Why one young Marine refused to fight in Iraq

Why one young Marine refused to fight in Iraq

More than 20 years have passed since the United States invaded Iraq. For Darren Fisher, it’s been more than 20 years since he said “no” to that invasion.

RadioActive’s Olivia Usman covers the story of a young Marine who decided against fighting in the so-called War on Terror.

This story tells about the military and the reality of war.

[RadioActive Youth Media is KUOW’s radio journalism and audio storytelling program for young people. This story was entirely youth-produced, from the writing to the audio editing.]


When Darren Fisher was 17 years old, he was looking for a way out.

His home in San Diego wasn’t safe, but he didn’t want to be on the streets. He needed shelter, food, and a steady paycheck.

He also wanted to be part of something noble, something bigger than himself. The military could give him all that, so he went to the U.S. Marine Corps recruiting office and said he wanted to enlist.

However, Fisher was still a minor and had not even graduated from high school. His close friends were perplexed by his choice. Still he was stubborn.

The Marines helped him graduate from high school early and sent recruiters to his home to help him convince his mother to turn custody over to the U.S. government.

“I remember her being eager to sign that document,” Fisher said. “And I remember that she was reluctant to do that, and the recruiter became the advocate for me and my desire to join the company, and was very persuasive and told me and my safety.” I remember him calming my mother’s worries about the future and what it actually meant to sign these papers. ”

At the end, my mother signed it. Fisher went to boot camp, where he learned to refer to walls as “bulkheads,” floors as “deck,” and shirts as “blouses.” He described the experience as a “relearning experience.”

“It’s very scary to deprive a person, especially a very young person, someone who is essentially a child, of everything they know. So there’s a lot of fear,” he said.

You completely relearn what the world means to you. It’s very scary to strip a person of everything they know, especially a very young person, someone who is essentially a child. So there’s a lot of fear.
Darren Fisher

After about three months, he graduated from boot camp. Fisher was really proud.

After completing infantry training, he went on his first deployment. By this time he was 18 years old. He sailed to various ports and conducted cross-training with allied forces. Fisher saw the world for the first time. Shortly thereafter, he returned to Base Camp Pendleton outside San Diego.

Then everything changed. On September 11, 2001, Fisher broadcast live on television as his second plane crashed into the World Trade Center. The entire unit was called to the parade deck. The commander explained what happened. He told them he was going to war.

“The first thing I noticed was everyone’s reaction to it. It happened quickly. There was cheering and excitement,” Fisher said. “And I remember being really confused by it. There was this weird celebration going on, and I didn’t really understand what we were celebrating.”

Soon, Fisher was on a transport ship in the Persian Gulf. His unit was in reserve and could be called to the front lines of the Afghanistan war at any time.

A year has passed and no battles have been seen. Back home, the focus shifted from the war in Afghanistan to the war in Iraq.

“The next thing I knew, I was going to Iraq,” Fisher said. “I remember being surprised, like, from the left. It was just, ‘Afghanistan, Afghanistan, Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden.’ And it was, ‘We’re going to Iraq, Saddam Hussein. “was. And I couldn’t understand where it came from. ”

They were told they would face combat in Iraq.

Those around him were determined, even excited.

“It was the first time I had this feeling that I might be in the wrong place,” he says.

Fisher did not believe that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. He knew he could not support the US invasion.

Once again he needed to find a way to escape.

Caption: Darren Fisher holds his dog Arlo at his home in Bothell on July 29, 2023.

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The idea of ​​firing for another person who is a completely red person who has lived a completely life is incredibly anxious, and frankly, he refused to invade Iraq. It was worse than any reaction it could have received.
Darren Fisher

At the time, Marines were required to be vaccinated against anthrax due to the dangers of chemical weapons.

Fisher decided the solution was to refuse the vaccine.

“We knew that getting vaccinated was a response to the eventual invasion,” he said. “I didn’t believe in it. I didn’t trust my leadership at all.”

When it was Fisher’s turn to get the vaccine, he said no. And as he was sent to higher and higher ranks, he kept saying no. He faced backlash at every level.

“In the military, for obvious reasons, there is pressure on individuals who want to be individuals,” he said. “Because it’s impossible to put an individual in an army that is actually functioning and in combat. And that person will be corrected in some way.”

In addition to social stigma, members of the U.S. military who refuse to fight face dishonorable discharge, loss of pay and benefits, and even prison time. Fischer was told that his decision could result in more than 10 years in a brig (military prison).

Fisher’s rise in the chain of command took him all the way to the Iraqi border. The Colonel took him aside one last time and spoke “man to man”, assuring Fisher that he needed to be a part of this too. The colonel reminded Fischer that he was part of a unit and that if he left, the unit would have to deploy without him and he might end up fighting and dying. Ta.

“He said, ‘Son, you’re not going to be able to participate in this historic event with your fellow Marines. You really need to be there. You’re not going to be able to be there with them. Don’t you want to?’ And I said, ‘No, no, that’s not true.

Fisher had no idea how much the invasion of Iraq would help anyone. And he knew he didn’t want to kill.

“What actually caused the most emotional distress was the thought of firing at another person, a complete stranger, someone I had never met, someone who had lived a complete life.” he said. “And I was going to go in there and shoot them. That thought alone was incredibly disturbing and, frankly, the potential exposure I would receive from the Marines for refusing to take the vaccine or for refusing to invade Iraq.” It was worse than any other repercussions.”

After the last attempt failed, Fisher’s superiors knew he was not going to give in. He was placed in the ship’s cage.

“I was isolated and had no contact with anyone else on the ship, especially other Marines,” he said. “That was the order, not to be talked to.”

Fisher was sent back to Camp Pendleton and placed in a brig. He doesn’t remember how much time he spent there. Once Fischer was released, he had to wait to be discharged from the hospital. The date kept slipping back and forth.

While waiting, he started dreaming and making plans for the future.

“I was starting to form a vision of what I wanted for myself,” he said. “I wanted to start right away, but I couldn’t until the process was complete, so there was a lot of waiting in anticipation.”

When Fisher was finally discharged, he was just months away from completing his original four-year enlistment. His discharge was not honorable, but for misconduct, and he was ineligible for veterans’ benefits.

The first thing Fischer did when he left his room was throw everything away. The only remaining photo of the Marine is the one he sent me for this article and was saved by his mother.

“There was so much anger and resentment built up by that point that I didn’t want to look at anything that had to do with the Marine Corps,” he said. “So we got rid of everything.”

After that, Fisher moved on with his life. Over time, his anger faded. Now, after 20 years of healing and hindsight, he sees his experience much differently.

“This is a classic story of growth and learning,” he said. “It’s about having an experience and getting something out of it.”

He said he now understands the power structure. He understands that power requires compliance.

“If you don’t comply, that’s an act of resistance,” Fisher said.

Mr. Fisher’s time in the Marine Corps shaped who he is today as a citizen, husband, mental health counselor and friend. Even though there were no supportive adults in his childhood, he became the adult in me.

Now, Darren Fisher has everything he was looking for when he was 17 years old. But none of that came from the Marine Corps.

This story is radioactive youth media An introductory workshop for high school students. Produced by Frankie St. Pierre Nelson. Consultation support provided by Joshua Penner. Edited by Casey Martin. Prepared for the web by Kelsey Kupferer.

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