I just returned from a walk on the beach (aahhhhhhhh…) and visited our nearby Iraq War memorial, Arlington West. Every Sunday, volunteers (mostly from Veterans For Peace) create a temporary memorial, consisting of a cross planted in the sand for each fallen US soldier in Iraq. They’ve been doing this for 3.5 years, starting back when the death toll was at 500. Loved ones often come by to donate various mementos, ranging from newspaper clippings or handwritten notes from girlfriends or wives, or even objects like a can of Heineken – these dramatically personalize the memorial and are dutifully displayed each Sunday, next to the soldier’s cross.
Arlington West has grown to a pretty big affair, with flag draped caskets, various displays of photos and literature as well as T-shirts and DVDs, and fresh flowers.The city of Santa Monica actually provides storage for these materials during the week. The memorial is immediately next to a major tourist attraction (Santa Monica pier) and so is seen by loads of people from all over. It’s also been the subject of a movie of the same name, Arlington West, which was made as an anti-recruitment film, and which I’m told has been very effective at dissuading young people from signing up.(I still remember an anecdote about this, where the film was shown in a packed high school gym, and there was complete, and utter silence when it finished – if you can imagine this).
I have found this memorial to be at least as emotionally moving as the VietNam war memorial in DC. It’s especially moving to me, to watch dozens of visitors, standing overhead on the pier (which has an amusement park atmosphere), in kind of an impromptu viewing gallery, surveying the memorial, and choking up. We are so deliberately shielded from the reality of this war. A couple of prominent signs are oriented toward this viewing gallery and simply explain, in English and Spanish:
Each cross represents an American soldier killed in Iraq
If we were to acknowledge the number of Iraqi deaths, the crosses would fill this entire beach