April 16, 2008

War Veterans Discuss the Corruption Behind the Nation’s Recent Wars Abroad

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Last night, the Campus Anti-war Network (CAN), Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), Watermargin Cooperative and The Bully Pulpit showed “Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan,” a film documenting U.S. soldiers’ eyewitness accounts of the current U.S. occupation in Iraq. Members of the IVAW and one member of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) were also present at the screening and answered questions about their own experiences in a panel discussion following the film.
Alexander Immerman ’09, CAN member and chair of the committee that brought the film to campus, said that it was important to show the film on campus as “self-education for ourselves and for the Cornell community.”
After the testimony was originally heard in Washington D.C. on March 13 through 16, “the mass media completely ignored it,” he said, “and we need to be informed.”
The film contained candid testimony from Iraq war veterans on their experiences as members of the U.S. military during the ongoing occupation. This testimony included several graphic photographs and videos of what they witnessed.
“The rules of engagement changed a lot,” one veteran noted. “We were never told to detain anyone, just mess ‘em up.”
Several veterans noted the “drop weapons” they carried with them in case they shot and killed a civilian by accident, so they could make the civilian look like an insurgent.
One woman told the story of a female soldier who was “raped, discharged and then punished for being raped,” shedding light on the cover-up of sexual assault in the U.S. military.
Other veterans discussed the “obvious and intentional dehumanization of Iraqis” they witnessed, citing the treatment of detainees such as depriving them of food and water, leaving sandbags over their heads, beating them and forcing them to view pornography.
Following the film, members of the panel provided testimony of their personal experiences in the panel discussion.
Eli Wright, still on active duty, discussed the current military healthcare crisis and his own struggles to obtain adequate healthcare. Currently on medical discharge, Wright spoke of the multiple injuries he suffered in Iraq, and the fact that he waited more than two years to receive surgery for his shoulder. Since he had to wait so long, the shoulder could not be repaired completely, and it will remain permanently disabled.
Perry O’Brien ’08, 82nd Airborne Division Army veteran from the Afghanistan war and one of the organizers for this year’s Winter Soldier, told how he witnessed the mutilation of the war-dead when fellow soldiers turned recently deceased civilians into medical cadavers.
Michael Blake, veteran of the 4th Infantry Division of the U.S. Army received Conscientious Objector status and an honorable discharge after his tour in Iraq. Blake discussed the current status of the war in Iraq, and the fact that “the war won’t end any time soon.”
He explained, “Neither [Obama nor Clinton] has any plan for pulling out soldiers.” As a veteran, and speaking to all veterans, Blake said, “We have to continue to fight because we offer the truth.”
Prof. Ronald Applegate, industrial and labor relations, also noted the importance of incorporating veterans into the anti-war struggle, citing the fact that groups of soldiers in Vietnam refused to carry out orders of their superiors and that this defiance played a major role in the U.S.’s decision to cut back operations in Vietnam.
Phil Aliff, 10th Mountain Division soldier from 2004 to 2008, said that the Cornell community and the world “need to know what’s happening on the ground in order to go forward.” He hopes to work towards “building a movement to put pressure on the government [because] the world is watching and we can’t afford to be silent any longer.”
The panelists’ accounts closed to a standing ovation, and the event continued with an open discussion of issues regarding the Iraq war.
One member of the audience brought up Colin Powell’s “Pottery Barn rationale” of “you break it, you bought it,” referencing the ongoing occupation of Iraq. O’Brien responded, “Only a complete idiot tries to fix pottery with a hammer.”
Aliff noted that the key problem with the anti-war movement is the lack of organization, so he proposed to the audience that “we go forward with building a movement and use that momentum and turn it into action.”
In reaction to the event, Suzy Gustafson ’08 said, “What’s important is that we didn’t just watch a movie; we watched the opening of public dialogue.”
Such an event is important, she explained, because there are “too many urgent things to be addressed [regarding the war] that are not being addressed.”
Emma Banks ’10, who said she is very passionate about the anti-war movement, felt that there are reasons for everyone to care about the war. She explained, “If you give a shit about the economy, you should care about the war.”
Immerman hopes that CAN and events such as Winter Soldier will “underscore the importance of political action” and “inspire people to get involved.”
Veterans’ testimony is available online at www.ivaw.org.