Three hundred and nine white tombstones lined West Beach last Friday, each symbolizing a teenaged U.S. serviceman who has died in Iraq or Afghanistan.
The demonstration – which was sponsored by the Santa Barbara Veterans for Peace – was meant to remind the public about the cost of war as the country prepares for the inauguration of a new president. The community was invited to participate by placing commemorative placards on tombstones in the makeshift cemetery.
Dr. Gilberto Robledo – a member of the Santa Barbara Veterans for Peace – led the event, which was one in a series of demonstrations intended to honor fallen soldiers.
“We want to memorialize the 18- and 19-year-olds who died in Afghanistan and Iraq,” Robledo said. “This is the fourth one we’ve put on.”
Banners displaying phrases like, “309 teens dead, how many more?” and “Stop Gaza Massacre” surrounded the cemetery, prompting some passersby to stop and stare.
“Reaction is always deeply emotionally felt,” Robledo said. “It’s an interactive memorial. As people are passing by on the beach we ask them to put a placard on a tombstone.”
Robledo said the placards – which display a dead teen’s picture, age, hometown, location of death and the specific unit and operation he or she was in – are a way of humanizing the statistics.
“It’s putting a face to the casualties and to the war,” Robledo said. “And showing the terrible cost of war.”
Santa Barbara City College student Jonathan Ageiar stopped and got off his bike when he saw the cemetery. He participated in the demonstration by placing a placard on a tombstone and said the experience was personal.
“I was thinking of joining the army,” Ageiar said. “This kind of changed my mind. They didn’t deserve to die; They were so young.”
Volunteers from Veterans for Peace and SBCC also passed out pamphlets with information about the immediate withdrawal of troops.
“The idea is that we want to end war immediately,” Robledo said. “We’re talking total evacuation.”
Additionally, volunteers asked the public to consider signing a petition to make nuclear disarmament an urgent priority and to stop research and development of nuclear weapons.
“What they are doing with our weapons is against national law,” Robledo said. “We are gathering signatures to send a petition to make nuclear disarmament a priority. They are going to Obama on Tuesday.”
However, the opinions of the anti-war demonstration did not appeal to everyone. One man shook his head and yelled as he jogged past, pointing at the “Stop Gaza Massacre” sign.
In response, Robledo said the Santa Barbara Vets for Peace are protesting war casualties, not taking sides.
The teen “cemetery” is normally held on the third Friday of every month on the SBCC campus in conjunction with the national grassroots War Moratorium. During the months of December and January – when students are not in classes – the anti-war protest is held on the beach and is open to the public.