The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks prompted tens of thousands of Americans to join the U.S. military. For many in the Bay Area, however, it was an opportunity to enlist in the peace movement.
Click on the photo at right to see more on this story or scroll down to see an analysis on the two presidents whose terms have been shaped by the Sept. 11 attacks.
Richard Becker of San Francisco is one such person. Three days after the terrorist attacks, he co-founded the ANSWER coalition — Act Now to Stop War and End Racism — which helped organize anti-war protests in San Francisco and throughout the country.
ANSWER supporters believe the trillions of dollars spent on post-9/11 wars would be better used to fund education and health care.
“Today, the Afghanistan war is costing us $330 million a day alone,” Becker said. “And we wonder why we have no money for other programs such as education. It’s not Social Security or Medicare costing so much, it’s the enormous military expenditure.”
Becker’s story highlights one of the many ways that the Bay Area bucks the trends that have transformed the country in the decade since Sept. 11. But of course, San Francisco has been an anti-war center at least since Becker first got his start in the movement, during the Vietnam War.
For starters, the Bay Area’s ambivalence toward the military is reflected in the number of local residents who enlist.
Take the Marines. According to data provided by the U.S. Marine Corps, San Franciscans currently serve on active duty or in the Marine Reserves at just half the per capita national rate. Representation throughout the nine-county Bay Area is 14 percent below the national average.
Of course, the Bay Area’s lower enlistment rate doesn’t mean the region is unmoved by the 9/11 attacks or free of military influence. After all, 6 percent of city residents were military veterans in 2000, the latest year this type of census data is available.
The Sept. 11 attacks inspired Amber Roe to join the Army. Now, after a seven-year tour that started in Germany and ended in Kuwait, she is attempting to offer services to returning veterans as a member of The City’s Veterans’ Affairs Commission.
“I joined because many of us questioned what could we do,” Roe said. “Now a lot of vets are returning home and there’s still a lot of help we can offer.”
Political scientist Aaron Belkin said that in spite of our frequent anti-war protests and nonstop debates over JROTC and military recruitment, San Francisco actually welcomes the military, from camouflage clothing to Fleet Week.
“It extends into all nooks and crannies,” said Belkin, an associate professor at San Francisco State University. “We may be more aware of it than other areas.”
He said he doesn’t criticize “healthy respect” for the military, but believes that much of today’s support comes from Americans forgetting the lessons of Vietnam.
“When the healthy respect turns into uncritical glorification, I’m very worried about that,” he said.
But Belkin’s colleague, political science professor Robert Smith, notes that support for the military — however glorified — stems from the long-lasting unease left behind when terrorists killed several thousand Americans.
“A small group of men with little money and resources did as much damage as the Japanese did in Pearl Harbor,” he said. “It altered us that badly that it put Americans on a permanent uneasiness.”
How the Bay area and the United States view the world differently when it comes to military affairs:
Sept. 18, 2001
Rep. Barbara Lee, whose constituency includes much of the East Bay, is the only member of Congress to vote against the resolution that led to the war in Afghanistan.
Roughly 50,000 people participate in anti-war demonstrations in downtown San Francisco.
Nov. 2, 2004
San Franciscans support Proposition N — a city policy urging the federal government to withdraw all troops from Iraq and bring all military personnel home — with 63 percent of voters in support.
Nov. 4, 2008
San Franciscans pass Proposition U, which urged lawmakers in Washington D.C. to not spend any more money on the wars but instead invest in education, health care and public safety. The measure passed with 59 percent of voters.
Oct. 6 and Oct. 7, 2011
Act Now to Stop War and End Racism coalition will hold a protest against U.S. military involvement in the Middle East; Oct. 7 is the 10th anniversary of the war in Afghanistan.
Christopher Loverro re-enlisted in the Army in the summer of 2001, hoping to use his degree in peace operations and international humanitarian intervention with the Army’s unit on humanitarian missions.
Then the world changed.
So the Oakland native, who had served in the Army before returning to attend college and then serve as a Berkeley police officer, volunteered to fight in Afghanistan, the first target of the war against terror.
“I wanted to go to Afghanistan for payback,” he said. “I wanted to go why every other soldier wanted to go. You attack us, we’re going after you.”
Instead of Afghanistan, Loverro’s brigade was sent to Iraq at the height of the invasion, where it stayed for 20 months.
“At that time, we thought we were still looking for weapons of mass destruction,” he said. “It was an intense year. We got mortars every day, we had a lot of IEDs [improvised explosive devices] and we did a lot of raids.”
When he came home “burnt out” in 2004, he returned to his career as a Berkeley police officer.
Then, while chasing a kidnapping suspect in early 2005, he was hurt by the getaway car. A back injury ended his police career and any hopes he had of returning to the Army.
Since then, he has found a new way of serving his country. Rather than fighting on the front lines, he now creates short films to help troops returning home.
Loverro said his own acute symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder encouraged him to pursue filmmaking focused on war and soldiers. His films address the difficulties soldiers encounter reintegrating into civilian society.
It’s his small way of contributing to the war effort, even if he can’t be there.