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War on the Central Coast

Posted by Erin Bechtol

From Ruth Ann Angus, CNV Week of Action Organizer and Nonviolent Cities Coordinator for Morro Bay, CA.  Ruth Ann writes a reflection after John Dear visited on his book tour and what it is like to live in such a beautiful and peaceful place despite war being planned nearby.


At three in the morning the quiet of the countryside is broken by the unmistakable sound of a jet plane flying overhead. This might not be that unusual except for the fact that large commercial jets don’t fly low over this section of the coast. The sound that awakens a light sleeper is recognized after a few disorienting minutes. Oh, yes those are the jets from the air base in the desert. It is the springtime military maneuvers taking place.

Spring brings luscious green hillsides thanks to late season rain showers. The entire area resembles Ireland. Scampering young calves jump and play next to their mothers grazing on the new shoots. Wildflowers spread across the land, bright yellow and soft purple. The land is alive and renewed with hope.

Driving down the highway between the seaside town and small inland city the view is the beauty of the natural landscape, but it is hard not to notice other things. The highway sign informs that The Camp is coming up on the road. Memories of summer camp activities spring to mind; sleeping under the stars, singing songs around the campfire, swimming in the lake and hiking through the woods. But this is not that kind of camp.

Rows and rows of camouflaged colored tanks and trucks come into view. Travelers take no notice as they pass by the entrance gate where flags consistently fly at half-mast. Better to keep your eyes on the road or at best look off to the distant craggy peaks of the volcanic plugs that have silently watched changes in the land over eons.

Later traveling back to the shoreside town the black of night engulfs and thousands of stars glow. The darkness is peaceful and calming. Suddenly a blare of bright orange-yellow light glows at the top of the next rise. It is like the lights of Las Vegas in the Nevada desert or the overwhelming glow seen from afar in an aircraft approaching landing in Los Angeles.

Speeding past the tall fence with the snake-like barbed wire along the top, the towers of the guard houses come into view. The large concrete bastion of the Men’s Colony stands out brazenly in the night. The name, like the name of The Camp just down the road, is a jolt to the senses. A prison masquerading as a men’s club, a war machine masquerading as a summer camp.

An announcement on the local six o’clock TV news warns that the freeway will be one lane tomorrow morning as a convoy will be on the road heading to maneuvers at the Army base. The commute for some will be slow. The jets will fly again tonight.

Henry bends over and digs in his garden soil, his white hair softly blowing in the afternoon breeze. It’s spring and time for planting seasonal flowers. A neighbor strolls by. “Henry, have you heard?” she says, “Were going to war again.” Henry straightens up, his left hand holding his back, his right hand the trowel. “Again?” he says, “When did we stop?”

The priest, a lecturer on peace and nonviolence, speaks to the congregation. His message is clear. The road we are traveling on is fraught with fear and lest we wrap the mantle of “love your enemies” and “turn the other cheek” around us, we could be facing the end of civilization as we know it. As he climbs into his car and speeds off to his next destination to bring the message of peace, the air is rent with a sound; Thwack, Thwack, Thwack. The crowd waving him goodbye looks up to see four large helicopters dressed in camouflage green slicing through the air over the ocean. “Again?” they ask. “When will we stop?”

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