Stop the War! (for extra credit)

Posted October 10, 2007 in News

 The first Inland Empire soldier to be killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom may or may not have been Jorge A. Gonzalez, a 20-year-old Marine corporal killed along with eight other Marines on March 23, 2003, while fighting to capture a bridge in Nasiriyah. We say “may or may not” because the Department of Defense news release announcing Gonzalez’s death listed his home city as Los Angeles, but his wife, parents and 5-month-old son lived in Rialto at the time.

According to the Marine Times newspaper, Gonzalez was killed “when Iraqis, feigning surrender, hit the armored personnel carrier he was riding near.” But firsthand accounts published in the Los Angeles Times showed that the true culprit may have been a U.S Air Force A-10 “Warthog,” which mistakenly opened fire on Gonzalez’s convoy and killed—according to Gonzalez’s battalion commander—as many as six Marines. Whether Gonzalez was one of them remains unclear.

At any rate, the first “official” Inland soldier to die in the Iraq War was 22-year-old Marine Cpl. Jesus A. Gonzalez of Indio. No relation to Jorge, Jesus was killed April 12, 2003, while manning a checkpoint in Baghdad. Ambiguity also surrounds the circumstances of his death. The DOD lists him as “killed in action.” The Center for Army Lessons Learned, a research center in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, reports that he may have died from “friendly fire.”

Depending on where one stands on the war, these deaths were either testament to patriotic spirit of the IE community or a bloody microcosm of everything that’s wrong with America’s ongoing military adventure in the Middle East. If you identify with the former camp, then the two Gonzalezes and the 49 other Inland soliders who have perished thus far were a heart-wrenching but necessary sacrifice in the War on Terror. If you identify with the latter, then these deaths were the wholly unnecessary result of an ill conceived and incompetently executed conflict in which American minorities—particularly Hispanic minorities—are being killed and maimed in disproportionate numbers.

Armando Navarro and Richard Lowey, professors of ethnic studies at UC Riverside and longtime crusaders for liberal and minority rights causes, are in the latter camp. The two educators joined forces with other university professors and the UCR Anti-War Coalition—a loose affiliation of like-minded students and faculty—to stage a March 8 “teach-in” in the campus’s Bourns Hall. (If you were born after the ‘60s, a teach-in is basically a political rally with extra class credit.) Titled “War In Iraq: Prelude to WW III,” the event was advertised to the media as “an opportunity to discuss, voice your opinion, and ask questions” about the war—a noble sentiment, if a curious one, given that the teach-in was held nearly four years and 3,195 U.S. fatalities into the war.

Students were, of course, given extra credit for participating in the event, which was very well attended.

Diana Flores, chairwoman of the campus’s chapter of MEChA, a Latino student organization that frequently champions free speech when it isn’t stealing student newspapers for publishing opposing viewpoints, kicked off the proceedings by describing the Iraq conflict as both a war abroad and “a war at home.”

“The war has been conducted almost entirely uncontested, with, like, an occasional reprimand to satisfy the voting public,” she told the standing-room only crowd in the 125-maxium-capacity lecture room.

Incidentally, the only female Inland Empire soldier to be killed thus far in the war was Army Pfc. Hannah L. Gunterman, 20, of Redlands, struck by a vehicle on Sept. 4 of last year in in Taji, Iraq.

Flores was followed by Professor June O’Connor, chairwoman of UCR’s religious studies department, who gave a meandering speech on the power of nonviolence (O’Conner teaches a course titled “The Power of Nonviolence”) and “proactive peacekeeping efforts”—whatever that means.

Lowey spoke at length about 9/11—at least we think he did, because he spoke almost entirely in code. Using phrases such as “They say three buildings collapsed because of fire, something that never happened before or since” and “But I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions.” Lowey almost, but not quite, un-flatly suggested that 9/11 was a government hoax designed to justify the ongoing War on Terror. Navarro was clearly uncomfortable with Lowey’s topic, and at one point whispered to him that he wrap it up.

Francisco Sola of the National Alliance for Human Rights gave a well-reasoned presentation on the “real costs” of the Iraq War—“We’re spending $8 billion a month in Iraq, up from $4.4 billion a month just a few years ago”—that somehow managed to exclude 3,195 dead and 23,417 wounded U.S. soldiers as part of the costs.

The only speech that truly roused the audience came from Professor Navarro, a skilled orator with a booming baritone voice and a gift for passionate rhetoric.

“This administration is perhaps the most dangerous in the history of this country,” he shouted at a volume that shook the walls. “The reason for this war is simple: oil. The money, the hegemony, the power in the Middle East is based on who will control the supply of oil in the 21st century.”

Whether Navarro or any of his band of presenters came close to achieving their stated goal for the teach-in—getting students to actually think about the Iraq conflict—is doubtful. Of the 14 audience members we interviewed at the event, only three said they were opposed to the war (though if a draft is ever implemented, expect those numbers to change real fast). The rest gave some variation on the view expressed by 20-year-old student Suh Jung Hong, who said: “I think the war is kind of necessary.”

“I think the war’s a good idea,” echoed Evan Tran, 19. “I don’t know how much of an opinion I can give, though, because I don’t usually follow politics.”

In the end, Lowey and Navarro’s teach-in was in itself a microcosm of a key element of the conflict—that of the antiwar movement’s inability to present a cogent and unified voice of opposition. This is unfortunate, given that a recent CNN poll showed that 58 percent of those surveyed want the U.S. out of Iraq by 2008 or earlier.

The most recent Inland soldier to die in Iraq was Marine 1st Lt. Jared M. Landaker, 25, of Big Bear City, killed along with four other Marines when their Sea Knight helicopter crashed in Iraq’s Anbar province. With the peace movement apparently incapable of articulating why Landaker, a former All-CIF defensive back at Big Bear High, shouldn’t have died, he certainly won’t be the last.


Inland Empire peace activists will hold two major rallies Friday and Saturday to mark the March 17 four-year anniversary of the Iraq War. The first, organized by Riverside Area Peace Justice Action (RAPJA), runs from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday at the corner of Iowa and University avenues in Riverside. Call Dick Morris at (951) 682-1196 for more information.

At 11:30 a.m. Saturday, organizers from the National Alliance for Human Rights will hold a rally at 11:30 a.m. at La Placita Park in San Bernardino before marching to City Hall for two hours of speeches, music and poetry. The public is invited to attend. 



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