Standing over jammed traffic at 7 a.m. in the biting cold, Todd Boyle’s got a captive audience. And from the sound of things, more than a few motorists support his view that the US needs to get out of Afghanistan.
Every week for the last six years, Boyle, 56, has become a familiar sight to motorists passing through Kirkland on Interstate 405. He uses his bike to roll down to an overpass above the freeway and waves a large placard that states his opposition to the US military presence – until recently – in Iraq. But a few months ago, Boyle switched the sign for a new one: “U.S. Out of Afghanistan”.
“Something like 10,000 people will see this sign in the one-and-a-half hours that I’m here,” he said.
Standing with fellow supporter and resident Margie Ostle, the pair waved to the passing motorists for honks of support. He said about 80 percent of the honks and gestures were positive.
“Every once in a while someone will pass by, ‘flipping the bird,’” he said. “I just say, keep your hands on the wheel, buddy!”
Boyle said he’s a veteran of the Navy in the 1970s and worked afterwards for the military as a contractor, performing audits.
He called recently announced plans to raise troop levels in Afghanistan by 17,000 soldiers “unjust, unwise and unnecessary.”
“It’s stupid, all of these occupations,” he said.
Boyle said he started displaying the sign over I-405 in 2003 as the anti-war movement against Iraq was reaching it’s height. A few weeks before in February, an estimated 6 to 10 million people world wide gathered to protest the imminent war in Iraq. The single largest anti-war demonstration on-record of an estimated 3 million people took place in Rome, Italy. But he said the enthusiasm for protest declined quickly following the invasion of Iraq on March 20, 2003.
“They got used to it, the Iraq War,” he said.
But despite the small numbers of visible protesters today, Boyle said it was important that he make a statement every week on the 100th Street pedestrian bridge.
“Even (former Secretary of Defense) Bob McNamara said ‘We were wrong, we were terribly wrong’ (about Vietnam),” he said.
Locally, peace activists took stock of the Obama administration’s new plans during a March 6-8 Northwest Regional Conference held by anti-war organization Veterans for Peace at at the Northlake Unitarian Church. The discussion focused on the decreasing military operations in Iraq, increasing troop deployments to Afghanistan and featured Anti-globalization author and Bainbridge Island resident David Korten as a keynote speaker.
The closest anti-war demonstration to Kirkland will take place in Seattle on March 22 from noon to 2 p.m. The peace march, intended to mark the 6th year of US forces in Iraq, will follow route from Cal Anderson Park in Capitol Hill to Victor Steinbrueck Park near Pike Place Market.
The march is sponsored and organized by Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER) and Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW).
By any estimate, the cost of the military intervention in Iraq is staggering. According to recent United Nations estimates, the number of Iraqis killed from 2003 to 2006 invasion concluded that about 151,000 Iraqis died from violence. Several other studies speculate the range to be between 91,000 to more than 600,000. Another U.N. report estimates the war uprooted 4.7 million Iraqis through April 2008, of which two million had fled to neighbouring countries.
Regarding the cost of Operation Iraqi Freedom, econonmist Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard professor Linda Bilmes estimated a $3 trillion price tag, not including expenses related to the military’s involvement in Afghanistan. A 2007 Congressional Budget Office estimate for the costs of the military involvement in both Afghanistan and Iraq (including interest payments) at $2.4 trillion.
The U.S. military reports at least 4,257 deaths and at least 67,000 diseased or wounded personnel in Iraq. That number does not count the tens of thousands of other veterans now seeking treatment for various ailments that are not immediately recognized or listed as injuries, such as Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
According to a Washington Post database called faces of the fallen, 105 state residents have died in Iraq. Of that number, four are listed as Kirkland residents: Spc. Jacob Herring, 20, Lance Cpl. Nathan R. Wood, 19, Pfc. Andrew Martin O’francia Ward, 25 and Lance Cpl. Shane C. Swanberg, 24.