A veteran driven to the brink

November 7, 2008

THE DAY before the election, one veteran of the Iraq war took drastic action out of deep concern that John McCain might reach the White House.

Edward Van Tassel brandished an unloaded gun and American flag at an overpass straddling the commuter traffic on Highway 101 in Santa Barbara. I found out about the standoff with police when I called my wife mid-morning to find she had spent three-and-a-half hours getting to work. Van Tassel's actions effectively shut down a large section of the freeway, diverting traffic onto congested side roads.

According to the Associated Press, the veteran only laid down his gun and was arrested after he received a requested Obama/Biden campaign sign and hung it on the overpass fence along with the flag.

A local radio station reported that Van Tassel also stormed into its studio on Friday dressed in the same desert fatigues and ski mask he wore on Monday, demanding that veterans' voices against the war and McCain/Palin be aired. He was turned away.

The desperate actions of frustrated veterans are an unavoidable consequence not only of a disastrous war but also of repeated snubbing by the mainstream media and the Obama campaign. When veterans are trampled under a policeman's horse outside the last presidential debate, is it any wonder that other veterans resort to extreme measures?

Van Tassel is undergoing psychological evaluation. If he had been receiving counseling before this incident, it clearly was insufficient. When soldiers are not given the mental health care they need, won't we see more of the same--or worse--from angry veterans?

Charges are pending against Van Tassel which could land him behind bars. While his actions are clearly irresponsible, they are nonetheless a predictable outcome of avoidable circumstances. Throwing him in jail will not prevent future incidents: only ending the military occupations will. If anyone should be behind bars, it is Bush and Co., who drove Van Tassel to the brink.

The pre-election disruption by a lone veteran underscores a final point. We need a vibrant antiwar veterans' movement, backed to the hilt by a civilian movement, where disgruntled soldiers can find collective strength to engage in productive action, not desperate measures.

Let's hope the next time a veteran stops traffic, it's because there are thousands of others marching alongside him or her.
John Osmand, Ventura, Calif.

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