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Published on September 23rd, 2016 | by Reporters Desk

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Peace Amongst The Fleet: Speakers Promote Peace During Fleet Week

By Christian L. Guzman, Contributing Reporter

Community members gathered Sept. 3 at the Croatian Cultural Center in San Pedro to hear peace advocacy speakers including veterans, military families and a community organizer.   

With its barrage of anti-war posters, peace symbols and concentration of long-haired men, the gathering harkened back to a Vietnam War protest in the 20th century.

The gathering was indeed part of a protest, since it was the cap of Peace Week, a collection of peace-centered activities in response to Fleet Week.

Fleet Week showcased sailors and elected officials following a tradition in which active military ships, recently deployed in overseas operations, dock in a city for one week. Thereafter, the crews can enter the city and visit tourist attractions.

“They [the organizers of Fleet Week] threw war a party,” said Rachel Bruhnke, the primary organizer for Peace Week. “Meanwhile people are dying and suffering in the U.S. and all over the world. I wasn’t going to appease that.”  

Bruhnke, a Green Party member and former member of the Peace Corps, coordinated with CODEPINK, the San Pedro Neighbors for Peace and Justice, Military Families Speak Out and Veterans for Peace to present speakers with multiple cases for peace.  

Ed Garza, a Vietnam War veteran was told not to share his experience in the war with anyone. But he did so anyway.

“My squad was on [an unsanctioned] patrol in Cambodia,” Garza said. “We came upon a hut and my superior ordered me to search it for weapons. I was a mortar-man, who usually keep to the back and provide support to rifleman. But I had orders.”

Garza’s face suddenly cringed and he momentarily lost his voice. He admitted he had post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Inside the house there was a woman with her child and a man,” Garza continued, slowly. “They looked terrified. The child had his mouth open to scream but there was no sound coming out. I knew I didn’t belong there. But I had a job to do … I kept the rifle pointed at them, finished my search and left.”

Rossana Cambron is also affected by post-traumatic stress disorder. After her son did three tours in Iraq, his disorder significantly altered his family relationships.

“Independence Day and New Year’s Eve are no longer festive holidays for us,” Cambron said. “My son spends them trying to escape the sounds of fireworks because they remind him of bombs…. The first night he came home he had an episode and thought we were Iraqis for hours.”

Cambron remarked that her son did not initially join the military to be a hero.

“When my son joined the military, he didn’t join for patriotic reasons, he did so for economic ones,” Cambron said. “They offered him $25,000 to sign up. And when you’re just coming out of high school, that’s a lot of money. And he’s not alone. We need to understand that many people don’t join for patriotism, but because they don’t have an alternative.”

The San Pedro Neighbors for Peace and Justice and Military Families Speak Out want young people to know there are alternatives to war. The groups encourage local students and teachers to start peace groups. Every year, for example, the San Pedro Neighbors organizes a field trip for San Pedro High School students to Arlington West in Santa Monica. Arlington West is a periodically installed memorial on the beach for casualties of war and in protest against war as U.S. international policy.

Another speaker, Arnie Saiki, shared a Pacific Islander’s perspective of the United States’ international policy. Saiki grew up in Hawaii and is the coordinator of the Moana Niu Action Alliance of Los Angeles. The alliance advocates for self-determination in the Pacific, indigenous rights, demilitarization, protecting environmental resources and fair trade.

“The coup of Queen Liliuokalani [which marked the end of Hawaiian Independence] was at the gunpoint of the U.S. military supporting American businessmen looking to annex Hawaii for the sugar trade … we cannot separate trade from militarization,” Saiki said.

He and other Pacific Islanders see the Trans Pacific Partnership as a modern example of the United States propagating colonial relationships.

“When you combine the twin ports of LA and Long Beach, you have one of the busiest trade gateways in the world, whose trade value is nearly half a trillion dollars, said Saiki. “[But] when the financial collapse occurred in 2008, it impacted advanced economies more than emerging economies.”

Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa are emerging economies that have a stake in local ports, and have fared relatively well compared to the advanced economies like the United States since 2008. After not getting more representation with the International Monetary Fund, they began to act independently of the West by supporting each other’s economic growth and security through treaties and infrastructure development.

“[These] developing countries are hungry for new development projects and that scares Japan and the U.S.”

Saiki said that so far, Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa have proved neither beneficial nor harmful to global commerce. Despite this, the United States response to their actions has been to increase efforts to maintain economic and military dominance in the Pacific, via the Trans Pacific Partnership.

For Bruhnke, Peace Week was a challenge to both government officials and their constituents to no longer support an economy with strong ties to militarism and exploitation.

“Right now almost 50 percent of U.S. discretionary spending is [tied] to war,” Bruhnke said. “I want the young sailors I saw walking around on First Thursday to be in a line of work that reflects the kindness in their eyes and smiles. [Humanity] needs to move to a Peace Economy, in which the people’s money is going toward humane and sustainable activities … to an economy that is productive to communities, not destructive.”           

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