The Santa Barbara chapter of Veterans for Peace (VFP) erected a mock cemetery on the west lawn of Santa Barbara City College on Friday, June 18 — as part of the nationwide War Moratorium movement — to commemorate the 349 teenagers who died fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
According to VFP’s secretary, Joy Robledo, the purpose of the demonstration was to share knowledge with students and spread awareness among the public “about what’s happening in the real world in these wars,” he said. “It seems so far away for people, but these [tombstones] represent real 18- and 19-year-olds.”
Each tombstone featured the nametag and picture of a teenage soldier who died in the wars, which the chapter’s cofounder Lane Anderson said helps convey to students “the cost of war.”
“We usually put [the name tags] in the hands of students and ask them to put them up, and that kind of brings the war home from them, because those are young people their age,” Anderson said. “We learned during Vietnam that everybody started to care when they had somebody in their neighborhood come home in a box.”
Vietnam is very much a source of inspiration for the VFP, as Anderson and Dave Siedenburg, cofounder and president of the chapter, both fought in that war in the late 1960s. However, according to Lane, student activism against war just is not what it used to be. As it turned out, very few people, students or otherwise, stopped by the demonstration. Perhaps it was because the protest took place the first Friday after finals, but the scene resembled nothing of the anti-war antics of 1968.
Lane and Siedenburg, who recently published a memoir on his service in Vietnam, said because there is no draft this time around, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are less of a pressing issue for young people, especially for those who have the means to pursue an education or another job, leaving only those with no other choice to join up.
“It is essentially an economic draft,” Siedenburg said. “They’ll say anything to get you in. Once you sign, you are essentially a slave.”
Although the anti-war movements of today are definitely a change from those of four decades ago, Anderson sees it potentially growing as it becomes further intertwined with the environmental movement, because we are “fighting a war to get the oil to fight a war.”
VFP member Gilberto Robledo is also optimistic for the cause and said that student awareness of the wars is on the rise. “It’s growing,” he said. “It’s a thing of educating them. Once students get to know about it they want to do something about it. That’s why we’ve concentrated on SBCC, because we feel they are the future leaders. We want them to be able to get into positions related to the government to be able to give out the peace message.”
Robledo said they are currently working with students to form a peace club on campus and planning a phone bank for August. In addition, the group had two petitions for the public to sign. One was of their own drafting that called upon Congress and the president to withdraw troops from Iraq and Afghanistan immediately, and another demanding the end of the military’s use of depleted uranium.
Both the petitions and the monument serve to help the group spread the message that, as Robledo said, “Peace is inevitable, war is not.” The Santa Barbara Chapter of Veterans for Peace as part of the war moratorium movement holds demonstrations and activities around the Santa Barbara area every third Friday of the month.