Costs of Wars display at West Beach (April 3, 2016)
Paul Wellman

Twice monthly for about a decade, volunteers with Veterans for Peace installed thousands white crosses on the beach between Stearns Wharf and Santa Barbara Harbor, a poignant reminder of American lives lost during the Iraq War. The installation, known as Arlington West, paid homage to soldiers laid to rest at Washington, D.C.’s Arlington National Cemetery. “We did 10 years, then it seemed like nobody gave a damn anymore,” said Korean War veteran Ron Dexter, who’s been with the project since 2003. “So we took a year off and kicked around ideas about what people might respond to. We’re just trying to wake people up.”

While the spirit of the mission remains the same, Dexler added, its message has deepened and the name has changed to Costs of Wars. Beyond lost American lives, the installation showcases mounting numbers of refugees, entire regions in the Middle East destabilized by war profiteers, and the thousands of returning young soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

“There is a simmering stew of discontent in this country,” said Bill Palmisano, an installation volunteer for 12 years. “The Occupy movement caught our self-appointed masters by surprise. Bernie Sanders is giving them heartburn and insomnia. There is no good defense against a peaceful movement for radical change, and I consider this installation a powerful device in the fight against war as an instrument of foreign policy. Plus, I get to work with the most caring, sharp, and engaged group of activists.”

Costs of Wars goes up again on May 1. Volunteers are welcome; setup starts at 8:30 a.m., and takedown is at 4 p.m.


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