Memorial Day Event Shows Impact of War on California

STEPHEN HOTCHKISS
El Vaquero Staff Writer

On May 18, day 1,157 of the war in Iraq, five American soldiers were killed. Of the 2,454 American troops killed in Iraq thus far, 130 of those deaths have occurred in the most recent six weeks.

Also, 18,088 U.S. soldiers have been wounded, with 8,032 of those listed in critical condition. The number of Iraqi civilian deaths is estimated at anywhere between 30,000 and 100,000. The total cost of the war for the U.S., to date, is $281 billion.

Also, on May 18, members of GCC’s Justice Coalition hosted a demonstration against the war in Iraq titled, “Eyes Wide Open.” The Justice Coalition, a collective group comprised of four student organizations with over ten core members was formed in response to what the group views as an unjust and immoral U.S. occupation in Iraq.

The rally was commenced by ex-Marine and Iraq war veteran, Jeff Key’s ominous performance of ‘Taps’ among 254 pairs of boots lining Plaza Vaquero, representative of the U.S. military’s California natives killed in Iraq.

Jo Takarabe, member of the GCC Justice Coalition claimed the main purpose of the demonstration was to “have people remember the human cost being paid everyday by soldiers.”

Meleiza Figueroa was chosen by the Justice Coalition to deliver the opening speech at the rally. Figueroa used the public forum to, “point out the contradiction between the official lines that are given by the Bush administration and the actual reality of the war.” said Figueroa. “We’ve been told-different and conflicting reasons for this war that don’t seem to match up with the reality of what is going on. Are we preventing terrorism? No, we’re actually breeding it. Are we defending America? No, we’re not.

Everything America stands for in terms of democracy and free speech, the notion of checks and balances in government is actually being eroded.”

Following Figueroa was Executive Director of the Los Angeles chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, James Lafferty. Lafferty attacked military recruiting practices that he alleges prey on the poor and underprivileged.

“It is a war being fought by the poor for the rich. The rich people aren’t sending their kids [to Iraq]. The campuses that [military recruiters] mainly go to are working class campuses, like Glendale Community College. They’re not spending much time at Harvard or USC. They prey on the poor, who, feeling that they have no options, join the military hoping to be able to support themselves, and of course they end up making someone else rich.” said Lafferty.

Lafferty also accused the recruiters of using false promises to persuade potential recruits. “What the recruiters promise is not what can be delivered. They lie about the job opportunities in the military, they lie about whether or not they’ll have to go to Iraq, they lie about educational benefits, they lie about how long they will be kept in service.” said Lafferty.

Although the Solomon Act allows the military to use the campus of any college receiving federal money as a recruiting ground, Lafferty urged students to fight back. “Young people ought to not see the military as an option,” said Lafferty “although the recruiters have the right to be on campus, there is no law that says the students can’t make their life as miserable as possible.”

Lafferty challenged students to oppose military recruiters by “dogging them where ever they go, exposing their lies, passing out literature that counters what they are passing out, opting to debate them — although seldom will debate — and informing classmates of the lies being told by recruiters and understanding about [various] grants that provide more money for students than the military.”

With the military increasingly failing to fulfill quotas of college campus based recruits, Lafferty acknowledged this sort of activism as being a contributing factor, but admits, “of course the biggest reason is because the war in Iraq, itself, tends to dissuade people.”

Edward Kim, a 20 year old sociology major at GCC, is one individual who has not been dissuaded by the Iraq war; having recently enlisted in the Marines, Kim plans to enter boot camp in August.

Although Kim cites “opportunities and discipline” for reasons that he is joining the Marines, he disagrees with the U.S. war in Iraq. “I really think [the war] is unnecessary.” Kim said. “George Bush really needs to get the army and the Marines out of Iraq.”

Kim believes there is 40 to 60 percent chance that he will be sent to Iraq within a year after his graduation from boot camp.
On Monday, President Bush acknowledged the increasing public disillusionment regarding the war. “Our nation’s been through three difficult years in Iraq,” Bush said. “And the way forward will bring more days of challenge and loss.”

Coalition member, Ariel Torres, also spoke at the rally. “You can only see so much footage before you have to say something. The more you know the more it hurts you.” said Torres. Inspired by three friends currently serving overseas, Torres read, “it’s time for everyone to open their eyes, oil is not worth a soldier’s life,” from a poem he wrote for the demonstration.

Assistant to the Associate Regional Director of the American Friends Service Committee, Steven Gibson attended the rally in support of his group which he claimed is “opposed to this war and war in general.”

The boots used for the demonstration were provided courtesy of the organization which was formed by conscientious objectors during World War I in 1917.

Gibson argues the best way to defend against the threat of terrorism is, “through diplomacy, dialogue and communication. The best weapon humans have is the ability to communicate.”
One of the two former members of the U.S. armed forces to speak at the event was Maricela Guzman, who served with the US Navy from 1998-2002. Guzman spoke on behalf of veterans returning home to the United States who, she claimed, are denied economical and medical benefits guaranteed by the military.

Speaking mainly from experience, Guzman reflected on her struggles to acquire medical treatment for her injured leg. According to Guzman, it took nearly two years for her to acquire proper medical attention for her injury that has rendered her somewhat crippled.
Also, Guzman candidly spoke about limitations concerning free expression the military places on its service members. “A lot of military personnel don’t support the war but are afraid of speaking out. What happens in the military is that you have your own ideas but the problem is you can’t express them, you feel very oppressed. It really takes getting out of the military to realize, ‘wow, I had a voice that I never realized was there,'” said Guzman.

Perhaps the most chilling aspect of the event was a speech given by the aforementioned Iraq War veteran, Jeff Key. In March of 2004, one year after returning from his station in Iraq, Key spoke out against the war on CNN.

Since then Key has traveled extensively over the United States speaking to thousands of people, but was clearly at a loss for words during his speech in the Plaza.

Throughout his performance of ‘Taps’ as well as during the speeches of those who preceded him, Key noticed a small amount of students actively participating in the rally while most students casually, “went about their business.” said Key. “I can’t imagine what it is that somebody needs to study in this moment, or talk about, that could be more important than this issue that we have come together today to shed light on.”

During a later interview, Key admitted, “when I was at Glendale, I was pleased and delighted to see so many who are interested in that there is a war going on, but horrified to see the ones that couldn’t of cared less.”

“It upsets me that we cant take a second to realize that these boots were put on by somebody like you who had dreams and aspirations of bettering their lives.” said Key during his speech.
Key’s call to alarm was further explained as he delineated the possible consequences of the war. “We have invaded and occupied a country that never attacked us. From an extremely selfish point of view, what we have done is ensure future terrorist attacks where thousands of Americans are going to die.” warned Key.

“Even if you low-ball it and say 30,000 innocent Iraqis have died at our hand over there — and yet this is supposed to be because of September 11 which they had nothing to do with — one-tenth of that was the death toll on September 11.” said Key, “[We can’t] go into a country and kill so many times more innocent civilians and still expect that that is not going to incite terrorism, that that is not going to be the most dangerous thing for our nation’s security.”

Meleiza Figueroa echoed this belief that the war is sparking more insurgency than previously existed, “It is undeniable that our presence there is a lightning rod for the different factions that are already in civil war and as much as we want to try to fix it, the truth is that we’re part of the problem.”

Whether it was concerning recruitment practices on college campuses, the treatment of veterans or the moral implications for the war, all speakers at the rally vowed for the immediate retreat of U.S. troops from Iraq soil. As stated by Key: “If our being there is to restore democracy, and 85 percent of the Iraqi people want us gone, we have to leave. Occupation is fueling the insurgency; nothing else needs to be known.”