Veteran speaks out against Iraq War and the treatment of soldiers

By Winyan Soo Hoo

Jen Tayabji, executive of the Illinois Disciples Foundation (IDF), said she thinks that after the elections, community members must now focus on what they can do to target the Bush administration to find ways to end the war in Iraq and ways to bring American soldiers back to the United States.

Tayabji and IDF members invited Bill Davis, a national coordinator of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, to discuss the recent elections and the war in Iraq over a candlelight dinner Saturday evening. IDF, a campus ministry with a mission to gain “peace with justice,” hosted the annual fall dinner to support and discuss timely and political issues, Tayabji said. In his talk, Davis discussed veteran issues and how soldiers should be treated when they return from Iraq.

Davis said the current war is driven by money and the desire to protect Iraq’s oil reserves. He also said the casualties of the war “do not bode well” for the rest of the Middle East.

“You’ve heard the casualties – the figures – it’s incredible to hear the number. There are estimates as high as 100,000 people. It’s horrific,” Davis said. “Women and children are dying in Fallujah, and they are defenseless in these incredible military moves.”

The military moves Davis referred to are advances in military technology. Although he said the advancements show the world is taking a big step in science technology, he added it does not mean the world is advancing in a positive way.

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“This does not equate to technical might as civilization. By God, it’s the farthest thing from civilization,” Davis said. “(Technology) should be a servant to civilization, not the other way around.”

But without the advanced technology, U.S. soldiers would not have the military might to handle the war in Iraq, Davis said.

“We want the best things for our troops when they go to battle. We want them to be safe, and we want to provide them with the things we are opposed to,” Davis said. “We are affecting other people by trying to make our army the best.”

Davis said powerful military weapons have taken a toll on U.S. soldiers as well. He referred to injured soldiers returning to the United States, suffering from war wounds deeper than the physical scars they receive.

“There is a potential that it may be difficult to find their way back into society,” Davis said. “People who have gone to Iraq have come back and lost everything. In Vietnam, soldiers were coming back with bodies shredded like they went through cheese grinders. Men and women from Iraq are coming back much worse.”

Davis said his four years in the Air Force “felt like a lifetime” and that he understands some of what the returning soldiers go through. The post-traumatic stress and the assistance those who suffer from psychological damage receive after wars could be compared to the treatment of Iraqi people, Davis said.

Tayabji agreed soldiers like those who return from Iraq deserve more attention from the American public.

“We feel that when soldiers return from Iraq, they deserve and earn resources like getting help finding a job, mental-health services and discharge services,” Tayabji said. “We have to figure out what we can do to end the war and to ensure the rights of our veterans. We don’t normally hear much about veteran rights and how we can counter what (Bush) wants to do.”

Davis emphasized that Americans should speak out against the war. He pointed out low voter turnout as evidence that Americans are not doing as much work as they could to affect their country.

“We should be focusing our energy not only on what moves you individually, but how it affects people overall,” Davis said.

Graduate student Jamie Zahniser said the issues Davis raised, such as the safety of troops, were important for community members to hear.

“I thought he had a lot of interesting things to say. I share with him a pretty critical attitude towards our current administration,” Zahniser said. “The issues he addressed don’t get much play in the press as they should.”

To remedy the problem, Davis said the next step is for people to join together and take action with movements and unions in their community. He said he was “brought to tears” after hearing about the rising labor movement around the United States, in which a few international and local unions have stepped forward to pronounce their opposition against the war. Davis asked the people of Champaign-Urbana to also join with the veterans’ movement to go against the war.

“We want our troops home,” Davis said. “The longer we are in (Iraq), the longer it will be chaotic there. Our responsibility is to take whatever means to stop this.”