October 5, 2005

War Vets Share Experiences of Combat

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While not readily apparent to most casual observers, the casualties of war are not limited to the loss of lives and limbs. For many of soldiers returning from the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as those who returned from Vietnam long ago, the de-humanizing effects of warfare remain a constant presence. Three such soldiers told their stories last night during a three-hour presentation held at the Straight, that was attended by both students and Ithacans.

The evening began with a viewing of Winter Soldier, a documentary in which Vietnam War veterans spoke out against the atrocities they witnessed. This film is notable for, among other things, featuring a young swift-boat lieutenant named John Kerry who offered details of the horrors he had experienced in Vietnam.

At the conclusion of the film, veterans Mon Cochran, of the Vietnam war, and Perry O’Brien, who served in Afghanistan, joined Pvt. David Louis of the United States Army for a panel discussion in response to the film.

“It took me twenty five years to get to the point where I could cry,” explained Cochran. “I was terrified the whole time I was over there and I could not even realize it.”

Both O’Brien and Louis shared Cochran’s sentiments about the physiological toll of war, and each spoke of how the war personally affected him.

Perhaps not surprisingly, one recurring theme of the discussion was the government’s purposeful effort to avoid assigning any human traits to the enemy.

“The military encouraged no cultural interaction, no training in the language or traditions of the Afghanis,” O’Brien said, “because soldiers are much more likely to shoot if they are presented with a cartoon-like image of their enemy.”

Towards the end of the discussion, in response to questions from the audience on what can be done to help them, the soldiers suggested the creation of a medium for veterans to share their war stories.

They stressed the importance of being able to relate their experiences to the public in order to demonstrate the costs of war not shown by the media. “No soldier comes back unwounded,” Jones said.

Jacob Lieberman ’08, who first learned of the film during the 2004 campaign, said the presentation was extremely powerful. “Coming into this event, I thought that I had a rough idea of how bad war was, but now I realize just how much information I was missing.”

The panel was part of a cooperative effort by the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organization committed to finding peaceful solutions to conflict. Also part of this program is an exhibition on the arts quad on Oct. 6 that will feature two thousand pairs of boots to represent the American fatalities in the current war, as well as additional pairs for the Iraqi dead. Currently on display in the Straight are pictures of fallen soldiers that will remain until week’s end.

Archived article by Josh Harris
Sun Contributor