The Santa Barbara chapter of Veterans for Peace (VFP) continued its weekly anti-war protest near Stearns Wharf this Sunday with some special guests.
The Wheels of Justice, a group of activists who travel the nation speaking out with eyewitnesses about Iraqi and Palestinian conflicts, showed up to demonstrate solidarity with its “brothers” at Stearns Wharf, said Tom Sager, a speaker for the group who has worked in Iraq since 1997.
“I think it’s wonderful that they’re doing [this event]. I don’t think American deaths should hit people any more strongly than Iraqi deaths, but the fact of the matter is that it does, and the fact of the matter is that the war hits the soldiers the worst,” Sager said. “They’re indoctrinated to think that they’re helping people and that they’ll be welcomed, but they’re not helping and they’re not welcomed. We’re destroying an entire society totally unnecessarily.”
For the past 10 weeks, VFP has created a field of crosses in the sand each Sunday, with one cross for each American soldier who has died in the most recent Iraqi war. As of Sunday, there were 512 crosses on display, many of which bear the names of the soldiers they represent. The names have been copied from the Wall of Fallen, which stretches along the wharf.
The display is called Arlington West in reference to the Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. Arlington West was envisioned by Stephen Sherrill, a member of VFP and the Town Hall Peace Activists.
“It was my idea. I wanted to create an installation with real objects that would represent the number of people dying. It hits people hard what 512 extinguished American lives look like. The motivation was to bring people’s attention to the terrible price we’re paying for the invasion and occupation of Iraq,” Sherrill said. “The Bush administration has banned television cameras from filming the caskets returning from Iraq and the wounded soldiers in military hospitals. They do this because they don’t want the people to see what this is costing us. So we’re making it visible.”
Sherrill said he paid for the construction of the first display with his own money and had six other people help him erect the monument. Since then, Arlington West has expanded to include VFP, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), the Town Hall Peace Activists and several other volunteers. Currently, Arlington West is paid for entirely by donations.
The national VFP office has developed plans to duplicate the display around the country and has already started similar displays in Oceanside and Santa Monica, Sherrill said. WILPF member Judith Evered said the goal of Arlington West is to make people think critically about the war.
“Look at the number of people that read and look and think. They may take more interest in the news and why the president … has never been to a soldier’s funeral, and they might wonder why not. That kind of knowledge might upset Bush’s re-election campaign,” Evered said.
A sign posted near the crosses lists the statistics of the war: 512 American soldiers killed, 2,916 wounded and over 30,000 Iraqis killed. Another sign reads, “If we were to honor the Iraqi dead, it would cover this entire beach.”
“I think it’s very moving,” Santa Barbara resident Carol Boid said. “It looks like a cemetery and makes it clear how many are dead. This is a good place for it – [there are] a lot of people to see it and think about it.”
Sherrill said he plans to continue the project as long as he feels necessary.
“We’re going to keep this thing going until Bush pulls our troops out of Iraq and brings them home,” Sherrill said,