Local peace activists prepare for battle

Gil Field, of the San Diego Veterans for Peace, at the Sept. 5 demonstration against the war on Syria held at the 6th Avenue overpass in downtown San Diego. Photo courtesy of SD Veterans for Peace. Photo/Steven Mihailovich
Gil Field, of the San Diego Veterans for Peace, at the Sept. 5 demonstration against the war on Syria held at the 6th Avenue overpass in downtown San Diego. Photo courtesy of SD Veterans for Peace. Photo/Steven Mihailovich

By Steven Mihailovich

While the federal government contemplates military action against the regime in Syria for its alleged use of chemical weapons in the ongoing civil war there, a number of local residents are already mobilizing to take action.

They’re honing the message, enlisting recruits, organizing campaigns and readying to march in preparation of a potential struggle, but not against Syria or any other adversary. Instead, their aim is peace.

“We apply non-violent direct action,” said Jim Summers, a Navy veteran from Solana Beach and a founding member of the San Diego chapter of Veterans for Peace (VFP). “We learned from the military how to be strategic, tactical and logistical. I bet some of them regret teaching us.”

With the country winding down the longest war in its history in Afghanistan, Del Mar peace activist Martha Sullivan believes the conflict currently being proposed can be averted because people are fatigued with military action.

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SDVFP members and others waving to cars along the I-5. Photo/Gary Butterfield

“Politicians think they’ve figured out what hot buttons will get people on their side,” said Sullivan. “The problem is that you can’t keep using that because it’s shown to make you skeptical. People are increasingly getting wise to that and they’re getting tired of that...Americans are seeing there are no benefits, just sacrifices.”

Sullivan has been involved with a number of local antiwar/peace organizations, such as the San Diego Coalition for Peace and Justice, and the Peace Resource Center of San Diego among others, for more than 10 years and is a founding member of Women Occupy San Diego.

If peace activists take a dim view of just about every call to war, it’s because they take the long view of America’s involvement historically in conflicts far from home. When Gilbert Field, a Carmel Valley resident and past president of VFP, discusses claimed reasons for wars that eventually turn out to be false, he doesn’t just talk about the recent Iraq War but mentions Vietnam (during which he served in the Coast Guard) and others all the way back to the Spanish-American War.

“We seem to do this,” he said. “Every time we’re offended, and even if we’re not, we just seem to do it. We want to do it. I don’t believe we’re a war-like people, but we seem to go to war for the strangest justifications and we seem to do it again and again.”

On the surface, it might seem counterintuitive to organize demonstrations, marches and vigils against war in a city so steeped in the military tradition like San Diego. However, Summers argues that support is garnered almost effortlessly from many of the 250,000 veterans in the county because those who have seen the tragic costs of war firsthand are usually the first to oppose it.

“The easiest place to recruit peacemakers is among vets and the military,” he explained. “They’ve already accepted that making the world a better place is part of their job. Second, by being in the military, they’re used to the BS. They came out seeing what it’s really about.”

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