Back in the 1960s, anti-war protesters became archetypes of the countercultural revolution -- hippies and college students clad in love beads, sandals and tie-dyed clothing. The image of actress Jane Fonda standing atop a gun barrel in North Vietnam came to symbolize the era, branding all who opposed the war as communist sympathizers.
Now, as then, the administration and its supporters have tried to characterize the anti-war movement as unpatriotic and its leaders as traitors. But those criticisms ring hollow. Unlike Vietnam, the Iraq war has galvanized opposition across a broad cross-section of America. Today’s peace activists include people of all ages, races, genders, geographic origins and socioeconomic backgrounds, including many military families and veterans.
Cindy Sheehan, the small-town mother of a slain American soldier, is no Jane Fonda. When 300,000 or more anti-war marchers gathered in Washington D.C. Sept. 24, the Rev. Jesse Jackson thanked Sheehan for bearing witness in the tradition of Rosa Parks, Helen Keller and Harriet Tubman.
“Your light is being seen around the world,” he said.
Recent polls indicate that two-thirds of Americans now oppose the Iraq war, which has killed more than 1,950 U.S. soldiers and seriously wounded upwards of 16,000.
Sheehan’s messages, coupled with mounting carnage and growing doubts over the rationale for going to war in Iraq, have compelled mainstream Americans to take to the streets in protest -- many for the first time in their lives.
In a three-part series, RAW STORY examines the multiple facets of today’s anti-war movement. Part I focuses on the increasing number of military families and veterans now speaking out against the Iraq war.
Serving their country: Military families, veterans raise voices against war
“To hit the bricks and protest my country’s government was a difficult decision to make,” said Barney Scott, 71, a retired elementary school teacher and U.S. Air Force veteran from Spring Valley, California. “During the turbulent ‘60s, I saw protesters like Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda as disloyal.”
Scott supported the Vietnam War, but later came to doubt the wisdom of American involvement. “The final blow to me was to recently hear former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara say `I think we were wrong,’” he recalled. “After 58,000 young Americans died in battle and thousands more were disabled for life, now he admits this?”
“This time around, we know much more about why the current administration involved the U.S. in war,” he observed. “Their justification has proven false--no WMDs. No imminent danger of nuclear attack. No link between the destruction of the World Trade Center and Iraq. Bush was clearly just out to get Saddam. Will Rumsfeld someday in the future be heard to say `I think we were wrong?’”
Scott now believes that far from making America safer, the Iraq war is generating hatred of America around the globe.
“I went to Washington to stand up with an estimated 300,000 American patriots from all across this land,” he said. “We came not to storm police barriers, not to yell profanities, not to scribble slogans on the walls of our nation’s proud monuments. We came to get the attention of those chicken hawks peeping out at us from behind the curtains of the White House, as well as to get the attention of our fellow Americans who have put their trust in the executive branch to keep us safe.”
Many veterans share Scott’s opposition to the war.
Veterans for Peace, founded twenty years ago, had 600 to 700 members before Sept. 11, 2001. “We’ve seen a big growth since 9/11,” said executive director Michael T. McPhearson, who attributed the increase to concerns over the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. “We have about 4,000 members now. We had 157 join last month.”
The group hopes to end war by exposing the true costs in human and financial terms. Its main goal is to bring the troops home. Veterans for Peace has also called for the impeachment of President Bush.
“We believe this war is illegal,” said McPhearson, a veteran whose son has just been deployed to Iraq. “Our government is supposed to follow international law and the treaties that we have signed.”
“There is no doubt that the president has lied to us on several occasions,” he added. “That’s what it boils down to: accountability.”
A veteran of the first Gulf War, McPhearson sees the current Iraq conflict as an extension of the same campaign.
“There is something wrong when I fought in a theater and my son is going to fight in it, too,” he said. “We didn’t solve any problems there. We really need to look more closely at why we go to war and what we do.” He supports immediate withdrawal of troops, but also believes the U.S. has a responsibility to help Iraq rebuild with materials, money, and expertise in areas that don’t take jobs from Iraqis.
Asked how he would respond to critics who maintain that pulling troops out
could result in civil war, McPhearson replied, “There
are Iraqis and foreign fighters there killing Iraqis
right now, so what constitutes a civil war? Surely
they would continue to fight each other, but with
us out of the way, they can move toward a resolution
that has nothing to do with us…Our country fought
a bloody civil war in order to find a more perfect
union. Why do we think we have the answers for everyone?”