Veterans and community members gathered in Dewitt Park on Friday afternoon, the 16th anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan, to speak out against the continuation of the War on Terror and American overseas wars.
The event, which was organized by Christopher Hanna ’18 and Vietnam-era veteran Louie DeBenedette, was created in response to calls by anti-war leaders for protests in response to the Afghanistan invasion anniversary, according to the event’s Facebook page.
“As the Senate passes a $700 billion ‘defense’ bill and the ‘War on Terror’ decimates communities from Yemen to Somalia, it is important that we demand an end to U.S. involvement in imperialist wars everywhere,” read a post on the event’s Facebook page.
Hanna emphasized the need to stand against American militarism, which he said has been supported by both political parties but must be challenged particularly in the context of recent escalations of rhetoric by President Donald Trump.
“We’re organizing it because Trump is ramping up the U.S. military-industrial complex’s global terrorism against defenseless civilian populations, including the people of Yemen,” Hanna told The Sun. “He has indicated his intent to escalate the ‘forever war’ in Afghanistan and has threatened to wipe out millions of North Koreans. This genocidal and militaristic rhetoric needs to be challenged.”
DeBenedette, who recalled being sent to a mental hospital and given medication for questioning the Vietnam War, called the Afghanistan War “another Vietnam.” He explained that the main message he wanted to express was one of community.
“To form communities, it is a resistance to all that is going on in the oppressive militarism and racism and so on,” he told The Sun. “Anti-war communities, that was the best way we had during the Vietnam war, was to join other vets, join other people.”
During the speak-out, DeBenedette symbolically burned his honorable discharge notice from the Vietnam era.
“I’ve had it for 50 years,” he said. “I want to burn it. There is no honor on their part, that’s for sure.”
The speak-out was attended by around 30 to 40 people, some of whom belonged to co-sponsoring organizations that included Ithaca Democratic Socialists of America, Cornell Young Democratic Socialists and Food Not Bombs Ithaca. Speakers included DeBenedette, army veteran Harry Pruyne, Ithaca Catholic Workers member Mary Anne Grady Flores and others.
Flores, who was sentenced to prison after photographing an anti-drone protest outside the Hancock Field Air National Guard Base in Syracuse in 2013, spoke out against the use of drone warfare and against the white supremacy that she said underlies global problems today.
“The fact is, we need to look at what white supremacy is about, because this is all rooted in our white supremacy,” she said. “In order to understand the issues of justice in the world today, including the Black Lives Matter movement, the U.S. unending war in Afghanistan, the U.S. drone wars in the Middle East, the Israeli occupation of Palestine and U.S. global power gone unchecked, it’s based in this deeply held belief.”
Flores says she hopes events like these will help people come together and recognize the courage of anti-war veterans.
“I hope that people can re-claim as a community our humanity,” she told The Sun. “Hearing from these people that have been in positions of killing others and to have the moral strength to pull back from that is huge. It is huge, and we don’t give them enough credit, I think, to stand up for their conscience. I get energized by being among them and being with everybody here.”
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Harry Pruyne as an Iraq veteran. In fact, he is an army veteran.