)
    A Syrian Soldier on Being Arrested for Refusing to Shoot Civilians

    We may derive some insight about Slater’s view of war by reading his only other identifiable work of “journalism,” also recently published on the Daily Beast site. It’s super-timely and it’s got a really catchy title:

    “How to Use Special Ops In Syria” (Aug 27, 2013):
    The Pros of Putting Special Forces On the Ground in Syria

    The Daily Beast loves Slater ’cause he’s a “hero.” The site features the “Hero Project,” a veritable fountain of timely pro-military themed articles with catchy titles.

    One recent example, under the heading “Treason,” is a September 7 article entitled, “Soldiers Protesting the War on Reddit Dishonor Their Oath of Service.” Army veteran Garrett Berntsen explains why soldiers in uniform who have been holding antiwar signs in front of their faces and posting the pictures to Reddit should be punished. I wonder if this “hero” has heard of the First Amendment to the Constitution he’s sworn to uphold.

    The site also has video of “The Hero Summit” recently hosted by Newsweek and The Daily Beast editor in chief Tina Brown. the summit was presented by Jeep, along with IBM, USAA, and Mary Kay. The summit’s “must-see moments” featured Adm. William McRaven (who commanded the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound), resigned CIA Director David Petraeus, former UN Ambassador Madeleine Albright, Bono, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and others in what was hailed as “a stirring conversation on the nature of courage and character.”

    Kristof recently urged support for Obama’s proposed military strike on Syria. In the Times’ Sunday Review, Kristof luridly asked, “when the textbooks count the dead children, and the international norms broken with impunity, will our descendants puzzle that we took pride in retreating into passivity during this slaughter?” Citing the unfounded canard about Assad’s use of WMD, Kristof favors cruise missile strikes to “deter Syria’s army from using chemical weapons again”. He blithely added, “Syria will be bloody whatever we do.”

  4. Judith Gayle Judith Gayle says:

    Thank you, Eric. So difficult — no easy out or black/white solution, so many players, so many voices. Here’s Chris Hayes with a reasoned argument:

    … a 2-minute video from AP that gives us a visual of the players and the places:

    … and an article about Syrian non-violent resistance from Aljazeera America:

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