Local Veterans for Peace members placed 1,500 black and white crosses in the sand near Stearns Wharf last week in memoriam for those who lost their lives in recent U.S. wars.
Twice each month, the activist group rebuilds the Arlington West Memorial, a depoliticized tribute to honor America’s casualties of overseas combat. This month, the organization shifted its focus from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to the potential of a budding conflict in Iran.
Arlington West Memorial Media Strategist Ron Dexter, a Korean War veteran, said Veterans for Peace aims to spread a more thorough understanding of the U.S.’s controversial wartime tactics.
“Last time we set up, we changed the focus from Afghanistan to the looming war in Iran,” Dexter said. “We are very concerned that people are drumming up a war with Iran with the same lies that we heard about Iraq.”
The members first created the monument in Nov. 2003 — approximately six months after the U.S. invaded Iraq — when Stephen Sherrill planted 340 hand-made crosses on the beach to protest a government policy that prohibited photographing fallen soldiers’ caskets.
According to Dexter, many veterans continue to suffer from both physical and emotional traumas as a result of their service.
“We have a whole bunch of people coming back with PTSD and all kinds of injuries that we have to take care of, and it comes out of our pockets and our hearts,” Dexter said. “They are coming back to no jobs and broken families.”
Tom Urban, an associate member volunteer for Veterans for Peace, said the Arlington’s demonstrations highlight the conflict’s dire mental and financial consequences as well as the tragic loss of life on both sides.
“We are not there to dishonor anyone that has lost their lives during these two wars; we are there to recognize their service to their country and the friends and family that come, we thank them wholeheartedly for their service, but we still want to show them the true cost of these wars,” Urban said. “Not just the monetary cost, but there’s also an emotional cost and there’s a physical cost due to injuries suffered, as well as unfortunately many deaths.”
Soldiers between 18 and 25 years old make up approximately 40 percent of the U.S. casualties in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, according to Urban.
UCSB Campus Democrats Communications Director Geoffrey Bell, a fourth-year political science major, said an impending war with Iran is plausible.
“In short, like most people, I am gravely concerned about the potential for war with Iran within the next decade,” Bell said in an email. “But that does not mean that if the U.S. goes to war, it will have been a necessary war.”
According to Bell, U.S.-Israeli relations will have a significant influence on the likelihood of conflict between Iran and America.
“If Israel attacks Iran before Nov. 6, 2012, the president’s hands will be tied,” Bell said. “I do not doubt that [Obama] realizes war is the wrong answer for stemming the Iranian nuclear program, but I also do not doubt that he knows re-election is impossible if he is seen as not supporting Israel.”
UCSB College Republicans member Jeffery Robin, a third-year political science and history major, said the U.S.-Iranian relationship is under peak tensions as a result of Iran’s nuclear program and stance toward Israel.
“Unfortunately, the likelihood of war with Iran has never been higher,” Robin said. “Despite being hit with economic sanction after economic sanction and drawing condemnation from the United Nations and much of the developed world, the country continues to pursue the development of a nuclear weapon.”