Veterans for Peace protests the 7th Anniversary of the Iraq War

03/22/10 Joshua Lee Holton
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Military supporters flocked to see the Blue Angels fighter jets swoop and soar around MacDill Air Force Base for the annual air show. But dozens of people gathered near the base to protest the war in Iraq, a country that the US invaded seven years ago.

With traffic to the air show backed up for miles, the anti-war protesters took the opportunity to display their message to hundreds of passing cars.

Sonic booms, honking horns and low-altitude flight formations bombarded the senses of anyone on the corner of Gandy and Dale Mabry. While hundreds drove out to see the Blue Angels fly their jets with precision and speed, some down on the ground remember that most Air Force jets are built for bombing, not aerial acrobatic entertainment. Last Saturday, Veterans For Peace protester Jay Alexander held up a sign that said, “Honk to bring the troops home.”

Well, some of them are with us, saying, “Let’s bring ’em home.” We had signs out here displayed to bring ’em home: “Make the swords into solar panels.” We also have up a cemetery, a mock representation of Arlington Cemetery, National Cemetery, with the 50 states and territories. And sadly, all of them have lost or have fallen soldiers, sailors or airmen from the wars in Afghanistan—OIF and OEF, for the past eight years.

OIF stands for Operation Iraqi Freedom, and OEF refers to the war in Afghanistan, officially termed as Operation Enduring Freedom. The National Priorities Project indicates that those operations have cost the United States over a trillion dollars. Retired schoolteacher Edith Levie protested the war for wasting money that she felt would be better spent on health care.

I think it’s so important for everybody in this country to have health care. We’re the only industrialized country in the world that doesn’t have national health care. And I think it ties in with the war in Afghanistan. The point is, this war is costing billions—and they’re constantly talking about the fact that there’s not enough money for health care. It doesn’t make sense. We’ve got to take care of all of us: old people, young people, unemployed people. And I think the only way that it’s really going to happen is, people have to get out there and speak their minds about health care, about the war.

Veterans for Peace protests the protracted bombings in Iraq every third weekend of each month. Saturday’s protest drew activists of all kinds, like farm worker advocate Marc Rodrigues, who sees the war as a poor use of taxpayers’ dollars.

What I think this is about is really what priorities we have in society. And if we’re a society that is supporting war, then investing all this money in wars that could instead be going to education, and health care, and decent jobs for people, you know, I think we’ll be much better off if we change those priorities and supported things like that instead. And so we’re just out here trying to lend some support to folks here in Tampa who are, you know, trying to struggle for a better world.

And the struggle is shared even by those with family in the military. Anita Stewart is with CODEPINK, a group that calls on women to protest the Iraq war. A wife of a soldier was so moved by the protesters that she parked her car and walked up to Stewart with tears streaming down her face.

She was the wife of an active-duty member who has already done one deployment to Iraq. But he had come back with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). She explained a little about how that’s affected her whole family, in addition to herself. And now, instead of giving him counseling and mental health, they’re, the military is sending him back for a second deployment tour to Iraq. And how she thinks it’s very wrong. So she wanted to make sure that we heard her voice—but she’s very, very afraid to put her voice over the media, the airwaves, because she doesn’t want any repercussions on her husband’s tour.

A young man named Aaron was also sad to see a friend of his sent to fight in Afghanistan only months after joining the Marines. He said he didn’t want his friend to die for an unjust war. Although he came out with his mother, he himself wanted to join the protest.

Everyone has to do their part. Everyone has to work together to get the word out and, you know, really do what you can. And if we don’t do anything, then nothing will change.

Several of the protesters either were veterans or had family members in the military, like John Palm. He lost his brother in Vietnam, and said he doesn’t want to see any other Americans meet the same fate.

Well, you know, President Eisenhower I believe it was, you know, warned us of the military-industrial complex. And, you know, my father fought in World War II; he was on the aircraft carrier Yorktown. And you, know, at some point we just have to say, you know, we should be defending our border, and we don’t need to be going out and sticking our noises into other people’s business—you know, unless it’s a U.N.-type thing where the whole world feels, you know, there’s somebody that’s out of control. Right now, it seems like we’re out of control. And it’s a wonder that more of the world isn’t opposed to what we’re doing.

He commended Congress member Dennis Kucinich for opening up debate about whether to continue funding the Afghan war.

*I think it’s a good thing. I really support the fact that he’s trying to, you know, bring these wars to an end as well. And we just need to be, have more senators and congress people have that kind of guts—you know, to say, “Enough is enough.”*

Thousands of people also protested in anti-war rallies in Washington, D.C., and across the United States last weekend. WMNF tried to interview military supporters, but none would comment, due to legal constraints. Jay Alexander and the Veterans for Peace will continue their protests each month, and would even like to organize a statewide protest for the future.

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