Veterans and supporters share their thoughts about war

_Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story stated that David Amerson spent two tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. Amerson did not disclose service record information. The updated article omits this inaccuracy. The Daily Illini regrets the error._

A crowd of 40 gathered Friday on the Quad for a speak-out organized by the Iraq Veterans Against the War Central Illinois chapter.

Friday marked the 10th anniversary of occupation in Afghanistan, a date the chapter wished to commemorate with peaceful dissent against the wars in the Middle East.

Students and community members, including Dr. Patch Adams, shared their experiences and opinions with the crowd, while passersby filtered in and out.

After a few veterans spoke of their experiences during the Middle Eastern occupation, Adams took the microphone, proposing what he called a “love strategy.”

“Globally, over the last ten years, the reputation of the United States has plummeted,” he said. “What if that $4.5 trillion (spent on the war up to this point) was spent in the world?”

Adams said he believes the money spent on the war would have been better spent helping provide education and health care to impoverished populations around the world.

“We wouldn’t have to use any more money than the money we’ve been using to murder people,” he said to the applause of the audience.

To the side of the crowd, a large sheet was laid on the floor, bearing the words “Tell us about your life in the decade of war.”

Crowd members were encouraged to write down their experiences alongside Afghani youths’.

“Sometimes I think peace is a bird that flies over every other country besides Afghanistan,” wrote Neelofur, age 9.

Another youth asked a question of Americans.

“Can you tell me why the U.S. attacked my country?” asked Arzoo, age 15.

A common theme of the speak-out was the lives of the Afghani civilians whose lives have been affected by the U.S. occupation. Civilian loss of life was compared to the loss of soldiers. Lack of care for veterans was also discussed.

Joe Miller, member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, said that of the 2.2 million troops that have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, 42 percent have been deployed two or more times. Miller pointed out that many of these soldiers become veterans without adequate access to mental health care, a common problem among veterans.

“We need to remember the real cost of these wars,” he said. “We can’t let these people be forgotten.”

David Amerson, Marine veteran and law student at the University, echoed Miller’s message. He spoke out against what he considers the disservice of the U.S. to its veterans.

“When I joined the Marines at 18, I was told this country takes care of its veterans,” Amerson said. “But when I left the service, I came home to find out that was a lie.”

Amerson said male veterans make up 40 percent of the country’s entire homeless population, due to poor health care, scarce psychological counseling and few employment opportunities for former service members.

“Meanwhile, the politicians want us to fight for their poll numbers, while living in opulence and luxury,” he said.

Cries of “support the troops, end the war” officially brought the speak-out to a close, but more than half remained on the Quad, talking to each other about their ideas and experiences and planning for future events in an effort to bring peace to the Middle East.