Veteran Says Standing Rock Is ‘The First Time I Served The American People’

Will Griffin, a Standing Rock activist who is opposed to the Dakota Access Pipeline and a United States Army Paratrooper who served in both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, has published an opinion piece entitled “After Two Wars, Standing Rock Is The First Time I Served The American People” on the website Common Dreams, an outlet known widely for supporting liberal and left-wing causes.

“I was in Iraq when President Bush announced the ‘surge’ in January 2007,” Griffin writes in the opening of the piece.

“I was in Afghanistan when President Obama announced the ‘surge’ in December 2009. But it wasn’t until I visited Standing Rock in October 2016 when I actually served the American people. This time, instead of fighting for corporate interests, I was fighting for the people.”

Activists at Standing Rock protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Activists At Standing Rock [Image by John L. Mone/AP Images]

Griffin here is expressing the idea, popular among the American Left and among many of his fellow veterans, that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were motivated more by corporate and economic interests than an interest in protecting the people of the United States and their direct security. Indeed, as he continues, he argues that supporting the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline is a better means of protecting the citizens of the United States than his service as an Army Paratrooper.

“The Sioux struggle against the pipeline embraces so many other struggles in this nation.” Griffin writes.

“It encompasses struggles against climate catastrophe, a history of breaking treaties with Native Americans, attacks on the right to assemble, assaults on journalists, the militarization of police, and placing corporate profits over human rights.”

Standing Rock and the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline have highlighted the issues that Griffin discusses here. The protests themselves revolve around the construction of a massive pipeline project that would run some 1,172 miles from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota through South Dakota, Iowa, and finally to Illinois for refinement and sale. The pipeline, if completed, would carry some 450,000 barrels of crude oil a day along its length.

What has brought the protests at Standing Rock into national focus is that the Dakota Access Pipeline will run through land that belongs to the Native American Sioux tribe and likely will destroy burial grounds and other sites sacred to the Sioux community. Additionally, there is deep concern that the pipeline will pose a threat to the safety of the local water supply, with many in the tribal community depending on the Colorado River for their water. Thus, as Griffin points out in his piece, the long history of strained relations between the United States government and the indigenous Native American community has been a key issue in discourse surrounding the Standing Rock protests.

Griffin also alludes to the issue of police suppression of protesters and even journalists at Standing Rock.

“We saw journalists being attacked and warrants issued for their arrests just for holding a microphone and interviewing people,” he writes.

A banner proclaims '#NoDAPL,' a slogan used by opponents of the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock.
A Banner Proclaims '#NoDAPL' At The Standing Rock Protests [Image by James MacPherson/AP Images]

Griffin is likely alluding to the much-discussed case of Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman, who was arrested in September while covering the events in Standing Rock. The increasing violence that is being directed at the protesters is also an object of concern for Griffin, a very dramatic example of this being the use of attack dogs and pepper spray on individuals by Dakota Access Pipeline private security and local police forces, as reported by The Huffington Post.

Griffin concludes his analysis by explaining why he joined the military and why he has decided now to stand with the Standing Rock protesters against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

“At one time I thought the government, the military and police knew what they are doing and that they existed to protect us all. That’s why I joined the military; to provide a selfless service to my country. That myth has been shattered. After two wars, PTSD and moral injury, I’ve come to realize I’ve been on the wrong side of history.”

Griffin’s words show us that the United States, even former military members, are fundamentally divided over the issue of Standing Rock and the DAPL.

[Featured Image by John L. Mone/AP Images]