Berkeleyans Denounce Fleet Week

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Berkeley residents protested at the Berkeley Marina Saturday, denouncing the "nonsense" of the Bay Area's Fleet Week, the annual celebration of the U.S. armed forces.

Fleet Week, which began last Wednesday and ends today, praises the work of the U.S. Navy, Marines and Coast Guard, despite criticism that praise is not deserved.

Attractions of the celebration included numerous ceremonies, including helicopter and aircraft carrier flights above the Bay, a parade of ships and a display of attack submarines.

"(Fleet Week) began in 1981 in the Bay Area to show people around San Francisco how the Navy works, their equipment, and job opportunities," said Ensign Jeff Gorell, a spokesperson for the Navy. "The celebration enables members of the Navy to interact with civilians and allows civilians to see a part of the military people don't often get to see."

According to one protester of the event, Fleet Week originated under Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who said the celebration is a way "to honor our boys in blue."

The Fleet Week celebration, however, did not go without controversy. On Saturday, the counter-demonstration was organized by Candace Falk, editor and director of the Emma Goldman Papers and Robert Heifetz, coordinator of Bay Area Peace Navy, to offer a "critical view" of Fleet Week, Heifetz said.

Falk and Heifetz advocated a conversion of a Fleet Week that does not honor the U.S. Navy so that it is a "real celebration of the bay."

Heifetz said he was particularly critical of the Blue Angel flight demonstrations over the bay in which observers watched F18 pilots perform in the air.

"We look at these airplanes, the Blue Angels, which were called Satan's Kittens when they were put into service in the Korean War, and people have no idea that these are the planes that are today continually bombing Iraq, among other places," he said.

The Peace Navy, which is the name of the protest group which rallies against Fleet Week every year, is critically opposed to the event because of the navy's misuse of national funds, according to Heifetz.

"Every dollar for defense is a dollar taken away from defending our communities, for safe streets, for decent health care, for affordable housing, for the protection of the environment," he said. "And we're constantly having those budget cuts. But in no way is the military budget ever cut. In fact it is continually expanding."

Gorell, however, said Fleet Week is appropriate because the Navy serves and defends the country.

"The men and women in the military are proud of the work they do," he said. "The most important thing to remember is that their job first and foremost is to prevent war and that together they are a united force fighting to defend our country."

Heifetz argued, on the other hand, that Fleet Week is not a peacekeeping activity.

"The enemies of yesterday seem to have become the friends of today and we have a very different situation ever since the end of the second world war," he said. "I don't know who it is that we're defending against. We are aggravating war by extending the production of the military industrial complex, by expanding military equipment and resources to countries abroad."

Heifetz added that he is astonished at how the American people are "brainwashed" into supporting military expansion.

"I find Fleet Week as frankly manipulative and deceptive," he said. "Fleet Week is being presented to the community as a form of entertainment and a family event. We see no reason to extol the US navy at this point. It's not even a good neighbor. Our concern is that now, as the Bay Area demilitarizes, closing down all the military bases here, it's time to demilitarize the celebrations."


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