Friday, February 10, 2006

No Dog Tags Allowed

The Mountain View Voice reported on how "Council rejects war memorial" in their 10 February 2006 edition (Volume 14 No. 7).

"Council members Laura Macias and Matt Neely backed the project, but their colleagues said they were concerned about approving any form of free speech that could not get a permit under existing city policy."

So, hanging Christmas lights on city trees is alright, even though that violates the following code:
SEC. 32.10. Attachment of wire, rope, signs, etc., unlawful. No person shall place, apply, attach or keep attached to any street tree or shrub or to a guard or stake intended for the protection thereof any wire, rope, sign, paint or any other substance, structure, thing or device of any kind or nature whatsoever. (Ord. No. 175.659, 4/10/61.)
But apparently hanging dog tags in memory of the fallen dead of the United States of America would suddenly trigger this provision. We're apparently only allowed to have "happy trees."

The real issue is the undo influence of "the small number of active and former service members who decried the plans as an anti-war protest masquerading as a memorial." Council member Tom Means was quoted as saying "The group doesn't have much credibility... Just go to the Web site."

Alright Tom, let's do that. The group organizing the memorial was Mountain View Voices for Peace ( They have links to:
  • That's the factual budget that the war costs. $239.8 billion as of tonight.
  • That's the factual list of those killed and wounded in this war so far. 2,265 military and 310 contractors killed as of tonight (and 16,653 wounded).
  • That's the best-guess anyone's yet been able to tally of total casualties (including innocent civilians) for the war. Somewhere between 28,000 - 34,000 people dead.
There was an article today from Cindy Sheehan about how she was strong-armed out of the halls of Congress for the State of the Union because she was wearing a t-shirt that read "2245 Dead. How many more?"

Sadly, Cindy, there have been now 20 more since your t-shirt was printed. But apparently simply advertizing the truth and asking a three word question is considered a "protest" sufficient of arrest.

For those, such as Ken Girdley, who believe this constitutes "anti-war, anti-military and anti-administration" activities, and that hanging dog tags from a tree might "taint the service of those who are putting lives at risk every day," I say this: get over your paranoia.

Americans are not holding violent riots teetering on revolt in the streets as they did in the Civil War or even the Vietnam War, violently outraged against the draft. Americans are asking hard questions about how we got into this war, the reasons why we are fighting it, and how we can extract ourselves from it with the least harm to our own forces and reputation in the world.

Our nation has incurred $238.9 billion in costs to fund this expedition. With a projected US population as of this moment of 298 million, this means the war in Iraq has cost each US resident, including each resident of Mountain View, $804.69 each as of this writing.

The final projection for the cost of war is now expected to exceed $600 billion, and some project, with veteran's benefits, the cost of war could be $1 trillion in the long-run. Regardless, let's just deal with present-state figures.

With a city population of 72,200, the collective cost of the war to the citizens of Mountain View, California, has been $58,098,642.08 as of my typing these words. The number is increasing. The actual number will, in the long term, either double this value or be four times this value. In other words, this war in Iraq will cost our community somewhere between $100 - $200 million dollars.

However, the City Council could not find it in their hearts to scrounge up "an estimated $1,400 worth of city resources and permission to leave the display up for a month."

We could recount the names, ranks, and dates of death of those from our city who have fallen, including those assigned to the 351st Civil Affairs Command, based out of Mt. View.

The deaths per total US population due to the war in Iraq are 1 in 131,610. Mountain View, with a population of 72,200, had about a 50-50 chance of avoiding any casualties. Yet our own resident 1st Lt. Kenneth Ballard was killed, and at least two others from the 351st stationed here.

These people deserve to be remembered. This city owes it to every man and woman who has died over there in Iraq to give them their due. Not just one day in November. Because these people are over there 365, 24 x 7. And many have been over there for two or three tours of duty.

The people who say that this would "taint" our beliefs about those who are serving overseas are utterly contemptible. I don't care if they did serve in the military. We owe it to the hundreds of thousands of people serving in CENTCOM to say,

"We're Mountain View, California. And regardless of whether we support the war, or are against the war, we acknowledge what you are personally risking on our behalf. We shall consider your sacrifice for a whole month, as a sober reminder of your daily, year-round duties. We grieve for your losses. We worry about you. We will hold civil discourse about the course our nation is on, airing both the good and the bad, in hopes for a progressive engagement about where we should be this time next year, and whether we can do anything to help ensure your survival and speed up your return to your loved ones. We hope to minimize the cost to your precious lives and to our economy, to minimize the damage to our true national security and to our prestige in the world."

If Mountain View, California, cannot summon up $1,400 to consider this proposition after we have collectively already forked over $58 million to fund the war in the first place, if we cannot spare $0.019 per capita—less than 2 cents per resident to put dogtags in a tree for a month—then what in the world are we doing tossing tens of millions of dollars as a community to fund the war in the first place?

Is it a "sin tax?" Something we can pay off so our collective minds can simply carry on with their daily lives without worrying about the pain and suffering being borne by our military servicemen and women, civil contractors and selfless workers for NGOs?

I am highly disappointed in Mountain View's City Council. Ashamed, in fact. We should be expressing our collective viewpoints much as there was the Witness Tree during the dawn of our city's founding on the property of Benjamin Bubb. It was a cherry tree, like in the apocryphal story of George Washington, who was not supposed to tell a lie.

We are not telling a lie. We are merely making a sin of ommission by not giving formal attention, as a city, as a movement of 72,200 US residents, to acknowledge the good, the bad, the ugly, and the very, very real events of and people serving and surviving in the war in Iraq.

It matters less whether we individually agree or disagree with the war. Each of us is entitled to hold an opinion on the topic, much the same way that everyone who attends a wake or funeral may mourn or celebrate a life in their own way. I am sure that if there were respectful ethics regarding what should or should not be permitted when in the witness of the dog tag tree that people would for the most part respect it. I know a woman whose son is serving in the special forces in Iraq. She could not even look at the iCasualties page without bursting into tears worrying about the fate of her son.

We are all touched by this war. Even those of us who have not, do not, or could not serve in it. It is an ever-growing low-grade fever undermining our local and national economy. So far, $58 million and one resident dead. Others stationed here also dead. I don't have figures of wounded or emotionally scarred. I know I ran into a recent veteran who was angry at a drugstore on El Camino. The price of a greeting card was outrageous, in his opinion. He paid for it, fuming, then stalked away. His apologetic relative winced that he had just come back from the war even as he stormed off. It was obvious to all that he is already suffering PTSD.

If we cannot even spend $1,400 now as an artistic community work to consider what this war is doing and has done and will do in the long-term to our community, then years later we apparently accept to cough up whatever the true costs of the war will be. Perhaps by avoiding this as a community we can feign surprise, shock and disbelief when the full costs are tallied and when our veterans return in various states of mind, body and spirit.

For my opinion, literally for my own $0.02 as a Mountain View citizen, I'd have preferred if the city had backed the project and showed a little backbone. It would have been good to show some of the fearlessness that is being shown overseas by our military and civilian personnel at risk in Iraq, and as each Iraqi citizen must feel in a war-torn nation. They have to enter a warzone each day. For a month, we can be a sister-city to an Iraqi town of similar size, even if was simply to count our blessings, pay due heed to the survival and well-being of our native sons and daughters, and consider the survival and well-being of the sons and daughters of the nascent democracy of Iraq.

If the city itself will not permit this art display, I respectfully suggest that someone with a decent tree, lawn, and spirit of community offer to host the dog tag tree on their own property.

-Peter Corless.
Mountain View, California


  1. It's not too late to run for office! You would be amazing!!!


  2. I concur. Completely. Writing as a former member of the military and as a former member of the police (read: former member of the vast right-wing conspiracy), I might have added that the very best way to support our troops is to bring them home and reunite them with their families. Get them away from places where they are killing and dying for haliburton's bottom-line.


  3. Thanks greatly for the encouragement!

    Hugh, I am very glad to see that you are posting here. Hope all is well with you!

    Troops in the field need to be remembered. The worst thing in the world is to pretend that they do not exist. They come back allienated if they are ignored. As if their daily existence for their whole past tour did not occur. That's what makes them question whether what they did had any value.

    In a way, they might feel comforted that life stateside was unaffected. That is a sort of measure of success. Because the insanity was contained overseas. It did not reach our shores.

    Yet also, in a way, they will bear a silent pain, unable to connect to what is going on around them here. Or, more rightly, we cannot connect with what happened to them over there. This leads to ignorance of their soul's pain, their silent griefs, their vivid dreams of their moments relived night after night.

    We saw this with warriors from prior wars. Even domestic police officers suffer this trauma after particularly bad exposures to violence.

    I'd hope that a dog tag tree would be a place where they could come and see that we, as a community, care about their memories. That we welcome them back home. Like a poignant Christmas tree hung with the reminders of spirits of the warrior angels now deceased. And in hope and memory of those yet still alive.

    Maybe if more communities considered a dog tag tree? Perhaps we could get some set up around the country before this Christmas? Perhaps for this coming Veteran's Day, Nov 11?