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May 25, 2008

Arlington West

07 16N24

07 49N36A


The Los Angeles chapter of Veterans for Peace is just one of at least twenty groups around the country that has taken up the Arlington West project.

Every Sunday since February 15th, 2004, the group has erected one cross near the Santa Monica pier for each soldier killed in Iraq.  The original project started in November 2003 in Santa Barbara motivated by the government's Dover media ban.  Ron Kovic and other special guests will be in attendance tomorrow, Memorial Day.

If the beach is the ultimate place to escape and play, the reflection -- in high-tech reflective glasses, such as those we have seen on so many soldiers -- is both a dramatic jolt, as well as vivid appeal to look hard at the loss of life.

The second image, beyond the reminder that protesting this war is an act of patriotism, provides an eloquent look at the transition of playground to hallowed ground.

It's this third image, however, that I find the most unusual, calling out the government's blackout simply through its composition.  What we see is the storage space for the mock coffins under the Santa Monica Pier. The way the light comes through the ceiling and the slats in the doors, however, creates the most unusual evocation of the scene at Dover.  You can compare here at Wikipedia.

By the way, I owe a special thanks to photographer Mathieu Grandjean for permission to use these pictures.  His full Arlington West Memorial photo series is available here.

Arlington West website with Memorial Day commemoration information

(images © Mathieu Grandjean)


In the Great War we learned that modern heavy industry can deliver a remarkable efficiency to the business of war — killing and maiming. By the end of the Second World War most of Europe had come to appreciate that awful truth, perhaps as a consequence of years spent burying and cleaning up and rebuilding.

Over here we've come to treat this lesson as a public relations problem, a problem of perception solved by the gently assisted diversion of our collective gaze. So we find ourselves in a position where, five full years after the Mission was Accomplished, our war daily grinds on. Five successful years, corners turned, training delivered, their standing up so we can stand down. Five years of self-scored straight A's and Presidential Medals, still no end in sight.

The flag-draped boxes and the crosses reflected from those shades in the top image extend to the vanishing point, no end in sight there either. In February of 2004 less than 600 crosses were planted on that stretch of beach. Today that number is 4,082. Tomorrow is likely to bring two more. Et cetera.

From the trenches of northern France, 1915 --

 When you see millions of the mouthless dead
 Across your dreams in pale battalions go,
 Say not soft things as other men have said,
 That you'll remember. For you need not so.
 Give them not praise. For, deaf, how should they know
 It is not curses heaped on each gashed head?
 Nor tears. Their blind eyes see not your tears flow.
 Nor honour. It is easy to be dead.
 Say only this, "They are dead." Then add thereto,
 "yet many a better one has died before."
 Then, scanning all the overcrowded mass, should you
 Perceive one face that you loved heretofore,
 It is a spook. None wears the face you knew.
 Great death has made all this for evermore.

Charles Sorley arrived in France at the end of May, 1915. In August he was promoted to Captain. He died in October, sniper's bullet to the head. He was 20 years old.

Kudos BagNews, I am a vigorous antiwar Vietnam vet and was out in Santa Monica recently. I think your photo display is terrific. Your point about juxtaposing the playground aspect of Santa Monica beach with the hallowed ground beneath the pier is inspired. My brother lived in Santa Monica for many years and passed away last September in the West L.A. VA hospital. He served in the Marine Corps and Bush had the gall to send me a commemorative citation in his honor, which I plan to send back to him with an appropriate antiwar blast (any ideas?)

I find your make-believe coffin motif powerful. For the real thing, coffins and all, I have a video titled Condolences Condoleezza, and also a piece on the 25th anniversary on the Vietnam War Memorial, on my blog,


Terrific photos. The top one (I'm being subjective, here) looks like a tough Marine or a DI. Been there, done that, and his glasses reflect yet more horrors. An expressionless observer unable to stop the ongoing carnage.

I used to photograph under and around that pier and seeing all those pseudo-coffins lined up is a bit unsettling. Only the narrow rays of the sunlight through the planks lets us identify the coffins. They are being hidden in the darkness just as the administration unloads the real ones in the dead of night.

It isn't controversial about honoring and photographing our past KIA's once or twice a year but it is controversial about whether our First Amendment right of Freedom of the Press extends to photographing their caskets as they are unloaded at Dover Air Base. Why is that?

There's a similar project near where I live, in Lafayette, California.

vigilante: good question. If that nincompoop "minister" of the church of his family can (with court permission) protest every military funeral they can get to and shout about "homosexuals and hell" to disrupt the grieving, why is it not permissible to photograph the coffins being off-loaded? It's a puzzlement. Is it because the photographers might find out that the cremations are being done at a pet cemetary? I suppose what we need is a few more lefty judges.

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