Memorial Day 2014: Reflections on War

By Rob Goffins

MemorialDay3It may happen only as a fleeting glimpse, percolating discomfort that will not stay subconscious: we love the extra day for a barbeque, but we recognize death as its impetus. It may only be a moment and we may not feel it every year, but it is there.

Regardless of one’s thoughts about politics, foreign policy, or even right and wrong, there is the inescapable cost of war—young lives preempted and the pain of those that love them. Judgment may have its place, but not here and not now; what seems more appropriate is reflection.

We wish you a moment of reflection this Memorial Day, regardless of everything else.

Growing Up in Wartime
When You Don’t Remember Peace
By Bethany Carlson

High school senior Annie Smith was in kindergarten on 9/11 and only remembers it vaguely. She’s one of a generation that has grown up with foreign wars as a constant backdrop to normal life.

“Growing up I never thought twice about [the wars]—they were just things that were happening in the world,” she says. Even now, knowing about the impact of and issues surrounding the wars, she says, “Here in Corvallis the war seems to barely touch us.” She continues, “I care about what’s happening. I just think that since I’ve grown up with it and it has never really influenced me I’m a little ignorant about the whole thing, and don’t deserve to have a formal opinion.” Smith says that various family members have differing views on the wars and expresses the complexity this brings to her perspective.

Smith feels that the United States’ current concern about security is leading to military actions or privacy invasions that might not be reasonable. She says, “Horrible events are bound to happen. We might not be able to prevent them, but we as a people will survive.”

She says that there are military recruiters at Crescent Valley High School at least once a week, but she doesn’t think any of her friends are planning to enlist.

Carolyn Armstrong-Bard, also a senior, says that the conflicts did not really affect her until her cousin served in Afghanistan. She says, “My whole generation doesn’t know why we went to undeclared war.” Some of her friends are planning to enlist, and she says they’re doing so more for the benefits than because they wholeheartedly support the wars.

Endless War? Endless Vigil
Behind Those in Front of the Courthouse
By Dave Deluca

Corvallis vigilFour thousand six hundred and fourteen consecutive days…. That’s how long the Corvallis Alternatives to War Vigil will have been underway as of Memorial Day. For 12 years, seven months, and 19 days, at least one person has stood on the sidewalk east of the Benton County Courthouse with a sign or a flag from 5 to 6 p.m. The start date was Oct. 7, 2001. That was the day US forces began bombing Afghanistan in response to 9/11. They have had large crowds on special occasions, but most days only a handful of the committed demonstrators show up. On the day that I met them, there were six. Before I could even ask a question, five pointed to Ed Epley. His role seems to be that of unofficial spokesman.

He spoke in the subdued tones of a man used to answering the same questions over and over. Epley was courteous, but has spoken to reporters far more seasoned than me. He and his colleagues are not a flavor of the month, they are in this for the long haul.

“It’s not something that you’re going to win. It’s a lifelong struggle,” he stated.

Theirs is a high-visibility location. Far more motorists responded to the members of the vigil than I would have expected. According to Epley, about 40% of the cars driving by usually give them some sort of reaction. Out of those, about 75% of them are supportive. Honking is not encouraged, due to the vigil’s proximity to a hotel, but it is still the most common demonstration of support. Plenty of drivers flash peace signs out their windows. Those who take exception to the vigil are most likely to “shoot the bird,” although mooning is not unheard of. The most common catcalls heard are phrases like “Get a job, hippie,” and “Go back to Eugene.”

Some of the signs held up by vigil members read, “War has no winners” and “End all military occupations.” Carolyn Latierra held up a sign with the slogan “Peace for children.” Her young grandson Calder made the sign himself and often joins the vigil. She believes phrasing statements as positives instead of negatives makes them harder to dispute.

“It’s hard to argue with someone who is for something, instead of against,” Carolyn explained.

Every member of the group had their own personal reasons for being present that day. I was cautioned not to pigeonhole the group into one identity or philosophy. The one broad common belief was that “war is bad.” At least two of the demonstrators on that day were war veterans. They declined to discuss their experiences or motives.

I asked Epley what it would take to end the vigil. Specifically, what if the US military were to leave Afghanistan tomorrow? Would it be enough?

After long consideration, his answer was circumspect.

“I don’t know. We’d have to talk it over.”

For more information about the vigil, go to www.corvallisalt2war.org.

Foreign Civilian Deaths
There Are Only Estimates
By Bethany Carlson

FlagThe United States’ approach to Iraqi and Afghan deaths might appear to be summarized by now-retired general Tommy Franks’ comment that “We don’t do body counts.” The military’s reluctance to record deaths is probably partly due to fear of repeating Vietnam-style use of body counts as a measure of success. Members of the media, human rights organizations, and academic groups provide varying estimates for civilian deaths in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.

The Iraq Body Count Project reports 112,667 to 123,284 civilian deaths between 2003 and 2013. The WikiLeaks Classified Iraq War Logs report 66,081 civilian deaths from 2004 through 2009. A report by the Costs of War project estimated 134,000 civilian deaths over the course of the war. A 2013 study by university researchers in the US, Canada, and Iraq claims nearly 500,000 civilian deaths were an indirect or direct result of the war. Militia and coalition forces were each blamed for about 35% of the deaths.

In 2005, the US military released data on the number of Iraqi civilians killed by insurgents—but not by coalition forces.

Estimates for civilian casualties in Afghanistan are even less clear. Summing the more conservative estimates by the Project on Defense Alternatives, Human Rights Watch, UN Assistance Mission Afghanistan, and University of New Hampshire’s Professor Marc Herold resulted in a total of nearly 5,000 civilian deaths caused directly by US and NATO actions between 2001 and 2011. However, a journalist from The Guardian estimates 20,000 deaths caused indirectly by military action just in the first few months of the war, with Professor Herold claiming that over 3,000 civilian deaths were directly caused by US-led forces in that same time period.

The UN reported in February that a 14% increase in civilian casualties last year resulted in nearly 3,000 deaths. Anti-government forces caused almost three-quarters of the deaths, with the remainder caused equally by pro-government forces and fighting between the two factions. The United Nations reported similar percentages of civilian deaths from 2009 to 2011 caused by the Taliban and other anti-government forces.

6,802 Dead American Soldiers, 104 from Oregon
By Dave Deluca

MemorialDay4That is the human cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan between 2001 and mid-April of 2014. Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom have taken the lives of 104 Oregonians in uniform. Those numbers include 12 soldiers from either Linn or Benton County. Of those, one was from Philomath and four from here in Corvallis.

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