"I was in the ASA," I said to the man, attempting some kind of cordial dialogue. At nineteen, I had been an Army Security Agency radio direction finder in the mountains west of Pleiku.
The heavy-set man glowered at me and said: "I'm sorry to hear that." It was as if he were somehow the arbiter of who was, and who wasn't, a good American, as if he alone gave a damn about "our troops."
I shot back at him: "So, what the hell does that mean?" He turned away, and I moved on. So much for dialogue.
It was a beautiful, sunny Saturday. By 10 AM a crowd had begun to gather in Lafayette Park across from the White House to hear a host of speakers. By the time Daniel Ellsberg, Ralph Nader and Chris Hedges had spoken, there were 1000 people in the park, many of them veterans. The rally had been called by Veterans For Peace.
Iraq Marine combat veteran Ryan Endicott and a mock drone over the White House by John Grant
A young woman who had served as a nurse in Iraq told the crowd a moving story of water shortages in Iraq and having to live for days in clothes soaked with a wounded soldier's blood. Ryan Endicott, a young Marine combat veteran and Winter Soldier spoke emotionally about refusing to re-deploy to Iraq and participate any more in a war he had concluded was immoral. A Vietnam veteran known as Watermelon Slim faced the Obama White House and chastised its resident (who was in Brazil) for assuming, and in cases like drone attacks, escalating the disastrous Bush war agenda.
It was March 19th, the eighth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq and, amazingly, the day the US began its aerial intervention into Libya -- our third or fourth war, depending if you count Pakistan as a separate war from Afghanistan. The New York Times reported that the March 19 Libyan attacks were "on a scale not seen since the Iraq War." It was eerily circular.
By the end of the day, DC park police had arrested 113 people.
As always in this kind of demonstration, the gravity of the issue at hand -- the expenditure of human lives and vast amounts of US resources for wars fought as foreigners in faraway places -- was at times at odds with the beautiful weather and cordial, choreographed nature of the demonstration.
After the crowd marched around the block and sidled up against the White House fence, the park police began systematically putting up metal barriers to designate a pre-ordained part of the public sidewalk as an arrest zone. Next, they began shooing people who didn't want to be arrested across the street back to Lafayette Park. There was some confusion when an officer informed five people by the fence who intending to be arrested that they were in the wrong area, and if they stayed where they were they would face a different, harsher charge from those in the designated arrest zone.
"Hey, thanks for telling us," someone said to the cop.
Members of the media had a special zone off to the right. In my case, since I'm a member of Veterans For Peace and consider myself a working journalist, I had to decide where I would make my final stand. For the record, I chose not to stay in the arrest zone, to pass on the media zone and to remove myself to the people's zone in the park.
Those choosing to remain by the fence and get arrested had further choices. Once they were cuffed with white plastic straps, they could either walk or be politely dragged on their heels to the buses. Then they had to decide to either pay a $100 fine to the city coffers (all that police weekend overtime costs money) or refuse the fine and be prepared to return to Washington DC for hearings and a trial.
Most protesters were unaware of the grave news unfolding a world away -- the beginning of a new war in Libya. They certainly grasped its implications for their future as Americans living in a nation facing a host of neglected domestic problems. And, as came as no surprise to this crowd, elements of the Arab League later expressed shock at the extent and fearsomeness of the US aerial assault. It was a case of Militarism lurching against its civilian leash and dragging the nation into a future of more unanticipated consequences.
Given such a condition of compounding war, two of the Lafayette Park speeches took on added meaning. Ralph Nader and Chris Hedges each addressed different facets of the peace and anti-war movements. In some ways their approaches were at odds; while in others, they seemed two sides of the same coin.
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