Veterans for Peace makes its (grave) mark

"The feedback has changed significantly over the years."

A group of military veterans gathered in front of the Midway museum downtown before the city's annual Veterans Day parade with a display intended to both memorialize and call attention to Southern California soldiers who've died in the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts of the last 13 years.

"We originally honored all the fallen in Iraq and Afghanistan — we had crosses with individual names of soldiers nationwide, but when that number approached 3000 we couldn't physically carry them anymore," says Gil Field of San Diego Veterans for Peace.

In recent years the display has evolved into what the group calls "Hometown Arlington West," which consists of about 300 tombstone-like markers, each bearing the name of a local soldier from San Diego, Imperial, Los Angeles, or Orange County. They are accompanied by maybe 20 headstones in all black.

"As it turns out, we should have twice as many black headstones as white headstones, more than twice as many veterans die from suicide as have died in the conflict," Field reports.

According to Field, his group's message is twofold.

"Number one, on a day like Veterans Day we're trying to honor the fallen. And we're also trying to educate the public that there is a cost to war. Only about one percent of the nation is directly impacted — most Americans don't have a service member in their families, they don't personally know an active service member."

Field says the reception of Veterans for Peace at events has transformed over the years, from one of hostility to increasing appreciation as public opinion sours on foreign military involvement.

"The feedback has changed significantly over the years. Back when we started doing this, the wars were still moderately popular, so we got pushback from people who felt we were somehow insulting or defaming the fallen by choosing to remember them. In the war's early days, the government didn't even want photos getting out of caskets coming home, they wanted to keep the war away from the public. We took an opposite approach. Today, I would say 99.9 percent of the people have a positive reaction to what we're doing."

Volunteers arrived to begin assembling the headstone display at 8 a.m., they planned to stay through the day's festivities and to disassemble the display at dusk.

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A quick read of Smedley Butler's booklet "War is a Racket" documents a two time winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor (one awarded by Asst. Sec. of the Navy F.D.R.) and Marine Corps Major General's awakening to the reality of American capitalist colonialism. It should be required reading for high school students and everyone who considers enlistment.

I am a Viet Nam Era Marine 73-81 and would stand with the Veterans for Peace.

Please consider reviewing our website and joining us if you feel so led.


Gil Field

It is truly sad that we have sent our young men and women into battle to die for nothing. We have accomplished nothing in Viet Nam, Afghanistan and Iraq. The lives lost and ruined and the families devastated is criminal. We can never win a religious war prosecuted by fanatics who do not want democracy or freedom. It was a mistake to go to Viet Nam and we should never have sent a single person to Afghanistan or Iraq. Democracy is not a religion. Get out and stay out of the middle east. USAF '68 - 72

Field uses some odd language to describe that his group is doing. He says, "Number one, on a day like Veterans Day we're trying to honor the fallen." The purpose of having Veterans Day is to honor veterans. The day that honors the fallen is Memorial Day. Well, maybe his group is honoring the fallen every day, and that's their choice. But he goes on to add, "Back when we started doing this, the wars were still moderately popular . . ." I disagree that society finds wars "popular." Necessary perhaps, worthy of support, or at least something that warrants support of those called upon to fight, but no sane person will think of war as "popular." Finally, there's the comment that "[t]oday, I would say 99.9 percent of the people have a positive reaction to what we're doing." Their message is a most negative one, involving sacrifice seen as wasted, and while I'd agree with the reaction being accepting or sympathetic or in agreement, calling it "positive" grates on the ear.

OK those are semantic quibbles. The real question is whether this honors the fallen or belittles them, and there will always be deep disagreement about that. The record of the US in such wars has not been a good one. Afghanistan had the justification based on 9/11 and that the Taliban, which controlled that country, was harboring those who had attacked us. But since then, there seemed to be no notion of what was to follow. the others? You be the judge. US Army 68-70

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