January 24, 2009 – A day after the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, Chris Miles left his home in LeRoy, Minn., for boot camp at Naval Training Center in Chicago.
Rising to the rank of third class petty officer, Miles, 26, served four years on the USS Arleigh Burke, DDG51, a guided missile destroyer out of Norfolk, Va. He served nearly three of those years at sea and one year deployed in combat in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. He earned three Navy Achievement medals and a Global War of Terrorism medal. He is currently a Bemidji State University student majoring in English and philosophy.
“At one time, I was very pro-war,” Miles said.
That is no longer the case.
Miles said the research he has conducted since he was honorably discharged in 2005 has disillusioned him and given him the impetus to become an anti-war advocate.
Miles and Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran retired Staff Sgt. Wes Davey of the Twin Cities, will speak as Iraqi Veterans Against the War at 10 a.m. Sunday at Headwaters Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, 522 America Avenue N.W., and at 7 p.m. Monday in BSU Hagg-Sauer Hall Room 100.
Miles said he and Davey will describe some of their experiences and take questions from their audiences.
“Everyone is encouraged to attend no matter what their politics are, or how they feel about the war,” Miles said. “Democracy depends on civil discourse.”
Information on Iraqi Veterans Against the War is available at ivaw.org. The group calls for, “Immediate withdrawal of all occupying forces from Iraq; and reparations for the human and structural damages Iraq has suffered; and full benefits, adequate health care (including mental health), and other support for returning servicemen and women.”
Miles said when he first returned from service four years ago, seeing anti-war protests angered him. But after looking into the reasons for the United States to invade and occupy Iraq, he said he changed his position.
“At a certain point, I began educating myself,” Miles said. “It was a slow wake-up for me and I would call it painful.”
In addition to what turned out to be false intelligence about Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction and the country harboring al-Qaida members connected with Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, Miles said he was also appalled by the military culture.
“Women are treated horribly in this environment,” he said, citing reports of sexual harassment and rapes of women soldiers.
He also faulted the underfunding of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the poor treatment of veterans, both for physical and mental wounds. He said the costs of the wars include the casualty tolls on Iraqi and Afghan civilians, as well as the anti-American feelings he said U.S. strategies have engendered among these people.
“What really bothered me, and bothers me today and gives me nightmares, is knowing the effects of the attacks I helped carry out,” Miles said. “It also helped to create more terrorists by creating hate for America.”
He said he doesn’t doubt that Islamic terrorists aim to harm the U.S., but invading a sovereign nation with no connection at that time to attacks on this country was wrong.
Miles also cited the huge financial burden of the wars, noting that spending some of that money to eliminate the hopeless conditions that encourage terrorists would be one of his goals as an anti-war advocate. Another positive direction, he said, would be to invite mothers of veterans to give the government their input on the personal costs of war.
“My real big goal is to one day get a Ph.D. and start a veterans’ study research center, an academic discipline, so people can understand the cost of war,” he said.
Meanwhile, the public must keep the government accountable, Miles said.