Iraq veteran, journalist speak out at SF State
March 7, 2008 3:30 PM
An Iraq war veteran and an Iraqi journalist spoke in opposition to the war at a Campus Antiwar Network event today. The meeting drew about 60 people concerned about the war, including activists from UC Santa Cruz and UC Berkeley.
After serving in Baghdad from 2003 to 2004, 25-year-old Michael Blake decided to file “conscientious objector” status. “What this means," he said, "is that you no longer believe that war is a reasonable means to an end, and that organized violence from beings to other human beings is not a sensible way to solve problems."
Blake has since joined Iraq Veterans Against the War, deciding to travel across America to actively speak out against the war.
IVAW advocates withdrawal of occupying forces in Iraq, reparations to Iraq and full benefits, adequate health care (including mental health) and other support for returning servicemen and women, according to the group, which currently consists of about 700 veterans.
Blake said that American occupation of Iraq is strategic for American military domination of the region. “We are using Iraq to project power throughout the Middle East,” he said.
Although he believes that American troop withdrawal is the most logical course of action at this point, he does not see it as a likely possibility in the future. He foresees that American forces will only intensify their efforts and “expand to encompass other oil-rich countries in the region.”
The war goes against the best interest of both Iraqi and American people, Blake said, and in actuality only benefiting a very select group of corporate “war profiteers.”
“These guys are getting filthy stinking rich off this war while everyone else is suffering. From their perspective, the war is going very well,” he said.
Blake, who was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, explained that the trauma of war has severe psychological tolls on soldiers. “It starts to screw with your sense of reality after a while,” he said, adding that veterans often resort to suicide. He expressed that there should be better facilities and programs for taking care of veterans once they return home to America. The Veteran’s Affairs program is very inadequate, he said, and returning home and facing the challenges of adjusting to daily life is when soldiers need the most support.
“The ultimate irony is that they say 'support the troops'…but [they do] not support the veterans,” he said.
In addition to being underfunded, he said, the VA has a process too complex for returning soldiers who are still in shock from the intensity of war. “These guys aren’t really in any condition to go through an intricate web of paperwork,” he said.
Salam Talib, an Iraqi journalist who spoke at the event, said Iraqi civilians must endure daily violence under military occupation.
He said that there is a huge communication barrier between the American military and the Iraqi population, because there is no common language and there are very few translators. This contributes to senseless brutality and violence that goes against the interest of the Iraqi people, he said.
Talib has lived in Baghdad for about 17 years and has written about the war in The Nation, Common Dreams and Antiwar.com. He has also spoken on free speech radio and helped protect journalists in Iraq and works with non-profit organizations to help disabled Iraqi civilians.
Blake agreed that excessive use of violence is often accepted as standard procedure against the Iraqi civilians. "The killing of innocent civilians is policy," he said. "It's unit policy and it's Army policy. It's not official policy, but it's what's happens on the ground everyday. It's what unit commanders individually encourage."
The systematic dehumanization of the Iraqi people taught to American soldiers is the main cause of these horrible atrocities, Blake said. “What they breathe into is that Iraqis are not people,” he said. “When you dehumanize them, you can do whatever you want to them.”
Talib condemned the manner in which innocent Iraqi citizens are deprived of their rights, harshly interrogated and imprisoned by the American military. “The Americans have expanded the prisons and jailed people on an arbitrary basis,” Talib said.
“There are over 50,000 people in jail. They have no right to a trial, and no right to have someone visit,” Talib said.
Blake said that his talks are often met with a range of reactions, depending on where he is speaking. He said that sometimes his talks “piss people off,” especially if his criticisms of the war do not correspond to their own beliefs.
Nihar Bhatt, 30, of the nationwide Students Against War organization, said that said that it is important to have an open discussion about the reality of the Iraq war, which is almost always misrepresented by American media.
“The anti-war movement helps,” agreed Blake, “but it is not nearly strong enough on any campus,” he said.
Anti-war movements are important because they give veterans like Blake support and an opportunity for their voices to be heard, he said. “Veterans are not going to step out on their own without an anti-war movement,” said Bhatt.
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