On May 1st, Jacob George, an US Army Sergeant and veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, together with other veterans and friends, began a non-stop cross-country biking trek to protest the US war in Afghanistan. "A Ride Till the End" is the first national level direct action protest against the Afghan war led by veterans. The ride started in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Reports from Afghanistan could hardly be more ominous. Our partner, President Hamid Karzai, is corrupt, clueless, and illegitimate. The "Iraq-proven" counterinsurgency plan is a dismal failure. US Marines are still unable to control Marjah, which was supposed to be the simple dress rehearsal for the attack on the Taliban stronghold, Kandahar. Meetings with tribal leaders have become even less productive. We just passed the grim milestone of 1,000 US soldiers killed, with the promise of many more to follow. And the Taliban has also proven its willingness to attack US citizens, as evidenced by Faisal Shahzad’s recent attempt to detonate an IED in Times Square.
None of this comes as a surprise to Jacob George, a US Army Sergeant who served three tours in Operation Enduring Freedom with the Army Special Operations Command. Jacob, 28, was in Afghanistan since the beginning of the war, helping run counterinsurgency operations. He could tell you a thousand stories. After years of reflection on his experiences, he felt compelled to tell his story, not just to friends and family, but to the entire nation. A few months ago, Jacob dropped out of school at the University of Arkansas, quit his job with the University Parking Enforcement Office, and began biking around the country until the war ends.
Jacob is not riding alone, nor is he the only veteran. He is accompanied by his brother, Jordan George, 19, Arkansas National Guard—who is refusing deployment to Afghanistan and is currently AWOL, Spencer Hindmarsh, 28, a US Air Force veteran from the Afghan war and a law student at the University of Arkansas, and other friends. This marks the first direct action protest of the Afghanistan war by Afghanistan war veterans. Jacob started the first US chapter of Afghanistan Veterans Against the War, a sister organization to Iraq Veterans Against the War.
A Ride Till the End aims to raise awareness about the disastrous effects of the war on veterans, Afghani civilians, and US citizens. They believe that the real costs of war for these groups have been purposefully rendered invisible. They see the war in Afghanistan as unwinnable and senseless, a death sentence for thousands of US soldiers and for tens of thousands of Afghani civilians who are caught in the crossfire. They believe that the Taliban poses no threat to the US, provided that the US leaves Afghanistan. They also believe that the war makes US citizens vulnerable to domestic terrorism against which there is no real defense.
A Ride Till the End was inspired by the Ride to the Wall—the annual national motorcycle ride led by Vietnam veterans to the Vietnam Memorial in DC. Jacob says that organizing A Ride Till the End was the first time since joining the Army that he felt like he had a voice. Like-minded individuals are welcome and encouraged to come along for any part of the ride.
A Ride Till the End is one part performance art, one part bike rally, and one part concert tour. They plan musical performances, local anti-war bike rides and rallies, poetry readings, direct action, and art. Jacob plays banjo, and Jordon the stand up bass, and they have written songs to express their feelings. One of them, "It’s All the Same Blood," hauntingly expresses the immorality and absurdity of war.
The immediate goal of this awareness campaign is to animate an almost non-existent anti-war movement in the US. The larger goal is to provoke a more profound cultural shift. They believe that war—at least the imperial wars for oil and influence that we are currently fighting—is deeply wrong, and that ‘fighting for peace’ and ‘victory in war’ are oxymorons. Jacob thinks that warmongering should be considered a criminal act. Their voice is small, but sincere, their methods humble, but effective. A Ride Till the End has great resonance in a world desperately in need of something to hope for.
Some people, maybe even most people, might think this is crazy. Even those who are dead set against the war are skeptical. Pessimists say that we are going to be at war for a very long time, so this is, in effect, a bikeride for forever, and for nothing. But to that, the riders respond: "If you think that riding bikes is unsustainable, what about the state of perpetual warfare that we find ourselves in today?" By taking a stand, A Ride Till the End highlights the sheer insanity of world that we take for granted.
A Ride Till the End departed from Fayetteville, AR on May 1st and headed south to Little Rock. From there, they had planned to go to Memphis, but flooding in Tennessee and the disastrous BP oil gusher convinced them they should go to New Orleans, and then to the Louisiana coast to help with clean up efforts. After spending a month on the coast, they will travel to Texas in July, passing through Houston and Austin, then onward to Ft. Hood. Their path is in flux, but their eventual (although probably not final) destination is Washington, DC.
The riders need donations of food, lodging, and gas money for the van that serves as a mobile kitchen and bikeshop for the trip. Visit operationawareness.org for additional information about the group or to make a donation. And please check out "A RIDE TILL THE END" on Facebook. These sites are updated regularly with details about organizing efforts, news from Afghanistan, and events that happen along the way.
A Ride Till the End might be heading your way. Maybe you, or someone you know, will join their crew.
Visiting Assistant Professor
Department of Anthropology
University of Arkansas