On November 13, 2006, an anti-war activist by the name of Jeff Heaton erected a mock military cemetery at the intersection of Deer Hill Road and N. Thompson Road in Lafayette, California, just north of the Lafayette BART commuter train station. Heaton's stated intent -- as he revealed in subsequent interviews and on websites he set up about the mock memorial at "The Crosses of Lafayette" and for the Mt. Diablo Peace Center -- was to bring about an end to the war in Iraq by making everyone who saw his installation feel bad about the human cost of the conflict.
The design and appearance of the faux memorial was carefully planned. Knowing that an overtly anti-war installation would only be preaching to the converted, Heaton deliberately tried to assume a mantle of impartiality, to "honor the troops," but to do so in such a way that the viewer would feel that the soldiers' sacrifice was pointless and that the war was futile. The goal, as Heaton writes, is to continuously remind people of the number of fatalities and thereby stir up feelings of "guilt" and "grief."
To achieve this effect, the memorial was designed to be simply a mock military cemetery topped by a large sign stating, "In Memory of 2867 U.S. Troops Killed in Iraq." The message's intentionally passive syntactical structure is the key to the entire memorial and the emotional response it is designed to engender. The American soldiers did not "sacrifice themselves for freedom," or "give themselves to their country," or "die honorably for their beliefs," or "fight for our nation," or any other phrase that might convey pride, honor and agency; no, they were "killed in Iraq," which by its very grammatical structure implies victimhood and passivity. Something happened to them -- for no apparent purpose. In tone, the message is similar to the propaganda broadcasts by Tokyo Rose and Lord Haw-Haw in WWII which were specifically crafted to dispirit the Allied troops.
(All photos in this report are by zombietime, except where noted.)
Heaton and his fellow anti-war activists hoped that commuters passing by the memorial (which, as seen here, is clearly visible from both BART and from Highway 24) would not realize it was an anti-war protest and instead mistakenly perceive it as a sincere memorial to fallen soldiers, and thereby be be more emotionally open to the feelings of guilt, futility and sadness that the installation was intended to arouse.
Suprisingly, however, practically no one was fooled by the memorial's subtle attempts at emotional manipulation. People who already opposed the war loved the memorial, but those who supported the war saw right through the ruse.
Reactions to the memorial were immediate. Only one day after the mock memorial was first put up, Marine Corps Sgt. Jean Bonodio was so offended by its intent that she knocked over part of the sign in full view of reporters. (Photo courtesy of the Contra Costa Times.) An anti-war activist re-erected it shortly afterward.
A week later, an anonymous anti-war protester who agreed with the memorial's intent added two signs to the memorial that said, "Bush Lied, Troops Died," thinking this would add to the memorial's impact. But Jeff Heaton felt that the overt political statement tore away the mask of neutrality he had carefully maintained, and removed the interloping signs as counter-productive. (Photos courtesy of KTVU.)
"That's the most disrespectful, ugly liberal goddamn thing I've ever seen. And I'm a veteran, OK?"
(Click on the video above to play the clip on YouTube, or click here to see the original video hosted at NBC. Thanks to Catttt and HS.)
Even though his cover has been blown, Heaton in the various interviews he's given (such as in the video of a KGO News report shown here) insists on maintaining a veneer of impartiality, because without the respectability that impartiality brings, his anti-war protest would be ineffective:
Jeff Heaton: "A lot of people who stop by are very grateful that we're putting up the memorial, showing gratitude and honoring our soldiers. And other people have stopped by -- a smaller number of people have stopped by -- and have been very angry and belligerent."
The mock graveyard extends across the entire hillside.
In the midst of the crosses is one Islamic crescent, presumably to represent Muslim soldiers.
Just below it is a Star of David for Jewish soldiers, and at the top a psychedelic multicolored cross, possibly for gay(?) soldiers.
And to round out the perfectly balanced selection of religious symbols, one of the graves on the other side has a Dharmacakra, or "Wheel of Dharma," representing Buddhism.
The sign originally read "2839 U.S. Troops" but was updated to 2867 as casualty numbers rose.
On the back side of the sign are replacement numbers, presumably waiting to be used when fatality totals are updated.
At the top of the hill, crosses are stacked up, waiting for activists to add them to the memorial.
This overhead view of the site (courtesy of Google Maps) shows the memorial hillside at the top center, the BART parking lot in the center, and the BART station and Highway 24 at the bottom.
Crumpled up in the grass was a campaign sign for Lafayette's local Democratic congresswoman Ellen Tauscher, who handily won re-election this year. Despite being regarded as somewhat liberal, she actually has a mixed report card from peace groups, half the time opposing the military, and half the time supporting it.