Stop the War

Tue, Feb 02, 2021

Santa Cruz Responds to the Gulf War: 30 Years Later

Listen to the MAHcast Interview

As humans, one of our tendencies is that we often look for and recognize patterns. This behavior does not limit itself to only identifying visual or physical patterns, it applies to our memory and how we practice history as well. Our tendency to recognize patterns is perhaps what has led to the old adage “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” But history is so much more than a scrying device that we hope is capable of predicting the future, it is a way in which we understand who we are today.

One of the ways in which we use historical patterns so that we understand ourselves better is through the act of commemoration and the marking of historical anniversaries. It is my belief that the reason we commemorate these anniversaries is done more so as a way to understand who we are and less so as a system of prophetic warnings predicting the future. So while history is indeed concerned with the past, I feel it is much more useful as a way of understanding our present. When we commemorate historical anniversaries, in a sense we are tracing the patterns within ourselves that we wish to define us. Often these anniversaries raise more questions than they answer. But that’s a good thing; we should always be striving to move forward and not remain mired in the ways of the past.

Desert Storm MA Hcast

"Elements of the Storm"

This poster (on the left) was created by U.S. weapons manufacturer Martin Marietta to celebrate the use of their “products” during the Gulf War including “hellfire-armed Apache helicopters” and “surface fleet ships.” I included this poster in the 1992 “End the War” art exhibit.

“Desert Storm: We Were There"

This poster (on the right) features a smiling U.S. soldier amidst helicopters and rockets during operation Desert Storm. Submitted by a U.S. military contractor.

And speaking of anniversaries… with all of the political turmoil during January of 2021, we seem to have quietly overlooked one. January 16th marked the 30th anniversary of the official start of the Gulf War. Historians and journalists have debated whether that was truly the beginning of U.S. conflict in the Middle East. Many have also contemplated whether it was truly a “war.” And even more, have questioned whether the conflict actually ended just over a month later.

To make sense of this, I recently sat down for a MAHCast interview with author, journalist, filmmaker, and activist John Malkin to discuss the anniversary of the Gulf War. While he was a student at UCSC in January of 1991, John crafted the documentary “Santa Cruz Responds to the Gulf War.” And while the film is roughly twenty-three minutes long, it does a fantastic job of detailing the numerous ways in which the Gulf War played out in Santa Cruz. Themes such as police violence, racial discrimination, student and youth activism movements, and themes of state propaganda ripple throughout both the film and my discussion with John.

Desert Storm MA Hcast 1

“Cease Resistance – Be Safe”

These propaganda flyers were dropped from U.S. warplanes and helicopters over Iraq during the 1991 Gulf War, urging them to surrender. A war veteran from Santa Cruz provided these and I made a thousand copies, to rain down on the heads of people attending an “End the War” art exhibit that I curated at the Abattoir Gallery in Santa Cruz in 1992 during the one-year anniversary of the Gulf War. (John Malkin)

Sound familiar?

It seems that history cannot stop us from repeating ourselves. One only has to look at the events of this past year alongside some of the stories in our history books to recognize some of the patterns we keep repeating. Sure, some of the contexts and players may have changed, but the patterns remain. But we can always choose to do better in the present and not remain tied to the past.

To celebrate the anniversary of the film and how Santa Cruz responded, John has graciously volunteered items and descriptions from his personal collection as a virtual exhibit. As you peruse these materials, we encourage you to think about how the response to the Gulf War impacted the Santa Cruz community, and ask yourself how it might inform who we choose to be today.

“Born in the USA”

This photo/collage by Santa Cruz-based photographer Janjaap Dekker captures the intensity and rage of protestors and the response of state power during protests against the “first” Gulf War in January 1991. Dekker photographed this image in downtown San Francisco during a massive protest on January 26. Dekker added the flames and also made this available as a t-shirt. I’ve still got mine. (John Malkin)

FMC Letter

This letter was in response to requests I sent to a dozen U.S. military contractors asking for materials related to the Gulf War, to be included in an “End the War” art show in Santa Cruz. FMC began as an insecticide company in Los Gatos.

Safeway Bag

Just a grocery store bag. And it embodies some of the contradictions and conflict that arose in Santa Cruz and across the country during the 1991 Gulf War. Does “support the troops” mean you support war? Of course “We’re All Glad Your Back,” but many of us hoped you wouldn’t go in the first place.

Grumman Tomcat

Another marketing item from a large U.S. military contractor celebrating the success of their “products” during the Gulf War that devastated Iraq and led to regional wars that continue to this day. Grumman built the supersonic Tomcat F-14 fighter jet. The company merged with Northrop in 1994.

“We're Proud of Our Armed Forces” LTV

A marketing sticker from U.S. military contractor LTV Aerospace and Defense Corporation. Among their “products” used during the Gulf War were the A-7E Corsair II and the Hummer, now common on city streets across the U.S. with the civilian version, Humvee. “Perhaps the most visible vehicle in Operation Desert Storm.”

Fort Ord Civil Disobedience / Anti-War Puppet

During the protests against the Gulf War in 1991, this huge anti-war puppet was taken to Fort Ord in Monterey, where dozens of Santa Cruz activists engaged in civil disobedience to try to block U.S. soldiers from being deployed to the Middle East, and to educate them about their options. At the time, the Santa Cruz Resource Center for Nonviolence operated a hotline to support U.S. soldiers wanting to register as conscientious objectors. Political puppets were also a common sight at other 90’s protests and civil disobedience actions at Lawrence Livermore Laboratories, the Nevada Test Site and at Lockheed Martin Santa Cruz, located at the end of Empire Grade Road and the site of numerous “Citizens Weapons Inspections.” Fort Ord was closed in 1994 and is now home to California State University at Monterey Bay (CSUMB).

John’s film is featured online at the Rio Theatre through February 16th, 2021, and is also available on YouTube (see below).