Playing on his Nintendo Wii and listening to NPR instead of the video game sound effects, 25-year-old Jabbar Magruder is the face of the anti-war movement on CSUN’s campus.
For Magruder, it started one day while he was sitting in a music appreciation class. His professor was telling a story about a time he had given the same lecture to a class during the Vietnam War. The professor said a student had stood up and proclaimed the fact they were discussing such an inconsequential matter, while there were people dying in Vietnam, was a sham. The student convinced the class to walkout, exemplifying the rebellious spirit of the late 60s and early 70s.
The professor asked the class a question that would change the next couple years, if not the rest, of Magruder’s life. He asked if that type of student defiance could take place during our current war, the war in Iraq. Magruder, fresh back from a year-long deployment in Iraq, felt an eruption of emotion and spoke out the frustration he was feeling.
“I told them, ‘The only reason you’re so comfortable is because there’s no draft’,” Magruder said, his voice elevating with conviction as he spoke to me in the living room of his Northridge apartment, two blocks away from campus. “‘You’re too worried about what’s on your MySpace page and returning your text message.’ They were stunned.”
With that day in class, Magruder’s involvement in the anti-Iraq war movement began. He is now the co-chair of the board of directors and the California regional coordinator for the advocacy group Iraq Veterans Against The War. The IVAW is nationwide organization that consists of soldiers who have served in the military during the War on Terror; the military actions after the September 11th terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.
“There’s a lot of people who have opinions in this world, but nobody does anything about it,” said Iraq War veteran John Wood, 29, who was stationed with Magruder in Tikrit. He now resides in Victorville, working as a carpenter. “Most guys just do their 11 months and come home. But Jabbar’s standing up for the people who are going in after him.”
Magruder enlisted in the Army National Guard in 2000, while attending Granada Hills High School. Like many young soldiers in the armed forces, he said he joined the military because he wanted to earn his place in society, rather than to be granted privileges. He graduated in 2001 and attended basic training for his military service that summer. He eventually reached the rank of sergeant.
The attacks on Sept 11 occurred only three days after the completion of his training. Magruder commented that his reaction to the attack was not the typical one he thought most Americans felt. He said he understood American foreign policy has been involved in controversial matters in the past, and that involvement has drawn criticism from other countries. He recalled watching the tragedy on television at home and knowing that he was going to be sent somewhere, soon.
Magruder was eventually deployed to Iraq on Dec 14, 2004. He spent 11 months on what he described as, “the worst vacation of your life.” The hardest part of the experience for Magruder was saying goodbye to his friends and family. His departure caused the break up of a four-year-long relationship with his girlfriend. He bought her an engagement ring and was planning on purposing when he was returning from a training mission that July. Hijacking is the way he described the feeling of not having control of his own life.
“It was a year of flashlights and cold hangers,” Magruder said of his 11 months in Iraq, working nightshifts as a Black Hawk Helicopter mechanic. The most chilling moments he experienced during his time at war were when mortar shells would land close to the base he was stationed in. “That’s when you would know it’s real.”
He never had communication with any Iraqis, other than the ones who would work as janitors on the army base. He said the only chance he would have had to interact with Iraqis would have been while on escort duty, which is when a soldier with a loaded machine gun monitors the janitors while they’re on the base. He was never assigned to escort duty.
The highlights of his service while stationed in Iraq were the elections; he was present for two of them. He described these as the only times a foreign army was necessary in the country, and also the most important of the missions the military was involved in. He also spoke of the intense comradery between the soldiers because of their shared experiences of leaving their lives back home, as well as the strife of deployment.
Magruder was initially in support of the invasion of Iraq, mainly due to the Bush administration’s claim that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. He believed a preemptive strike was an acceptable solution in the face of his countrymen’s safety being jeopardized. The turning point came for Magruder when the military ended their search for WMD’s in Iraq without turning up a single one. The search was called off only a few weeks before he was scheduled to be deployed.
Magruder’s first contact with the IVAW was during an anti-war rally on the third anniversary of the Iraq War. He received contact information from the group but wasn’t inclined to actively participate until that fateful day in his music class. Since then he has risen quickly through the ranks of the IVAW.
The IVAW mission statement declares the withdrawal of the United States’ military forces from Iraq, as well as funding for veterans programs when the soldiers get back and reparations for Iraqis, which Magruder believes, in addition to putting pressure on the government to get its act together, is the best way to help Iraq reconcile.
The IVAW members participate in community outreach and rallies. They are often requested to speak in classrooms and group meetings. Membership in the IVAW spans across 48 states.
Opponents of the IVAW include Veterans For Freedom, a group comprised of soldiers who have also served in the military since September 11th in the War on Terror, mainly in the Afghanistan and Iraq theatres. VFF stands in solidarity with this administration’s decree that going to war was the only option for the United States.
“They’re real passionate,” said David Bellavia, Vice Chairman of VFF, not directly commenting on the IVAW. “We’re glad that any soldier could find a place after they come home from the war.”
Magruder is currently in his junior year, working to earn his bachelor’s degree from California State University Northridge, in the field of Biomedical Physics. He aspires to become a physician, combining his ability to mechanically repair things with his passion for helping people.
As for now, he lives a double life. On one hand, he’s a student and an activist; on the other, he’s a sergeant in the Army National Guard, which means he could be asked to serve another tour of duty in Iraq at any time. When I asked him if he would go back if was asked by the National Guard, Magruder replied, “Yes, to support my fellow troops. But I would speak against the occupation every chance I get.”
Magruder is hoping to graduate this semester and is also currently working on putting together an event titled Winter Soldier, the title alluding to a Thomas Paine quote where he speaks of the “summer soldier and sunshine patriot” having to go against his country for the greater good of his people.
Magruder said he doesn’t believe the occupation will end, even with a new administration in the White House, until pressure is put on the elected officials who make those decisions. “No matter what party, the policies won’t change,” he said referring to the 2006 congressional elections. The Democratic Party won a majority of seats in the House and Senate on a platform of withdrawing troops from Iraq, yet, no tangible end to the war is in sight.
“It doesn’t have to mirror the 60s,” Magruder said in regard to a social movement to end the wa
r. “We just need to be creative in ways to get their attention.”