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Local Veterans Discuss Need For Peaceful End To Ongoing Conflicts

Memorial Day is a day of remembrance for those who have died serving our nation. San Diego Veterans for Peace set up an "Arlington West Memorial" in front of the USS Midway Museum to recognize the 67 San Diegans who have died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We speak to the president of San Diego Veterans for Peace about the message behind the memorial.

Memorial Day is a day of remembrance for those who have died serving our nation. San Diego Veterans for Peace set up an "Arlington West Memorial" in front of the USS Midway Museum to recognize the 67 San Diegans who have died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We speak to the president of San Diego Veterans for Peace about the message behind the memorial.


Barry Ladendorf, president of San Diego Veterans for Peace

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This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: It's memorial day, Monday, May 30th, I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, later this hour, can this baseball season be saved? We'll talk sports with North Count Times sports columnist, jay Paris. And a local 11th grader, wins the chance to honor a World War II everywhere. But we start with a group of local veterans, using this memorial day to remind us that men and women are still dying for their country, in what is now America's longest war. The most recent A P and gallop poles indicate that about 6 percent of Americans now oppose the war in Afghanistan. It seems the once controversial message of San Diego veterans for peace is becoming mainstream. Joining us is Barry Ladendorf, president of San Diego veterans for peace. Barry, thanks for coming in.

LADENDORF: Thanks for having me. Happy to be here.

CAVANAUGH: Now, we're calling out to our listeners, if you'd like to join the conversation, please do give us a call. Our number is 1-888-895-5727. That's 1-888-895-KPBS. If you could, Barry, describe for us listeners what you call the Arlington west memorial. That's set up today.

LADENDORF: Sure. Arlington west memorial is for those who have seen it before, may be familiar with it, we have in the past set up several thousand crosses in the Oceanside area on the beaches there to remember those who have fallen in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. We moved that memorial down to the USS midway, and that's where we've set it up today. We've added I new dimension to the memorial this memorial day. In that in addition to the crosses that we have had, we've added tomb stone type grave markers that are more replicas of the kind that you would see at Arlington national cemetery or out here in our own fort Rosecranz. And one of the advantages of having that is that we're able to put the names of the fallen veteran, and in this case, what we've done is to start this new transition to tomb stones is that we've decided to identify those veterans, men and women, who have died who live in San Diego County. So we have put out 67 grave tomb stone markers this memorial day. And if you have a chance to see them, you will see that we have the name of the person who died. The city within San Diego County that they resided in, and the date of their death.

CAVANAUGH: And as you said, this is sort of in front of the USS midway museum in downtown San Diego. What is the motivation behind this memory willa, Barry?

LADENDORF: Well, I think when we want people to do on on memorial day, particularly, is to remember those men and women who have died in America's wars. And our memorial is directed, really, at the current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. And we hope that people will come there, and when they do come there, that they'll take a moment and pause and think about the sacrifices that these men and women have made. You know, not all wars are necessarily noble or justified. But that doesn't mean that we can't honor the service of those men and women. So we're hopeful that they will take time to remember those who have fallen. Also, I think, it's very appropriate to think about the members of our armed forces who have suffered serious injury in these wars. You know, we have something on the order of 45 thousand wounded westerns from Afghanistan and Iraq. Many of them have lost their limbs, arms, legs, lost their sight. And think about this, we have over three hundred and 50 thousand who come back suffering from traumatic brain injury. And thousands more than that who come back suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. And think about the fact that of the young men, particularly among the young men veterans that come back, the suicide rate is twice the national average. So you know, I think we ought to reflect on that. The third thing that I would say that people ought to reflect on is how is it that the American way of life has become the American way of war? We are, as you said in your introduction, the Afghan war is now -- Afghanistan war is 10 years. That's the longest war in the history of the United States. Of we've been in Afghanistan for -- I'm sorry, Iraq for over eight years. And now we're in Libya, we're entering the third month of that conflict. So we have three wars going on at the same time here. So I think we should ask ourselves, how is it that we're spending 10 billion dollars every month just for the war in Afghanistan? And how --

CAVANAUGH: Oh, I was just gonna interject in I may.

LADENDORF: Yeah, sure.

CAVANAUGH: I know that during let's say the early part of this decade, when the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had just started, and you started putting up crosses on beaches to -- as veterans for peace. That was very controversial. There were some people who really, really didn't like that, who were very supportive of these wars and their octives. I'm wondering now, when we see that there's a 60 percent of Americans in these poles who now oppose the war in Afghanistan, what kind of feedback are you getting now from your Arlington west memorial?

LADENDORF: Well, I think the feedback that we are getting reneglects what the poles are showing, that more and more people are becoming dissen chanted with these wars. That they believe that we should be getting out of Afghanistan, that we should be getting out of Iraq, and that's been the position of veterans for peace from the time that we got in it, that these were unjustified and unnecessary wars. And what we ought to do to honor our troops on this memorial day is begin the process of bringing them home. That's the thing we ought to do. But the reaction down at the midway today is one very somber. The people that come there are very I think respectful, they walk through, look at the names, many of them take pictures of the various tomb stones with the names on them. So it's a somber attitude. And when you talk to people as an aside, they tell you that it's time to get out of these warsment.

CAVANAUGH: What are the goals of San Diego veterans for peace? Is yours an antiwar movement?

LADENDORF: No, I look at veterans for peace as just what our name implies, veterans for peace. I think when you -- I think it's much more positive to talk about promoting peace than try to take the initiative in a positive way, than the negative concentration of being against something. So veterans for peace is for peace. And we follow the statement of purpose of our national organization. And that's -- it says there is that as veterans our collective experience is that war is easy to start, difficult to end, and that more and more it's the innocent who suffer. So in that light, we have five major goals that we set out as a national organization that each chapter tries to follow. The first is to increase the public's awareness of the true cost of war. Second is to restrain our government from interfering covertly or overtly in the internal affairs of other nations, third to end the arms race and ultimately eliminate nuclear weapons. Fourth is to seek justice for veterans and victims of war. And finally, abolish war as an instrument of foreign and international policy. Of. And we try to do this through nonviolent means.

CAVANAUGH: As we've been saying that the poles of now reflecting a majority of Americans don't want us in Afghanistan anymore, do you think the killing of Osama bin Laden is basically the linchpin to this? To the changing attitude of Americans about our presence in Afghanistan and Iraq?

LADENDORF: Well, I think certainly -- I've noticed for some time that this attitude has been changing. But I think the killing of bin Laden has accelerated it. I think that's absolutely true. I think that people say, look it, we went to Afghanistan initially to go after Osama bin Laden. And what we did, we finally got him. So now it's time to come home. And when you think about it, we had a hundred thousand troops there. And their presence did not in any way increase our chances of getting Osama bin Laden. It was the kind of intelligence, patient work of our special ops forces that brought the end to Osama bin Laden. So it's time to come home. And I think it's time to stop propping up a government that there's no historical evidence that this government is a legitimate government, that it will stand, that it has the stability to stay after we're gone. And I think we're just continuing to waste our treasure, waste the lives of our young men and women by staying there.

CAVANAUGH: What about the people who say, though, that the mission is not accomplished, the mission is still not accomplished in Afghanistan, that there is time to create a security force in that country that will be able to maintain some sort of reasonable government and law and order when the U.S. leaves in a sort of measured fashion? There's a draw down that's going to begin this summer according to the Obama administration. What about that argument?

LADENDORF: Well, I think you have to look at some of the historical examples of when we've been told that, right? The people in Afghanistan -- and I had a chance not too long ago to talk to a young student here in San Diego who came to the United States two months before nine 11 with her parents and her brother. She's now a U.S. citizen. And she and I were giving a presentation at UC San Marcos several months ago. And I had a chance to talk to her. She said, you know, I keep in contact with my relatives over there. And she said I ask them, is our American presence, are we doing any good there? And they tell her, no. Tell your friends back home to leave. Because no matter when you leave, we're going to have chaos, we're going to have violence, but we will order the society the way we want it, not the way the Americans want it. And she told me personally, she said one of the things I think that you Americans don't understand, we are a tribal nation. We don't get along among ourselves. And we don't believe in a strong central government. We believe that Karzai is corrupt, that 2 percent of the people at the top of our society have all the wealth and all the money and all the power. 98 percent of us are poor. We want the United States to go home. And I think that's what's gonna happen. This society is going to order itself in the way that they want to live, not our expectations.

CAVANAUGH: Many of our in Afghanistan feel that it is important that they're there. And do you speak with people who have that sense of mission about being in Afghanistan?

LADENDORF: Well, I haven't talked to -- recently to any veterans from there who hold that opinion. I've talked to people over the last several years, young veterans from Iraq or Afghanistan who will tell you anecdotal stories that from their mind justifies the mission that they're there. But I think oftentimes, and speaking as a veteran myself, oftentimes you look at things and you try to make a case for the justification of things that have occurred while you've been in a particular war. In my case in Vietnam. Because to say that we have no purpose there, that it was all useless, it makes all the lives of your friends and the colleagues that you have almost wasted. And it's hard to admit that the time that you spent there has been wasted time. But I think more and more you're hearing from people that -- and the veterans that it's time to come home. That we're not going to make any difference in that society.

CAVANAUGH: You know, a lot of people criticize the way that people spend memorial day. You know, they spend it sometimes going to the beach and having barbecues and so forth. When people come to this memorial that you've set up outside of the midway in downtown San Diego, what is it that you want them to take away with them?

LADENDORF: Well, I think, you know, the thing that I want them to take away with them is first of all just the fact that they're there to honor the service of the veterans, right? Those people who have died in the service of their country. I think I said earlier, you know, even if they oppose the war, we still have to recognize that people were doing their duty as they understood it to be. So I think we need always an appreciation of our men and women who serve our country. And this would be one thing that we want to take away. But I think also -- I think it's time to reflect on what we're doing as a nation in these wars. Think about this: If the -- in California in the last 10 years the people of the State of California in their federal -- their proportionate share of federal tax dollars going to support just the war in Iraq in Afghanistan amounts to over one hundred and 52 billion dollars. That's 10 times the budget shortfall that California is facing here right now. And think of this: The people of San Diego County, their proportionate share of that is almost 13 billion dollars, and if -- if the funding is projected goes through in 2011 just for the war in Afghanistan, the San Diego proportionate share, the people of San Diego County's proportionate share of that will be one point three billion dollars. Now, if you look at trade offs for that, we could provide medical care I think it's 35 thousand people. 35 thousand people for one year. Or actually it's 35 thousand veterans could have care through the veterans administration for one year for that amount of money. And I think it's time for people to think, is this worth it? Are there other things we can do?

CAVANAUGH: Well, you have given us a lot to think about. I have been speaking with Barry laden Dover, president of San Diego veterans for peace. Thank you.

LADENDORF: Oh, you're welcome.

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