Back from the War in Afghanistan
Veteran Jeff Bartelli is more Green than ever
David Doonan, Green Party of New York State
Greens are often described as “tree hugging hippies.” The only accurate description of a ‘typical’ Green is a commitment to a cleaner planet and a freer, peaceful society. Because of the Green value of peace and a strong counter-cultural heritage, many people would be surprised to learn many members have served proudly in the United States Military. During last year’s Green Party convention in Reading, PA, Green Pages spoke with one veteran. Here is his story.
After advanced training, Jeff Bartelli’s first day of active duty as a member of the United States Army was September 11, 2001 at Fort Polk, Louisiana. This was not how Bartelli, currently a member of the Montana Green Party, expected his military service to start.
Growing up in Montana, Bartelli decided to enlist, when, after finishing high school and trade school, he found himself without money to go to college, “I knew I was taking a chance joining, but at the time the prospect of going to war seemed slight. Besides, it was the only way I could afford to go to college.”
Trained for computer aided drafting, construction surveying, and soil analysis, Bartelli and his engineering unit were sent to Kuwait prior to the invasion and they spent one tour of duty in Iraq. “There was no way anybody could relate Iraq to September 11, nobody had any illusions as such – everybody sitting on the ground hated how hot it was.” Being the first engineering unit in Iraq, their mission included making adjustments to the pre-war plans for POW camps. Due to the then reigning optimism at the Pentagon, his unit’s tour was cut short, just five and a half months in theatre.
After a brief return home, Bartelli spent 16 months in Germany, followed by a year in Afghanistan. During his time there, Bartelli became outspoken against the war and on environmental issues. At one point, he decided to organize an anti-war rally at Bagram Air Base where he was stationed. After the Judge Advocate General officer denied him permission to organize a rally, Bartelli changed his approach.
Shortly before dawn, on a day he knew U.S. correspondents would be on base, Bartelli climbed one of the radio transmission towers and hung a large “Impeach Bush” banner. Asked why he hung the banner, Bartelli said “I was just trying to make waves; trying to piss people off – maybe it was empowering to people, as they ran down the road, and it would be like wow, people are still thinking here, maybe I can keep thinking”.
The banner remained hanging for seven hours, which speaks volumes about the sentiment among enlisted personal on the base. The fact this incident wasn’t reported also tells something about the attitude of the press.
The accomplishment of which Bartelli feels most proud from his service was when he was assigned to design an infrastructure that would bring low cost power, solar and wind, to remote Afghan villages. “I spent a considerable amount of time writing and talking with vendors from Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, coming up with a plan that was affordable and as locally based as possible. By giving them solar and wind, fully sustainable, we could bring electricity to the villages.” While the chain of command eventually rejected it, there was little doubt Bartelli’s commanding officer chose him for this project because of his outspokenness on the environment.
Before joining the military, Bartelli was not active politically, but from the age of twelve onwards was anti-republican and anti-democrat. By 2000 Bartelli became very interested in politics and tried to convince his friends to become active and vote “Not knowing much about the Greens or Nader, the political party that most appealed to me at the time was the Libertarians.” It was during his time stationed in Germany that Bartelli came to realize he was a Green.
“My time in Europe exposing me to a more socialized form of government, I think, really influenced my transition from the Libertarian Ideal to the Green Ideal. There’s things I disagree with, but in the end, it (the Green Party) still represents the vast majority of the ideals that I have. So I’ll stick with it, there’s power in numbers.”
“The Libertarians appealed to me originally because I had the most information about them, and I didn’t know so much about the Greens. Just the whole idea of de-centralization, more self-accountability, more power in the hands of local government instead of federal government, all of it appealed to me. I didn’t believe in the Libertarian economic ideas. Once I found Anthropology and decided to pursue it as a career, more re search in that field revealed to me that humans are a social species and our means of controlling ourselves as a culture should be bent around that social aspect, not this whole individualist, isolationist bent in the Libertarian Party where they say you’re by yourself, you take care of everything on your own if you can’t do it, then you can go beg from some friends and hopefully they’ll cover your ass. I can’t subscribe to that idea.”
Based in Germany during the 2004 elections, Bartelli remembers the officers as being either completely apathetic or afraid to talk about politics. The Armed Forces Television ran notices about ab sentee voting “but there was no obvious bias” for either the Republicans or the Democrats. Yet many enlisted personal found absentee voting demoralizing because of the widespread belief the ballots wouldn’t be counted unless it was an extremely close election.
Bartelli’s advice to a Green who is thinking of joining the military: “Don’t do it.” When asked how he thought a Green could morally accept being in the military, he replied, “My viewpoint of it is when you’re in a wartime situation you adopt whatever ideas will keep you alive. If you have to lie to yourself in any way to make it seem worthwhile to stay alive, you’re going to adopt it. Then afterwards you’ll go back to your previous state of mind and you’ll be like ‘Wow, I hate it even more because it lowered me to such a grade. I think that’s all people do.”
“If Greens go in, they could try to seek out jobs that would keep them from going to war but in the end they’re still supporting the whole machine. I’d say all they could do would be to organize on base. Try to find like-minded people. You’re not going to stand up to the war on base; there’s nothing you can do. You can organize a Green local. If successful, it would be all the more noteworthy if you could pull it off. That Green local would filter through to other people just like any other organizing effort, you’re spreading ideas. You have a potent idea and when people see there’s a network and an organization that’s backing them, it’s all the more empowering.”