Stop the War

Tue, Feb 02, 2021

Wyatt Young

Wyatt Young - Archives & Library Coordinator

Santa Cruz Responds to the Gulf War: 30 Years Later

As humans, one of our tendencies is that we often look for and recognize patterns. This behavior does not limit itself to only identifying visual or physical patterns, it applies to our memory and how we practice history as well. Our tendency to recognize patterns is perhaps what has led to the old adage “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” But history is so much more than a scrying device that we hope is capable of predicting the future, it is a way in which we understand who we are today.

One of the ways in which we use historical patterns so that we understand ourselves better is through the act of commemoration and the marking of historical anniversaries. It is my belief that the reason we commemorate these anniversaries is done more so as a way to understand who we are and less so as a system of prophetic warnings predicting the future. So while history is indeed concerned with the past, I feel it is much more useful as a way of understanding our present. When we commemorate historical anniversaries, in a sense we are tracing the patterns within ourselves that we wish to define us. Often these anniversaries raise more questions than they answer. But that’s a good thing; we should always be striving to move forward and not remain mired in the ways of the past.

Desert Storm MA Hcast

And speaking of anniversaries… with all of the political turmoil during January of 2021, we seem to have quietly overlooked one. January 16th marked the 30th anniversary of the official start of the Gulf War. Historians and journalists have debated whether that was truly the beginning of U.S. conflict in the Middle East. Many have also contemplated whether it was truly a “war.” And even more, have questioned whether the conflict actually ended just over a month later.

To make sense of this, I recently sat down for a MAHCast interview with author, journalist, filmmaker, and activist John Malkin to discuss the anniversary of the Gulf War. While he was a student at UCSC in January of 1991, John crafted the documentary “Santa Cruz Responds to the Gulf War.” And while the film is roughly twenty-three minutes long, it does a fantastic job of detailing the numerous ways in which the Gulf War played out in Santa Cruz. Themes such as police violence, racial discrimination, student and youth activism movements, and themes of state propaganda ripple throughout both the film and my discussion with John.

Desert Storm MA Hcast 1

Sound familiar?

It seems that history cannot stop us from repeating ourselves. One only has to look at the events of this past year alongside some of the stories in our history books to recognize some of the patterns we keep repeating. Sure, some of the contexts and players may have changed, but the patterns remain. But we can always choose to do better in the present and not remain tied to the past.

To celebrate the anniversary of the film and how Santa Cruz responded, John has graciously volunteered items and descriptions from his personal collection as a virtual exhibit. As you peruse these materials, we encourage you to think about how the response to the Gulf War impacted the Santa Cruz community, and ask yourself how it might inform who we choose to be today.

John’s film is featured online at the Rio Theatre through February 16th, 2021, and is also available on YouTube (see below).