The Miramar Air Show, gearing up for its 65th year next weekend, is billed as the largest military-themed air show in the United States. For the last three years, a group of anti-war military veterans have been trying, with limited success, to get the show shut down.
On Thursday afternoon (September 20), a contingent of about 20 members of Veterans For Peace gathered on a bridge where Carroll Canyon Road crosses the 15 freeway just north of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, the show's location. The group hoped to unveil its latest anti-air show marketing, a billboard truck espousing their message that the annual event "glorifies war."
Wall of Fire
Miramar Air Show 2015
"We don't have a problem with people being invited onto the base, talking to the military, celebrating the hard work these people are doing," explains Dave Patterson, a former Air Force staff sergeant and Veterans For Peace president. "But don't make military people risk their lives, don't spend a bunch of money making it seem like war is a really fun thing.
Disneyland of War
Uploaded to You Tube, Dec., 2016
"We've actually seen some changes at the air show as a result of our work," Patterson continues. "They used to have this thing called the wall of fire, it was a gigantic trench filled with napalm or something they'd light on fire. Not only was it polluting the atmosphere, they had these guys in helicopters come in and rappel down in front of the flames – doing this stuff as a training exercise I understand, but just for the sake of entertainment is insane."
The wall of fire demonstration, a longtime grand finale at the event, ended in 2015. Patterson says he's also seen the elimination of visitor access to vehicle-mounted guns and a simulator that encouraged children to call in simulated air strikes on alleged terrorists "with a bunch of people getting blown up on some dirt road in Afghanistan and everybody cheers."
With the protest group embarking on year three of what it says is a five-year campaign, they're starting to get some pushback from the community.
"We tried negotiating for a fixed billboard, nobody would touch us. We hired a broker, and he couldn't make any headway either," Patterson said. "Now, the mobile billboard is a lot more expensive."
"We were told that our position was too radical and that the companies had to worry about their other business clients objecting," adds Gil Field, the group's communications director.
Veterans For Peace wouldn't say how much they were paying for the truck, but the air show campaign has raised a total of around $7000 in donations to be used in this year's round of messaging, which includes online promotion for Disneyland of War, a mini-documentary produced by group members that's been viewed about 31,000 times since it was posted to YouTube in December 2016. Lamar Advertising, a billboard company with over 100 signs in the San Diego area, says it costs between $1000 and $15,000 to run a four-week campaign.
Even the mobile billboard hasn't been without issue – Field called hours before the scheduled demonstration, saying the truck's driver had been accosted at a gas station by people unhappy with Veterans For Peace's "Just don't go" messaging. The driver walked off the job, Field said, and the owner of the advertising company had agreed to step in.
Minutes after the group set up at the Carroll Canyon overpass, a highway patrol officer arrived demanding that the truck be moved. Despite some grumbling regarding a lack of signage prohibiting parking, the billboard began slowly crossing the bridge, executing a u-turn, and repeating the process for the next two hours. It'll be rolling through various parts of San Diego through next week.