Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day 2011 at Venice Beach

This blog owes its existence to many influences, not least among them my wife Alma and the American author Henry David Thoreau. Many people know Thoreau for his pastoral Walden, but Thoreau was also quite the political radical in  his day. He committed non-violent civil disobedience in response to the Mexican-American War of 1848, refusing to pay his taxes and serving a jail term for that refusal. And he subsequently penned the treatise On Civil Disobedience which has served as a touchstone to other practitioners of non-violence such as Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.

So I should mention in the interests of full disclosure that I, like Thoreau, have that dual focus of appreciation for the pastoral mixed with political radicalism. From 2001-08, I was heavily involved in the anti-war movement here in Los Angeles, attending many of the early mass demonstrations against the Iraq War and later, as the war dragged on, attending local anti-war vigils in Mar Vista and Venice twice- and thrice-weekly. As a result, I personally witnessed sentiment on the west side of Los Angeles turn from pro-war to anti-war and anti-Bush, and I saw it happen like time-lapse photography from one week to the next.

Those seven years were not without their sacrifices. On more than one occasion, my car was vandalized while parked on the street -- radio antenna bent over, tires flattened, tail light cover busted. Well, my car is an old beater and I do not fetishize automobiles, so no big loss there aside from the petty annoyances. On another occasion, I was physically assaulted by a pro-war Bush-bot while standing by myself at the corner of Palms and Centinela Boulvevards. That was scary and Alma made me promise not to demonstrate by myself after that, a promise which I subsequently kept by only demonstrating when I could do it with at least one other person..I remained at a dead-end job working for a subsidiary of The Los Angeles Times, simply so I could access its cafeteria each day wearing my anti-war buttons and peace signs.

But my sacrifice pales in comparison to the sacrifices made by the soldiers in these foolish imperialist ventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yes, there are some 'bad apples' among those soldiers, as the abuses at Abu Ghraib and Bagram airbase revealed. But, for the most part, these soldiers are ordinary working-class folks, same as you and me, and the Masters of War move them around and sacrifice them like they are pawns in some global game of chess. Many of them enlist because the domestic economy offers so few opportunities. It is with some justification that the anti-war movement calls this the 'poverty draft' as you seldom find children of the middle- and upper classes serving.

Every Sunday, since 2004, the local chapter of an anti-war group called Veterans for Peace has erected a monument to the dead and wounded in these wars of imperial aggression.

The monument, erected just north of the Santa Monica Pier, has come to be known as 'Arlington West' (so-called because Arlington National Cemetery lies just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.). I am not a veteran and so am not a member of Vets for Peace. But I have watched the monument grow over the years from a few hundred crosses to the over 2600 that are currently on display each Sunday.

Memorial Day is not a day to debate the justness or lack thereof of the various wars. Memorial Day is the day to honor those who gave the "last full measure of devotion" (quoting Abraham Lincoln). But, to honor our dead and have that gesture mean something, we must also honor the dead and wounded civilians of these conflicts:

It is time to bring the troops home. Let us hope they come home soon and that their wounds, both external and internal, shall heal. No more deaths, no more destruction. End the wars now!

To learn more about Veterans for Peace and Arlington West, click on the link below:

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