Criticism of war continues to build

Activist April Fitzsimmons speaks out against the war with Whidbey resident Beto Salazar. - Photo courtesy April Fitzsimmons
Activist April Fitzsimmons speaks out against the war with Whidbey resident Beto Salazar.
— image credit: Photo courtesy April Fitzsimmons

South Whidbey hosts peace activist

LANGLEY — A group of South Enders gathered Wednesday in the yard of Island Coffee House in Langley, lounging in chairs, blinking into the sun. Some were sipping iced teas.

A man wearing sunglasses played mellow tunes on his guitar and a woman in a green sundress with a big white flower in her shiny dark hair read from her essays.

It was an unusually sunny, unusually peaceful Wednesday evening in the small Village by the Sea.

Coming upon this scene, the idea of war in Iraq, terrorism and destruction seemed an abstract thought. Yet, this was exactly what brought this eclectic group together.

The woman in the green dress, April Fitzsimmons, recalled the feelings she had in early 2003 as the U.S. attack on Iraq appeared inevitable.

“When Dick Cheney and these other ‘experts’ prepared for the war, I felt really, really deceived,” said Fitzsimmons, a writer, activist and Air Force veteran.

An affirmative murmur went through the crowd.

As former intelligence analyst for the military, Fitzsimmons said the intelligence and reasoning presented didn’t add up.

Fitzsimmons was an analyst from 1985-’89. After 9/11, she joined the peace movement and has since poured her anger and sometimes helplessness into her writings about current events.

Fitzsimmons read her essays to a small crowd while accompanied on the guitar by Whidbey Island resident Beto Salazar, whose son Eric served in Iraq among the first Marines who were dropped behind enemy lines.

Fitzsimmons was on the island for a brief summer vacation. She has three sisters who live on Whidbey.

As an activist, Fitzsimmons has spent countless Sunday mornings at the pier in Santa Monica, Calif. to erect Arlington West, a memorial to the fallen U.S. military in Iraq.

“One cross for every service person killed,” she read from her essay “Mourning People.”

“We reckon that if we were to plant a cross for every Iraqi or Allied person who has been killed in this war it would extend all the way to Malibu.”

“Last week a new group of eight volunteers showed up. Good morning, I said cheerily as we unpacked the crosses onto the beach. They stared blankly past me. Oh, they’re not morning people, I thought.

“Stan, a vet from World War II was staring out across the ocean. “Whatcha thinking about Stan?” I ask.

“Those kids, he says - nodding his wise face toward the group of eight - they lost their best friend on Monday. They didn’t know what to do so they came here. The group of eight finished planting the crosses with us, then they took a flag and a flower and wrote his name on a piece of paper. They placed it on a cross in the front row and sat crying and telling stories of 1st Lt. Andre Tyson. I was wrong. I guess they were mourning people,” Fitzsimmons read.

“I turn back and the beach is clean again. The memorial is gone almost like it never happened. The picnics and the kites rush in to fill the empty space. Families and friends of all different colors and beliefs rush onto the sand filled with tears,” Fitzsimmons read.

As the author finished, an obvious feeling of sadness permeated the crowd.

“Sometimes when I go around to colleges, I know I am not delivering good news,” Fitzsimmons said. “And all I wanna do is make people laugh, do some stand-up.”

Salazar shared e-mails he exchanged with his son Eric on the eve of the war.

“If I am going down, it’s not for anything I believe in,” Eric Salazar, a young Marine, wrote on March 17, 2003.

Salazar is now a member of Veterans against the War. Beto Salazar told the audience how grateful he is his son came back alive without serious injuries, but he also said there are “internal scars.”

Fitzsimmons writing touched on many hot-button issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder, but also hit topics such as “lying politicians” to violence against women in the military.

She also read about her trip to Crawford, Texas to support war protester Cindy Sheehan. Fitzsimmons recalled the protesters and counter protesters and the general mayhem associated with the highly publicized event.

“The shouting increased now on both sides and a Vietnam vet kept insisting, ‘You don’t know. You haven’t been there. You just don’t know.’ He stood chest to chest with the ‘Freedom isn’t free’ guy, each man clinging to his beliefs,” Fitzsimmons read. “At the height of the confrontation, the Vietnam vet looked to the sky and his face contorted into horror. He saw the chopper and suddenly it wasn’t Crawford, Texas. It was Vietnam. He collapsed in a heap and wept uncontrollably.”

“Five Vietnam vets rushed to his side and carried him under a tent. They shielded him from view, putting their bodies between the sobbing man and the media. I watched the press as they politely waited for him to have his ‘moment’ and for the human wall to move so their lenses could peek into the anguish of this grown man. But this wasn’t a ‘moment.’ This was part of post-traumatic stress disorder,” she read.

Her writing encouraged people to stand up for their beliefs, and her message fell on receptive ears. Peace activism is deep-rooted on the South End. The Whidbey Peace and Reconciliation Network, the Women in Black and other protesters continue to share their objections to the war in regular demonstrations on the island.

Many local activists asked her for ideas.

Contacting and visiting government officials is a top priority, she said. Don’t give up, Fitzsimmons added.

“Push beyond your comfort zone,” she said.

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