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“UTTERLY DISMAYED”: AIR FORCE ENGINEER RESIGNS AS DISSENT AGAINST GAZA WAR SLOWLY SPREADS WITHIN MILITARY

“I don’t want to be working on something that can turn around and be used to slaughter innocent people.”



SIXTEEN YEARS AGO, Riley Livermore enlisted in the Air Force. His path to the military was shaped by his evangelical Christian upbringing and growing up amid the war on terror. His ensuing career as a flight test engineer took him to Israel, where he spent two years doing missile guidance research. And shortly after October 7, he decided he couldn’t continue anymore.


Livermore is “utterly dismayed” by how President Joe Biden and the Department of Defense “has been complicit in the genocide in Gaza,” he told The Intercept. So much so that he is in the final steps of separating from the Air Force, a monthslong process he initiated in late October. Once he officially exits the military, he said, he will never again work in what he describes as the military–industrial complex.


“I don’t want to be working on something that can turn around and be used to slaughter innocent people,” he said. “I think the dissonance just kind of continued to get louder and louder, it’s like ‘I can’t really do this anymore.’”


Livermore joins a burgeoning wave of dissent within the Biden administration and the military over U.S. support for Israel’s war on Gaza — including nine prominent resignations in recent months; 25-year-old Airman Aaron Bushnell’s self-immolation in February; and a new service member-led campaign to help soldiers speak out against elected officials’ support for Israel’s war.


The latter campaign comes in the wake of Jewish Maj. Harrison Mann’s public resignation from the U.S. Army, in protest of America’s “nearly unqualified support for the government of Israel, which has enabled and empowered the killing and starvation of tens of thousands of innocent Palestinians.”


In the weeks since Mann’s resignation, The Intercept has heard from members of the armed forces who expressed emotions ranging from guilt and frustration to outrage and repudiation regarding the Biden administration’s unconditional support for Israel, which includes billions of dollars in military aid as well as political and diplomatic cover. The testimonies, while limited in scope, nevertheless signal dissent within American power structures bubbling beyond the public resignations and protests seen thus far. The Department of Defense declined to comment.


“Every single one of my friends in the military agree that this is a genocide,” one seven-year member of the Army wrote in a message. “We’re all outraged by the repeated war crimes and depravity of Israel, as well [as] America’s complicity/enabling.”



An Airman’s Evolution

Livermore first commissioned with the Air Force in 2012, and after graduating with a master’s degree from the Air Force Institute of Technology two years later, he was selected to go to Israel for an engineering sciences exchange program.


During his two years there, Livermore researched missile guidance algorithms while learning Hebrew, immersing himself in the culture, and making friends. “Israel had kind of a special place in my heart,” he said. Ironically, Livermore’s open-armed experience in Israel is what helped lead him to his belief today that the U.S. government may be complicit in supporting an Israeli genocide against Palestinians.


The first seed was planted by a Palestinian friend in the Air Force who pulled him aside before he departed for Israel. The friend warned him of possibly being met with a lopsided story about Israel and Palestine, Livermore recalled. He said his friend introduced him to the Israel lobby — like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC — and its influence on U.S. politics. He also recalled his friend advising him simply to note where people “start the story” when they talk about the country’s history: Do they acknowledge historic Palestine, or is their starting point the Balfour Declaration or the creation of the state of Israel in 1948?


“I’m so grateful for that because it kind of helped me, maybe inoculate a little bit from what I see now is like heavily Zionist propaganda. And it always didn’t sit well with me, in general, just some of the Zionist talking points as far as, like, we’re a nation surrounded by enemies, but yet we’re the strongest around,” Livermore said. “There’s also this sense of being an American, being in the American military — it’s like America owes Israel something. There’s a lot of things, dynamics I didn’t super like.”


In language classes he took before his deployment and in interactions with people from around the world upon arriving, he added, his conversations with peers began to challenge his preexisting assumptions.


“‘We’re the good guys. They’re the bad guys. We’re protecting interests abroad. We’re the fighters for democracy.’ Like, it kind of put a lot of cracks in that,” Livermore said.


Livermore’s experience in Israel also challenged his faith. He grew up evangelical Christian and was active in his church, where he met his wife. In Israel, he joined what’s called a messianic congregation: a self-proclaimed Jewish sect that embraces evangelical Christianity.


Having grown up as a Christian nationalist, he began to see self-avowedly moral and pro-life people setting those values aside for the sake of their political interests, which intersected with Israeli policy aims, pointing to widespread support for President Donald Trump’s moving of the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem as an example. He saw his faith being used as a “cudgel for capitalism and power and oppressing people.” While maintaining a strong connection to a Jesus who preached love today, he added, he “doesn’t believe in white Jesus anymore,” the Jesus “wrapped in an American flag with an M4.”


Livermore slowly grew disenchanted with the military, especially as he reflected more on how the U.S. waged war in Iraq and Afghanistan.


“I’ve had friends who died,” he said. “It’s like, what’s this all for?”


Then came October 7. His exposure to Israeli military brass during his training, as well as the rhetoric he heard from Israeli friends in October, primed him for how ugly things could get. 


“I knew just how bad it was going to be and how there would be wholesale acceptance from the Israeli population,” Livermore said, offering “demolish Gaza, wipe it off the face of the earth” as an example of the types of comments he heard.


Before October 7, Livermore said, he would “have been a little bit more of an Israeli apologist, or like ‘it’s complicated,’ kind of take-a-both-sides-type approach.” Israel’s war on Gaza, however, was a “pry bar that kind of ripped it wide open.”


Livermore’s work in the Air Force has mainly focused on research and development, he said, though he’s worked with several contractors he reckons had a more direct link with operations in Gaza. He said that learning more about Israel’s use of targeting systems like Gospel and Lavender — artificial intelligence systems that have mechanized Israel’s war on Gaza, with little oversight — scared him. He credits his wife for helping him “cut through the bullshit” and not simply put his head down without engaging with the moral stakes.


It’s not an easy process to leave, Livermore noted. “The joke is the only harder thing than getting into the military is getting out of it.” He said it’s typically a multi-month ordeal, including congressionally mandated training and bureaucratic exit processing. There are also varied contingencies and approval processes based on how long members have served. In his case, the process he commenced last year will be finalized later this summer.


“Not only do I want to get out of active duty, but I want nothing to do with anything that’s directly like the military–industrial complex,” he said. “It’s not worth the money.”


Breaking Points

For Livermore, Mann’s resignation letter was extremely relatable. The Jewish Army major described the anticipation of waiting for things to improve or to end, only for them not to. It was a similar feeling that bolstered Livermore’s resolve to act on his preexisting inclinations to leave the Air Force.


Nemesis Hazim, who serves as a doctor in the U.S. Army, also found Mann’s decision a source of comfort as she’s grappled with her role in the military. “I wish I could just quit…… but at least this is validating and makes me feel like I’m not the only one feeling completely out of place,” Hazim wrote to The Intercept.


She said she enlisted to help pay for medical school and has rationalized her way through because of it. “But it gets harder and harder,” she said, adding that she’ll fulfill her time obligations in November 2025.


“I feel useless, ideally I would get out now and volunteer in Gaza, but I don’t have that option until they no longer own me.”


One 22-year member of the Air Force who comes from a lineage of service members described to The Intercept his evolution from committed foot soldier to today fearing that the U.S. is enabling genocide.


In the wake of Bushnell’s self-immolation, he appealed to higher-ups to lead conversations around mental health and Gaza. Those efforts didn’t go anywhere, but he himself broached the subject of Bushnell with his unit to indicate it was safe to talk about the war on Gaza. After Mann resigned, the Air Force member wrote a letter to a senior officer that invoked some of Mann’s own words and once again requested internal conversations to help people cope with the war.


“At some point — whatever the justification — we’re either advancing a policy that enables the mass killing and starvation of innocent people and children or we’re not,” he wrote. “We’re either advancing the destruction of schools, hospitals, and life-supporting infrastructure of 2+ million people or we’re not.”


In a message to The Intercept, he wrote that he condemns Hamas’s attacks on Israel as well as “any and all anti-semitism and Islamophobia.”


“At the same time,” he continued, “I also condemn what I feel is not a proportional response by Israel (as it related to international Law of Armed Conflict). I also feel like our country and leaders are enabling what seems to be genocide.”

“It was indeed preparing us to potentially do harm to others but also to desensitize us to that fact.”

It’s a remarkable turnaround for someone who enthusiastically enlisted in the wake of 9/11. “I remember feeling proud that I would be able to join the Armed Forces to help rid the world of terrorism.” He recalled the “hype” videos that were part of training in the academy. “We would see videos of jets flying at high speed, dropping bombs, tanks firing munitions, etc. while Bombs Over Baghdad by Outkast or Bodies (‘Let the Bodies Hit the Floor’) by Drowning Pool played.”


Reflecting on the academy atmosphere now, he said, “whether intentional or not … it was indeed preparing us to potentially do harm to others but also to desensitize us to that fact as well.”


His time as an intelligence analyst in Afghanistan, where he said he observed military abuses of ordinary Afghans, contributed to his eventual disillusionment with the U.S. military.


Still, he’s decided to remain enlisted in hopes of encouraging younger soldiers to view things more critically — even as America’s relentless support for Israel’s campaign against Gaza makes it increasingly difficult.


The seven-year member of the Army who expressed outrage at the war enlisted at the age of 21, they said, because they had just become homeless, had to drop out of college, and didn’t know where else to go. The military changed their life for the better, they said.

“I would do 20 years if our country didn’t use the armed forces to commit war crimes and violate international law at every step.”

But the war on Gaza has taken its toll. “I’ve been at the edge of my limits pretty much since the conflict started,” they said. And the recent U.S.-supported Israeli operation to rescue four Israeli hostages that killed at least 274 Palestinians and injured hundreds of others felt like a “breaking point … one that feels too little too late, but better late than never I guess.”


They are “experiencing tangible mental health consequences as a result of watching a genocide in real time while simultaneously wearing a uniform that represents it,” they said. Consequently, they plan to exit when their contract is up next year and also stay away from any Department of Defense-related work.


“I would do 20 years if our country didn’t use the armed forces to commit war crimes and violate international law at every step,” they wrote. “It feels like every conflict we participate in or facilitate is fucking sinister and evil.”



Organized Resistance

Earlier this month, a coalition of veterans and anti-war organizations launched a campaign to help people in the military who are similarly struggling with U.S. support for Israel’s “continued war on the people of Palestine” to advocate against it.


The campaign — led by Veterans for Peace, the Center on Conscience and War, About Face: Veterans Against the War, and the Military Law Task Force of the National Lawyers Guild — provides people in active duty, the National Guard, and the reserves with guidance and legal advice on how to raise concerns about the war with elected officials.


The groups have prepared templates that service members can use to reach out to elected officials. “We are not mere pawns in a political game; we are human beings with the capacity for empathy, compassion, and moral discernment. It is time for us to reclaim our humanity and refuse to be complicit in the genocide of an entire people,” one template reads.


As of Monday, about 30 service members had engaged with the process, according to Mike Ferner, special projects manager at Veterans for Peace.


The “Appeal for Redress v2” effort is inspired by a campaign of the same name that took place in 2006 and 2007. That campaign, the groups say, led to nearly 3,000 armed service members sending protected communications to their congressional representatives calling for an end to the wars and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Former Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich helped deliver over 1,000 signatures to Congress on a statement that carried the calls.


Senior Airman Larry Hebert, who is seeking conscientious objector status, told The Intercept he views the new effort as baseline action that every service member should take part in. “This is your constitutional right and I advise everyone to exercise that right,” he said. “Whether you like to believe it or not, the Department of Defense supports the missions that kills innocent Palestinians. We cannot just ignore this fact.”


 

The Intercept, 2024

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