NEW YORK — According to the Museum of Modern Art, Salvador Dali painted with what he called “the most imperialist fury of precision.” The goal, he said, was “to systematize confusion and thus to help discredit completely the world of reality.” One has to wonder if the architects of the Iraq War use a similar approach. On the fifth Memorial Day since the start of the war the number of U.S. military personnel killed in action in Iraq reached 4081 — with no end in sight. The exact number of Iraqi civilian deaths is unknown and unthinkable. Veterans For Peace observed Memorial Day, 2008 with a ceremony, a solemn march and calls to end the war.
On Sunday, May 25, a “Memorial Day Commemoration For Peace” was sponsored by Veterans For Peace, Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Military Families Speak Out, Gold Start Families and Women in Black. It was held in lower Manhattan, at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on Water Street. Adding a touch of the surreal to the event, speakers struggled to be heard over helicopter engine noise — the Memorial is a short distance from the Downtown Manhattan Heliport. A number of “Chinooks”, troop transport helicopters similar to those used by the First Air Cavalry in Vietnam, departed from the heliport during the proceedings — a noisy reminder that it was Fleet Week in New York City.
The commemoration opened with a Native American ceremony led by former Marine and Vietnam veteran Joe Cross. Cross, of the Caddo nation, described himself and his wife Donna Couteau Brooks as Native Americans from Oklahoma who live here now, making them “Native New Yorkers too”. Cross blessed the proceedings with a prayer and a gourd rattle as a smudge smouldered in the background and his fellow veterans looked on.
Hugh Bruce, a member of Chapter 034 of Veterans For Peace, introduced the speakers, starting with the current president of VFP, Carl Foster. Past president and well known NYC activist Pete Bronson, a Korean War era vet, followed Foster.
Bronson spoke about the role of veterans in conflicts. “We are neither war’s initiators nor its beneficiaries, we are its victims,” he said.
Matti Mattson, a member of the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade told the crowd that he had waited almost 80 years for recognition for his ALB comrades but was pleased that the Mayor of San Francisco had recently honored the International Brigades with a monument. The Lincoln Brigade fought in Spain from 1936 to 1939 in an attempt to protect the elected government from a fascist coup led by General Francisco Franco. One third of those Americans who went to Spain died there. Many historians consider the Spanish Civil War the precursor of World War Two but during the war, the U.S. government called ALB soldiers “premature anti-fascists”. Consequently their heroism has received little attention from the corporate press.
“The media has ignored us…we waited almost 80 years for a monument to be erected for those volunteers who went to fight for democracy,” said Mattson.
Elaine Brower of Military Families Speak Out is a Marine Corps mom. She spoke Sunday on behalf of MFSO and then hurried home to say goodbye. Her son deployed later in the day – for his second tour in Iraq. James, a sergeant in the Marine reserves, had already served a tour in Afghanistan prior to his Iraq deployments.
Brower went on to talk about Lt. Ryan Miller, a Staten Islander who was seriously wounded in Iraq — now recovering at home. “He just wants people to know what’s happening over there…he’s lost members of his platoon, members of his battalion and friends…they keep on dying. So I say no more war.” she said.
Doris Abdullah of the Women in Black spoke about the role of her organization, to stand “against war, against rape, human rights abuses [in] silence, can you hear me?” “We wear black and scream in our silence,” she said. The suffering the Women in Black stand against includes political prisoners “in those dark CIA prisons,” Adbullah said.
Abdullah spoke about her family members who fought in the U.S. wars of the 20th century. Her uncle who fought in World War Two after attending a segregated school, her cousin who fought and died in Vietnam — and her son who fought in Fallujah. “Fallujah, it means city of lights, why is there death and destruction there?” she asked.
After the observance attendees formed up for a march to Battery Park. The march was followed by another ceremony in which anyone who wished to do so spoke out in remembrance of someone who had served in the armed forces. Speakers then tossed flowers into New York harbor in honor of those who had been scarred by war. Concluding the day’s events, VFP organizers placed a wreath in the harbor as they saluted their fallen comrades. Two old soldiers, veterans of World War Two, sobbed as they watched — the persistence of memory, the wounds of war.