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Wednesday, March 19, 2008 06:02 am

Soldiers’ stories

Military veterans gather to tell truth about Iraq, Afghanistan wars

Untitled Document Veteran Mike Mlekowski’s disillusionment with the Iraq War didn’t begin when he set foot on Iraqi sand in 2003, during the initial invasion. It started after the government called off the search for weapons of mass destruction. From that point on, he says, a question kept “eating away” at him: “If we’re not looking for weapons of mass destruction, then why are my brothers and sisters dying?”
Mlekowski, a member of the central-Illinois chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War, was one of several anti-war activists who gathered Friday evening at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to watch a live feed of “Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan” in Washington, D.C. The “Winter Soldier” event, designed to give veterans an opportunity to talk about their experiences in the nation’s wars, was similar to an influential gathering 37 years ago of military veterans who protested the Vietnam War. Like their Vietnam War predecessors who spoke of American atrocities in a losing effort, Iraq and Afghanistan veterans gave poignant eyewitness accounts, including descriptions of how U.S. soldiers fired indiscriminately at civilians.
“The main objective is to just educate people and bring the war home, more or less,” Mlekowski says, “let them know that things aren’t maybe going as nicely as you might see on CNN and Fox News.”
Other Illinois members of the IVAW — including Martin Smith, Nathan Peld, Tanya Austin, and Jason Wallace — traveled to Washington to participate in Winter Soldier. One of the people who attended the event at the U of I was Jeremy Polacek, a member of Campus Antiwar Network.
“I could have very well watched this by myself at my computer, but I wanted to come out and be a visible member of the community,” Polacek says. Mlekowski and IVAW chapter president Paul McGuire hosted the session, during which audience members watched “Aims of the Global War on Terror: The Political, Legal, and Economic Context of Iraq and Afghanistan.” This panel discussion, which featured Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now!; Anthony Arnove, author of Iraq: the Logic of Withdrawal; and Michael Schwartz, professor of sociology at the State University of New York-Stonybrook, was followed by a question-and-answer session with the hosts. “I think a lot of people have this misinterpretation of the war, because it’s not really being broadcast,” Mlekowski says. “Your hear the body count every day — you hear about it, but you don’t really hear about what’s really going on.”

Contact Marissa Monson at mmonson@illinoistimes.com.
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