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by Rick Panna
Friday, Jul. 08, 2005 at 10:29 AM
"'How could I join the U.S. Navy,' asked the young Latino man who appeared to be 18 to 22 years of age. 'I can give you a business
card,' replied Rojas. 'Give us a call Monday, and we can just go from there.'"
July 1, 2005: There was an early fireworks display at the Highland Park library when Navy recruiters spoke to young children and faced blunt questions by anti-war activists.
Several days prior to the event, bright, salmon-colored flyers had been posted ubiquitously in the library. "Celebrate Independence Day with the U.S. Navy," it read. "The Navy's coming to the library to share stories and answer your questions! See exciting scenes from the video The Big Aircraft Carrier. A program for kids of all ages!" A related display was set up near the check-out
counter featuring children's books about military vehicles.
The announcement generated concern among people in the community who oppose the current
Iraq occupation. They feared the event would be unbiased in favor of the military and might set a
bad precedent for Los Angeles libraries. In fact, that same week, Lynda Brewer of Every Mother
is a Working Mother reported seeing leaflets about the U.S. Marines at a Baldwin Hills library.
"It is inappropriate for them to put on a pro-military fantasy show when real youth are dying and
families are going through hell," commented Arlene Inouye of the Coalition Against Militarism
in Our Schools (CAMS). ". . . [T]he minimal would be to have a balanced perspective by having
others present their views, such as veterans who speak of peace."
ACTIVISTS COMPLAINED TO THE LIBRARY
On the Saturday preceding the event, Inouye visited Highland Park's Head Librarian Tom
Johnson. She expressed her concerns to him, and he told her that the presentation would not
The next day, four local anti-war activists visited the event's organizer, Children's Librarian John
Hunter, to expressed their disapproval. Hunter said that he felt justified in going forward with the
program because "the military is a valid career option," "we wanted a program that related to
Independence Day," "we need more programing for boys," "the community includes people who
are pro-military and have family members serving in the military," and he considered the subject
matter to be "apolitical." Nevertheless, he agreed to report the group's concerns to his
superiors and gave everyone his card.
News of the pending event spread quickly and widely on the internet, attracting the attention of
such groups as CAMS, Global Women's Strike, and various anti-war vigils throughout Southern
California. Many people reported that they called the library to discourage the guest speakers
from appearing. Nevertheless, the program went forward.
THE EVENT COMMENCED
At four o'clock on Friday July 1st, a policeman was standing outside the library meeting room.
He warmly welcomed parties that had children, but some adults who came without children
reported feeling intimidated(1).
The audience in attendance consisted of about 30 children whose ages ranged from infants to
eight-to-nine-year-old. Most were Latino, and a few were Asians. Also present were parents; a
young man who appeared to be between 18 and 22; and nine Angelinos who opposed the
presentation. Sitting off to one side of the room were two uniformed men.
John Hunter welcomed everyone and described his inspiration for the program. "Down in San
Diego, there's a giant aircraft carrier called the Midway," he said. "I grew up in Southern
California and didn't even know it's there. . . . It's a museum, and it's open to the public. It was
one of the coolest things that I had ever seen. So that was the idea for this program."
Then, he opened up a children's book about military ships. "Navy ships have been with us for
almost our entire [history] as a country," he explained. "I know that because there's a book in
our library called The Great Ships, illustrated by Patrick O'Brien. One of the most famous ships
in our history is called the Constitution, and it's almost as old as our country; it's from 1797.
There was a war a long time ago called the War of 1812, and it was between us and Great
Britain. We were a puny, brand-new country, and Britain was the most powerful navy in the
world. Everybody predicted that we were going to lose very quickly. But instead, the
Constitution fought this other ship called the Guerriere, and we won. One of the reasons that we
won is that all of the English cannon balls bounced off of the other ship. Sometimes people call
the other ship, the Constitution, Old Iron Side. Have you ever heard of that before? No? I've
heard of that.
[He turns to a different page.] "Now, another ship that's in here is the Enterprise, and the
Enterprise is an aircraft carrier."
"Oh, boy," exclaimed a young child. "Oh boy, exactly," replied Hunter. "And the Enterprise is
one of the biggest ships [that's afloat], and one of the biggest reasons it's so big is because it has
on its decks... anybody know? It's part of the name 'aircraft carrier.' [A child gives an answer.]
Aircraft, exactly! Planes have to be able to land on it, and they have to be able to take off."
THE LIBRARIAN INTRODUCED THE RECRUITERS
"Who do you think works on these ships and lives on these ships," asked Hunter. Again, a child
answered his question. "Exactly, sailors," Hunter exclaimed. "So we were very lucky today. We
have two real live sailors who were both in the U.S. Navy. Do you want to introduce
The floor was turned over to Junior Lira, a Latino man, who appeared to be in his early thirties.
He wore a brown shirt with military decorations on it. "Hi, how are you guys doing," he asked.
"My name is Junior Lira. I've been in the Navy for about 12 years now. I've actually never been
in an aircraft carrier, but I've been on board different types of ships. [Translates into
". . . A little bit of background about myself: . . . I grew up in Montebello, which is a little bit east
of here. As soon as I graduated Schurr High School, I came into the Navy. I joined the Navy
because I wanted to be a little bit independent and because I wanted to travel. Different people do
it for different reasons. [Translates into Spanish.] So far I've enjoyed it. I've traveled to different
countries such as Ecuador, Panama, Colombia, Costa Rica, [and] Puerto Rico. I've mostly stayed
in Central and South America. Now what was I doing there? The Navy [does] a job out in
the middle of the ocean, especially in the Cental American countries and off the coast of
Colombia and South America. It was an operation called 'anti-narcotics operation.' There [are] a
lot of ships from different countries in Central and South America that try to infiltrate drugs into
the United States. The Navy always has a minimum of three or four ships down in South
America trying to stop the drug flow to America. [Translates into Spanish.]
"Now I'm a recruiter out of the Eagle Rock office. What we do is talk to students, and if anybody
wants to apply to the Navy, basically, I provide the paperwork for them."
Then, a second Navy representative, wearing a white shirt with decorations, began to speak:
"How's it going everybody? My Name is Jorge Rojas. I was born in Los Angeles. I graduated
from Eagle Rock High School. I joined in 1998. I've been on the aircraft carrier the USS Nimitz
and the USS Paul Vincent. I did a cruise in the Persian Gulf during Operation Iraqi Freedom and
Operation Enduring Freedom. I've been there both times. I joined because I really wasn't doing
too good out here in Los Angeles, so I thought I'd pick a good career and go away from this area.
I've been a recruiter for two years. I appreciate you for inviting me."
John Hunter resumed: "One of the things I wanted to point out, especially for the little ones, is
how much work people actually have to do. You think, 'Maybe it's exciting; we're going to go
fly planes and everything.' But there's a lot of work that people do before they actually get to get
"THE BIG AIRCRAFT CARRIER" (VIDEO)
The room's lights were turned off, and Hunter started up a video, The Big Aircraft Carrier. (Due
to time considerations, he only showed the film's second half, which ran for about 20 minutes.)
The narrator of the video was a young girl who sounded as if she was about eight years old. Set
aboard the USS Nimitz, the film discussed the responsibilities of the captain, how an aircraft
carrier steers, the involved design process, and the immense task of constructing such a ship. The
narrator then revealed that the USS Nimitz is nuclear-powered, and she described the process.
Whenever the movie segued to a new topic, a graphic of a Navy plane, piloted by a smiling child,
zipped across the screen.
"The average age on board the carrier is under 20," the narrator continued. "Many crew members
come to the Navy right out of high school. Others have advanced college degrees, but they all
have to learn new things."
The film then documented the preparations necessary for airplane missions and safety measures.
Lieutenant Janet Jacobson ("Jake") was introduced. "My father flew [planes] for the Navy," she
said. "When I was little I just remember watching them go by and thinking: 'God, that looks
really fun! I want to do that!'" She described flying an F-18 plane as "amazingly fun [laughs]."
The narrator then mentioned that the an aircraft carrier such as the USS Nimitz is crewed 24
hours a day, contains stores, and has its own barber shop, library, hospital, dental office, post
office, TV station, newspaper, mess, gyms, and churches services for various denominations.
At the film's conclusion, the aircraft carrier was shown docking in San Diego, California,
unloading, and then resupplying for a new trip out to sea.
Hunter invited audience members to ask questions of the Navy representatives-recruiters. Junior
Lira announced that "to motivate them," each questioner could have either a Navy frisbee,
a Navy pencil, or a Navy mousepad.
"How could I join the U.S. Navy," asked the young Latino man who appeared to be 18 to 22
years of age. "I can give you a business card," replied Rojas. "Give us a call Monday, and we can
just go from there."
Ensuing questions from young children and parents included, "What is it like working for the
U.S. Navy?" "How old do you have to be?" "How many years do you have to sign up for?" "Do
you have to pass a test?"
Then, the questions became more critical. The following is a partial transcript of what was said:
WOMAN: "I noticed the film showed a lot about how much fun it is to fly a Navy plane, but it
didn't say anything about what those planes actually do on their missions, how many women and
children are killed by those planes. Could you talk a little bit about that?"
VARIOUS AUDIENCE MEMBERS: "Yeah!"
LIRA: "Ma'am, we have women and children in here. Maybe after the thing we can talk about it
as [the] adults we are, but in front of the children please..."
WOMAN: "If it's not fit for children, then don't show a movie about those planes here."
ANOTHER WOMAN: "Why are you trying to brainwash these children?"
LIRA: "I'm not trying to brainwash... [His voice is drowned out by people yelling.]
MAN: "We have to have fairness here. If they want to come and do that, have someone else
come on and [present] the other side."
HUNTER: "If you're not going to be considerate, we're going to ask you to leave."
MAN: "You can do that, but it's a public library, and we pay taxes.
HUNTER: "Okay, I'm just asking you to be respectful about this."
MAN: "Well we are."
The policeman, who had been standing outside the room, has entered.
POLICEMAN: "Sir, sir, sir! He's going to answer your questions; we're just asking you to be
respectful. There's kids in here."
LIRA: "The Navy is just like the police department. You have police. We're pretty much the
WOMAN #3: [Tells the guests in Spanish how thankful she is for their work. NOTE: An English
translation of her statement will be posted below under "comments" within a few days.]
A boy asks Liro if he worked as a pilot. Liro answers that he refueled ships.
WOMAN #4: "Do you work as recruiters?
LIRA: "Yes, we are."
WOMAN #4: "Do you get paid to come here?"
LIRA: "Well, we get a salary base. To be honest with you, today was actually our day off, but I
had made an appointment with Mr. Hunter six months ago. We got four days off because of the
Fourth of July. Yes, we go to high schools; we're recruiters. Now as far as coming here? No,
technically we just do it because he asked us to and because we wanted to."
WOMAN #5: "I understand that a lot of the weapons that our aircraft carriers use depleted
uranium, which is highly radioactive. As people are recruited and serve in the Navy, are
they warned that they're exposed to this radioactivity? And when they become ill and the Navy
discharges them with minimal medical benefits, are we told that when we're joining up? Are we
told the risks we're exposed to?"
LIRA: "Well, there's only a few people that actually work with things like that... "
WOMAN #5: "Like the ones who are in the tanks who are all coming back with rectal cancer?"
LIRA: "Say again?"
WOMAN #5: "Yeah, a lot of our troops who are in tanks are coming back with cancer because of
the radiation on their tanks. So I'm curious if there's the same kind of exposure on the ships."
LIRA: "We don't work directly with that particular element, but we do work with other
hazardous materials like paint, cleaning solvents, and so forth."
Meanwhile, Hunter approaches a woman who has been recording the program.
HUNTER: "Ma'am, you're not allowed to record in here. You need to stop doing that now. This
is a public library; you're not allowed to record."
WOMAN #6: "Why not?"
LIRA: "Have you ever heard of material safety data sheets and stuff like that? We have the same
thing, and everybody is informed about whatever it is we were exposed to. Now as far as
tanks, ma'am, I can't really answer that because I'm not in the army."
WOMAN #5: "But do you know how many of our Navy personnel have come home sick from
these toxins that they're exposed to?"
LIRA: "No, I do not."
WOMAN #5: "So when you're recruiting, you don't give them the statistics like, 'If you join up,
you've got a 50% chance of dying before you're 40'? You don't tell them that kind of stuff?"
LIRA: "Actually we tell them a lot of warnings, such as 'If you ever become a single parent in
the Navy, especially a father, the Navy can actually take your money away and give it to the
mother without your permission. So we give them a lot of warnings, and there is a lot of...."
WOMAN #5: "I've heard a lot of stories about that, where the father dies and the family is
evicted from the military housing like within 30 days."
LIRA: "You know what, ma'am? I'm not really sure. I've never seen it happen personally, but I'm
pretty sure things like that sometimes do happen."
MAN: "How many people got killed in the current war? Do you know the number of people who
have been murdered in this illegal war?"
LIRA: "If you had just [left] that for later, I would have been happy to answer that, sir."
MAN: "Yeah, well I would like you to cover that in your whole presentation next time, sir."
WOMAN #6: "There's a new film out called Yes Sir, No Sir. Have you heard about that?"
LIRA: "No, I have not."
WOMAN #6: "It's a documentary about the anti-war movement within the military."
Lira turns to this author.
LIRA: "Are you still recording that? I'll be more than happy to answer your questions, but if you
have on a recorder, that's an invasion of my privacy. Sir, would you turn that off?"
HUNTER: "Do you guys have our permission to record our programs?"
LIRA: "Sir, can you turn off...?"
The recorder goes off.
After finishing his discussion with woman #6, Lira smiles and tells the critical questioners that
he has and continues to do his work for them, whether or not they appreciate it. Some
audience members expressed a lack of appreciation.
After the guest speakers and most of the audience members left, some peace activists stayed
behind and talked to the librarians. One librarian claimed to have received more than one threat
over the phone regarding this program and said that he was called names like "Nazi
stormtrooper" and "white Aryan supremacist." Several of the anti-war people stated that they do
no not condone that kind of action and expressed regret that it occurred. Some of them later
speculated that the threats may have been made by an infiltrator.
Later, one of the activists said that if she knew who had threatened the librarians, she would have
turned them over to the authorities. According to her, these threats made the peace movement
look bad, "like we're all a bunch of nuts," she said. She noted that important peace movements in
history, such as the one in South Africa, succeeded without people making threats. Had the
librarians not been threatened, she suspected that the atmosphere would have been less tense
during the program, and perhaps there would even have been an intelligent discussion which
would have informed parents and children.
Despite the controversy that took place during the Navy's visit, various people were favorably
impressed. John Hunter claimed that afterward a mother approached him and thanked him
"profusely" for putting on the program.
Nina Zvaleko, who has raised her seven-year-old daughter to be critical of war, noticed that even
she was affected by the film. "Even a child who was raised to not view that as a viable career
option was very much affected by this," Zvaleko said. "[The presentation] was very favorable in
putting the Navy in a positive light. [My daughter said] to me during the program, 'If I'm ever
forced to join the Navy, I would want a job either working on the ship or working on the aircraft.'
. . . Now it may be that she's just a precocious child and she says, 'Okay, if I could put myself in
their shoes, what would I want to be doing?' But [the film] obviously didn't talk about the pros
and cons of being in the military, it talks about the pros of being in the military and being in the
Navy. Also, these recruiters had no idea of the statistics of Navy personnel who have been made
sick by the radiation of depleted uranium on our weapons. He had no idea."
Zvaleko then admitted that even she found aspects of the video fascinating, but wished that such
advanced technology would be used for more productive tasks like helping to undo damage in
Vietnam caused by the U.S.-Vietnamese conflict.
(1)One activist reported that the police officer lightened up as the program proceeded. She
recalled that when she left the library, he told her to have a wonderful day.
(2)At one point, Susan Andres, the first person to ask a critical question in the q&a, spoke with
the policeman outside the meeting room. Andres: "He said, 'You can't do anything in the library
without permission.' He [said that] you can't tape anything without their permission. He
compared it to photographing paintings or manuscripts for profit. I wanted to see something in
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LATEST COMMENTS ABOUT THIS ARTICLE
Listed below are the 10 latest comments of 7 posted about this article.
These comments are anonymously submitted by the website visitors.
||Librarian in Another Library System
||Friday, Jul. 08, 2005 at 11:06 AM
|This from woman #5
||Friday, Jul. 08, 2005 at 11:09 AM
|Woman #3 translated into English
||Saturday, Jul. 09, 2005 at 10:46 AM
|get these CDs to share
||Sunday, Jul. 10, 2005 at 8:05 AM
|The Military as a Career
||Monday, Jul. 11, 2005 at 10:21 AM
| providing security, for the World?
||Monday, Jul. 11, 2005 at 12:44 PM
|going camping in the Army and Marines
||Wednesday, Jul. 13, 2005 at 5:55 AM
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