Sunday, November 4, 2007

Arlington West reaches fourth anniversary

ERIC LINDBERG
DAILY SOUND STAFF WRITER

With a stiff wind sweeping across West Beach, stirring the small American flags placed in the sand next to thousands of white crosses, a crowd gathered to recognize the fourth anniversary of Arlington West yesterday afternoon.
First just a random scattering of 347 wooden, unpainted crosses memorializing the number of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq, the display grew to more than 3,000 painted crosses that have gone up every Sunday since Nov. 2, 2003.

“When we first started this thing, none of us dreamed we would be here four years later,” local carpenter and founder Steve Sherrill said. “But we’re here and we’re going to stay here until this madness is over.”
At 7:30 a.m. every Sunday, Sherrill and a dedicated crew of volunteers from the local chapter of Veterans for Peace and the community plant rows of crosses in the sand, neatly stretching away from Stearns Wharf. They cover more than an acre, weigh 1.5 tons and take about an hour to set up.
Had Sherrill and his crew continued to build more as the fatality count swelled, rather than capping it at around 3,000, the memorial would stretch another 90 feet or so down the beach.
At the far easterly corners, two American flags are placed in the sand to represent that distance.
“If we looked at the cost of the war for the Iraqi people, the memorial would stretch for many miles,” said Ann Wright, a retired Army colonel and former State Department official.
Wright is one of three State Department officials who resigned in March 2003 in protest of the invasion of Iraq. Speaking at yesterday’s ceremony, she spoke of the need to bring U.S. troops home immediately.
“The memorial that we see back here is the cost of war,” Wright said. “It is the symbol of what we need to fight against.”
Arlington West, the name given to the display by Ted Berlin — one of six Veterans for Peace members who has died since the memorial began — has spurred on about 20 similar monuments across the nation. Santa Barbara and Santa Monica remain the only locations that set up and dismantle the display weekly.
“We have the best damn crew of committed volunteers anyone could ask for,” Sherrill said.
He decided to take action when the number of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq totaled 287, he said, first considering putting up life-sized cardboard cutouts of soldiers holding rifles along State Street. After considering logistics, he revised that concept to what Arlington West is today, building the simple crosses in his garage and finally catching up to the casualty total weeks later.
During the four years that he has maintained the display, there has only been one week with no U.S. fatalities. The worst week weighed in at 49 American deaths, he said.
As the body count grew, Ron Dexter, a community volunteer, said it started becoming difficult to haul out the crosses and set them up every weekend, despite the dedicated crew of about 30 volunteers.
“Our trailer was full,” Dexter said.
A decision was made to cap the figure at 3,024 — enough to fill 63 rows with 48 crosses each. The actual number of U.S. deaths in Operation Iraqi Freedom exceeds that figure by more than 800 deaths, with varying counts ranging from the Department of Defense’s tally of 3,840 to the 3,850 figure put forth by the Associated Press, as of Friday.
“I started watching those statistics,” Sherrill said, explaining why he decided to start Arlington West. “I was just appalled.”
What initially started as a political statement quickly became depoliticized when Sherrill decided to remove any negative signage criticizing the administration or political parties. Doing so opened up a dialogue between all visitors, he said, rather than driving people away.
“I believe we’ve opened a lot of eyes and changed a lot of minds,” Sherrill said.
At first, volunteers putting up the crosses received criticism and insults from those in favor of the war, some labeling them as “terrorist sympthatizers” or “Communists.” Those occurrences gradually dwindled, Sherrill said, and now they go weeks without hearing derogatory remarks.
“There is absolutely no question that public sentiment has changed in this country,” he said.
Marsha Ives, standing along the railing on Stearns Wharf, looked out over the neatly placed rows stretching hundreds of feet down the beach. In Santa Barbara with her husband on vacation, Ives said there is nothing like Arlington West in her home of Fairbanks, Alaska.
“I find it really touching,” Ives said. “A lot of the time we don’t think about the lives we have lost.”
In her remarks to the crowd, Wright criticized the current Congress for letting the body count grow by not getting U.S. troops out of Iraq after the voters shifted the power to Democrats last November.
“We elected them to end this war and they need to end it,” she said. “We want it ended right now.”
She called on those standing along Stearns Wharf and lining the bicycle path to pressure Congress and the Bush administration to end the war. Sporting a shirt reading “No! Iran War,” Wright also vigorously cautioned against any attempts to send U.S. soldiers to Iran and called for support of impeachment measures being introduced in Congress.
“Let’s hope that next year at this time, we will be celebrating the end of the Iraq war,” she said.
Until that happens, Sherrill said he is dedicated to setting up the memorial every Sunday.
“We must take a stand, because our silence is our acceptance,” he said. “It is high time we pulled our heads out of the sand.”

2 comments:

Don Jose de la Guerra y Noreiga said...

What I am looking for in a council candidate is one who will work to shut down the embarrassing and counter productive “Arlington West.” I think it’s a shame that our Mayor and Council have taken a position against the war, and I feel sorry everyday for those Santa Barbara men and women who come back from the front and see this disgrace.

I spent a little time one day reading and thinking about the website for Veterans for Peace, and noted that they stand for blocking ports, trains, military bases, and making pleas to soldiers to violate their oaths of service. VFP is also happy to promote occupying congressional offices with the purpose of intimidating elected officials in order to stop military funding, and we all know well their intense and active anti-military recruitment program. They also advocate the impeachment of the Commander in Chief-- all these positions in a time of war. I am sure this isn’t news to you. Some of you will think this is great stuff. I don’t. But it’s my beach too and I am part of the public.

I could only think of Tokyo Rose and Hanoi Jane as I read the recommended books, the newsy reviews, and the assorted matter available on their site for the reader to ponder. I would say they have a very active and edgy program that goes right up to the line on the legal limits of political expression. But I note that so far, I see no acts of sabotage or the commitment of treasonable acts. But they seem very willing to commit misdemeanors to serve their cause.

I saw associated activities with Code Pink, which in my mind hinders the ability of Congressional oversight committees to do their work on matters that concern the security of the United States.

Their support in developing the “Peace Academy” and helping to end JROTC at Santa Barbara High School is a good example of their work. They say on their web site that JROTC wasn’t interesting or valuable to the students. I think that’s a lie. I read the student’s letters in the paper.

I believe “Arlington West” is a fraudulent activity, that it is used to support the above purposes, and that its principal use is as an anti-war message--because VFP moves it around from campus to campus in order to hinder military recruitment and support military resistance. It’s also an anti-war political statement, and as well a money machine that uses the names of the fallen, each of whom gave the last measure of their devotion, trapped into doing anti-war fund raising when their name used without their permission. It’s as if the fallen soldiers are signing on for the above mentioned activities. I remember Sergeant Peter Scott’s heartbreaking letter to the paper who felt so bad about “Arlington West” that he felt the need to write a letter to the paper just before he left to return for his second tour in Iraq, to say: “Not in his name: “Arlington West.”” Think of it! He had to take time out from that anxious departure to say that he needed to be assured that his name could not be used at “Arlington West.”

How all this must feel to the mother’s and fathers of Santa Barbara’s soldier's families or worse those tragic parents of fallen soldiers who find their kid’s name on one of those anti-war crosses without the family’s permission. There it is representing what they don’t believe in. I remember how Debbie Argel in Lompoc felt. Even the name “Arlington” co-opts a sacred place of honor and redefines its meaning.

The fraud comes when VFP tries to convince us that their political speech is just to support soldiers in the field and that they are just soliciting donations on their behalf. I would ask those of you in the community to ask VFP to open their financial records, so we can see to what their fraudulently obtained donations are used for. I bet some families would be very unhappy to learn how they have been duped. I know they used donated funds to open an anti-war office in Los Angeles. I was at the Board meeting when it was discussed. I heard other things at that meeting that disgusted me.

The Veterans for Peace name is only partially true because they are only partially Veterans. Some of them are just old time anti-war UCSB professors living it up for the good ol’ days of protest. Perhaps civilian heros from another time and another war, but horribly misguided today.

VFP spends very little time talking about our real enemies and their efforts undercut our nation’s war against those who would do us harm. The only soldiers they really want to help are war resisters. They are not interested in helping the loyal soldier or the families of the fallen. They are just interested in stopping this war by any means necessary.

As the father of wounded soldier who has his purple heart and bronze star, who has served abroad in Iraq and Afghanistan, I am pissed. Maybe all this is just part of the political ‘Friction’ that Clausewitz wrote about, --what happens in a time of war. I am so sad to say, I don’t think Santa Barbara is helping the effort of our soldiers. Give me a new council member to fight this fight and change this situation.

Vigilante said...

There's really too much of a rambling rant here to address in the time I have.

The commentator says at one point,

"They also advocate the impeachment of the Commander in Chief-- all these positions in a time of war."

Bush is not my commander-in-chief. He is commander-in-chief of the armed forces. He does not command me, a civilian, at all.

Secondly, we are not at war in Iraq. We won the war. Our poor excuse of a president announced this fact on 1 May 2003. We are in occupation mode. No one wins an occupation. Occupations just end when their futility is recognized by the occupier. It is time for us to leave Iraquagmire. Support the troops by bringing them home.