The City Council plans to construct a cast bronze war memorial honoring soldiers who've died in Iraq and Afghanistan. Because the memorial would also include a visual connection to 9/11, the design—and the $300,000 price tag—are kindling controversy [Council Watch, “Easing Back In,” Aug. 14-20].
Five years after the U.S. invaded Iraq, 54 New Mexican soldiers have died in the conflicts overseas, according to the New Mexico Department of Veterans Services. The memorial is set to be completed by Memorial Day 2009 at the New Mexico Veterans Memorial grounds near Louisiana and Gibson.
Five empty military dress uniforms will hang from lockers. These lockers form a circle in which the architect Tina Reames plans to inscribe the 2001 presidential address. Also inside the circle: laser images and text on black granite slabs detailing the crash sites of 9/11. Mark Motsko, spokesperson for the Department of Municipal Development, says this is “an educational tool to remind the visitor why we are in this situation today."
Charles Powell, president of the Albuquerque chapter of Veterans for Peace, is angered that the city would connect the two events, especially in a memorial intended to honor those who served in Iraq. “The invasion of Iraq was based on lies, and the continuing occupation is still based on those lies," Powell says.
City Councilor Rey Garduño fears future viewers will be misled and could make false connections between the two events. “Sept. 11 had nothing to do with Iraq. I can’t say that enough," Garduño says. "[The Iraq War] was a war of convenience and a war of aggression."
Former Councilor Martin Heinrich proposed in September 2007 a war memorial to honor those fallen in Iraq and Afghanistan. The city set aside $146,000 to build the memorial, but that was still $154,000 short.
Councilors Trudy Jones and Don Harris didn't want the memorial to be dropped because of the funding shortage. Each councilor contributed $77,000 of the money allotted for their districts to the building of the memorial.
The original resolution titled the project "A memorial to New Mexicans fallen in the war on terror." After several objections from citizens and peace organizations, the Council changed the wording in the resolution to read: "A memorial to the fallen in Iraq and Afghanistan." Even though the Council changed the wording on paper, the statement is still included in the blueprint for the memorial.
People express frustration not only about the connection to 9/11 but also about the amount of public funds spent on the project. Powell says the city is focusing more on the memorial than on health care programs for returning veterans. “We feel that the city should not be spending more money on monuments to the dead than they spend on living, breathing, suffering veterans,” he says. “And we have a lot of them on the streets of Albuquerque.”
Garduño says that even though Councilors Jones and Harris are free to spend their money as they see fit, the city should devote funds to aiding the veterans who come home alive. Bob Anderson of Stop the War Machine says the city’s expenditure is an insult. “As a [Vietnam] veteran myself, people don’t give much of a hoot about these memorials,” Anderson says. “They’d rather see the money go into services and help for people who have gone to war.”
Vietnam veteran Paul Barabe says “any place we can have a memorial to honor our veterans would be appropriate.” Yet he maintains that building a memorial for 9/11 is different than building a veterans memorial and is unsure the connection should be made.
Even though Councilor Garduño is going to push for a re-examination of the design in hopes of eliminating connections between 9/11 and the Iraq War, he says he is not against honoring the veterans who served. “Veterans deserve every bit of our honoring them, every bit of the respect we have for them,” he says.
After looking at the design, Councilor Sally Mayer says the memorial is beautiful and touched her heart. “I don’t think a memorial is necessarily the place to take a political stand,” she says. Councilor Harris agrees that it is important to acknowledge those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for our country and this is not the time to discuss the politics of whether the United States should have entered the conflict in Iraq.
While Councilors Mayer and Harris say they leave politics out, Anderson says the debate is surely political. “[The memorial] just further perpetuates a big lie. A big Hitler kind of lie,” Anderson says. “This is how Hitler sold all of his wars and lies. He just kept repeating them bigger and bigger and making them louder and bolder. And that’s what’s going on here. The memorial is, more than anything, a propaganda message for war.”