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11.12.2005

White Noise 

A peace group in Maine has the rightwing bloggers demanding an end to free speech and peaceable protest. The right wing propaganda, which is gaining ground in the republican echo chamber (here, here, here and here) is filled with half truths, slander and outright lies.

The most factual account can be found here.

I spoke to, Arne Springorum, one of the organizers of the memorial (he wanted me to be clear that the flags are a memorial, not a protest) and got some clarification that you won't find on the right wing sites.

The memorial was decided on after the grim milestone of 2000 military deaths in Iraq was reached. The city of Waterville was asked for a permit, which it granted, to use Veterans Memorial Park, a publicly owned property, for the memorial. The white flags were chosen to represent peace and also to emulate military graveyards in Germany, France and the United States which honor US soldiers where the grave markers are always white. I specifically asked Mr. Springorum is he or his group intended to symbolize surrender with the use of the white markers. He stated categorically that was not the group's intention.

The group, Bridges for Peace, attempted to arrange a meeting with veterans groups to work together on an appropriate memorial. The local VFW agreed to meet with the group but not until the 7th of November, weeks after the memorial was scheduled to go up. Bridges to Peace decided to go ahead with their schedule and to seek the VFW's input later.

The goal of the group, according to Springorum, was to memorialize the soldiers and civilians who had lost their lives in the Iraq war. It had nothing to do with Veterans Day, another false claim by the right wing pundits. The memorial has actually been up for nearly two weeks prior to Veterans Day. The fact that Veterans day happened within a few weeks of the 2000th soldier dying in Iraq was just an unfortunate coincidence according to Springorum. They did not intend for the memorial to become a publicity stunt on Veterans day. The only reason it achieved national attention was because of the actions of the VFW members who broke the law and were subsequently arrested.

Right wing bloggers have claimed the group desecrated a cemetary and have dishonered the soldiers buried there. As to the claims that the park is a cemetery, there is some truth to that. The ground was once a military cemetery but the graves and remains were removed decades ago to another location. The ground is now a park with memorial statues to soldiers from the civil war, WWI , WWII, Korea and Vietnam. It is not now a graveyard or cemetery contrary to claims of some bloggers. It honors those who have died in the service of this country. The same thing Bridges for Peace claim they intend.

There is some controversy as to whether or not the permit allows the markers to remain in place beyond the "first snow". Mr. Springorum stated that the permit did call for the memorial to be removed after the first snow but the reason was not an arbitrary time constraint based on something as arguable as what constitutes snowfall, but a safety and respect issue. The snow in Maine can easily cover the 6" to 12" markers and it is at that time that the memorial would be removed. The removal would be to keep the snow from covering the markers and showing disrespect to those they represented, Mr. Springorum explained. The markers are also near a road and path which could cause people to trip over them if they were covered by snow.

There was a dusting of snow in Waterville last Wednesday, it melted in about an hour.

As to the arrest of the veterans who removed the markers, the peace group had little to do with that. The VFW members made it clear in press releases and statements to the police chief and mayor that they would violate the law and remove the markers if the memorial was still up on Veterans day. They even contacted the media to make sure they would be photographed while they vandalized the memorial. They succeeded in getting more attention to the memorial than the prior two weeks of silent contemplation by Bridges for Peace had.

According to Mr. Springorum, the damaging and removal of the group's markers and signs was a routine occurrence. The group has had to replace over 200 of the white markers since the memorial has been erected. "Some of the flags were stepped on and crushed down into the mud," said Mr. Springorum, their first two signs with the numbers of military and civilian dead in Iraq were stolen. Apparently, right wingers vandalizing, stealing and destroying their opponents legally placed property is an acceptable method of protest.

The peace group hopes to reach out to the veterans who are upset by their memorial. They have an open invitation to anyone from the VFW group to meet with them and discuss possible alternatives and an acceptable compromise. So far they are still waiting.

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