By Kyle Ingram
“I have tried prudent planning long enough. From now on, I’ll be mad.”
This quote from 13th century poet Rumi, a mantra learned after over a decade of working within a system at the expense of his own morals, is tattooed in a circle of Arabic over Matthew Hoh’s heart.
Running as a Green in North Carolina (or anywhere in the country) is certainly not a prudent choice — but Hoh, disillusioned from decades of failures by Republican and Democratic administrations, is unwilling to pursue any other path.
After a highly public resignation from the State Department, intensive counseling for PTSD and the disastrous end to the war he lost so much to, Hoh is the first ever Green Party candidate to make it on the ballot for U.S. Senate in North Carolina.
From Iraq to Afghanistan
Although he was active in leftist communities throughout his early adulthood, Hoh wasn’t always the anti-war activist he is today. When he joined up with the Marine Corps in 1998, he thought he could do good in the military.
He rose ranks quickly and found himself working for the State Department in 2004 with a reconstruction and governance team in Iraq.
Hoh was working on a project to rebuild athletics facilities and youth centers and was given a $20 million budget. But only a few weeks into the planning phases, he was told that money would be redirected to security.
It ended up going to militias, just as the Iraqi civil war was beginning.
“$20 million buys a lot of Kalashnikovs and RPGs,” Hoh said, grimacing.
By the end of his first year, Hoh no longer believed in the government’s mission, but he thought he could at least do some good by saving lives as a commander.
But after another year, Hoh was suffering from severe depression and alcohol misuse. When he was offered a job as a political officer in Afghanistan, he had no illusions that it would be any different than Iraq.
“My attitude was like ‘it’s better I die over there than just die here,’” he said.
Though the Obama administration had promised to handle things differently, Hoh saw the same pointlessness and political motivation.
“You had that type of arrogance and chutzpah, if you will, this hubris that ‘because we’re not Republicans, we’re going to do it better,’” he said.
Then came the final straw that made him leave behind what could have been a promising career in civil service. In September 2009, in the Zabul province of Afghanistan, he received an email from his dad.
“If you don’t believe in this,” his father wrote, “then what are you doing?”
Over the course of several weeks, he drafted a four-page resignation letter.
“Thousands of our men and women have returned home with physical and mental wounds, some that will never heal or will only worsen with time,” Hoh wrote, “The dead return only in bodily form to be received by families who must be reassured their dead have sacrificed for a purpose worthy of futures lost, love vanished and promised dreams unkept. I have lost confidence such assurances can anymore be made.”
Nearly two weeks after submitting his resignation and resisting the government’s repeated attempts to convince him to stay, Hoh flew home. Upon his return, most of his possessions were still in storage, but his resignation letter was in his pocket.
After the Resignation
While watching Monday Night Football at a Virginia bar, the bartender introduced Hoh to the man next to him, an editor at the Washington Post.
Eight hours of interviews later, Hoh’s story, as written by Karen DeYoung, was on the front page of the Post.
The following few weeks were Hoh’s “big celebrity moment,” as he remembers it. He appeared on The Today Show, spoke with Fareed Zakaria on CNN and fielded 75 media requests in one day.
But eventually, the attention died down.
The war did not end, and Hoh was left to deal with PTSD, alcoholism and a traumatic brain injury. Those days, after the initial shock and media frenzy of his resignation died down, were some of the darkest of Hoh’s life.
“It gets to the point where I’ve gone from trying to drink myself to death to I’ve actively got a suicide plan,” he said.
Hoh’s then-girlfriend helped get him into counseling. He stopped his anti-war work and moved to North Carolina to be with his family. He spent a few years distanced from anything to do with his past life: working the front desk at a YMCA or spending a few months as a car salesman.
He couldn’t stay away forever, though.
By 2014, Hoh was a member of Veterans for Peace, protesting the war. His activism expanded — a few years later he was arrested protesting the construction of the DAPL pipeline through indigenous lands. He was losing his faith in the ability to make any change via conventional means.
“I started to have the understanding that you really have to be outside to effect change, and you have to put that pressure on a system where it hurts,” he said.
It takes a mindset like that to decide to run for the U.S. Senate as a Green Party candidate.
The N.C. Green Party had a massive uphill challenge ahead of them just to get on the ballot in 2022. Tony Ndege, the party’s co-chair, said they needed a candidate who could energize people — 13,865 people, to be exact — the amount of petition signatures required to make the Greens an official party in the state.
“I was hoping that with his background, he would be able to bring in another layer of recognition, but also excitement about getting on the ballot,” Ndege said.
It worked, though not without a series of well-funded legal challenges from the state and national Democratic party.
Hoh is aware the race is more than a long shot.
“If someone like Matt really wanted to increase his political ambitions, there were better ways to do it than this,” Rose Roby, Hoh’s campaign manager said.
It’s not really about winning, though. For Hoh, this may be the first time he’s ever been able to act fully in accordance with what he believes, the first time he can make the things he cares about front and center without equivocation.
“I’ve disavowed my principles, my values, I’ve allowed my agency to be used for others’ purposes — even when I didn’t fully agree with it,” he said. “I think that’s brought me here.”
Edited by Emily Gajda and Annie Gibson