Live from the Mall: The Long Shadow of Vietnam
As often happens in these demonstrations, the specter of Vietnam hangs over the proceedings, as if all of the social and political change of the past three decades--not to mention the dramatic change in how we communicate--have failed to move the debate beyond the cultural divide that opened up in the 1960s and 70s.
All week long, the buildup to the demonstrations was peppered with references to Vietnam, from both sides of the Iraq war debate. In their tactics, their ability to reach the broader public, and their stylistic choices, the organizers of these demonstrations seem always to be glancing over their shoulders at how things were done during the anti-Vietnam War protests.
At a news conference this week, when Brian Becker, national coordinator of ANSWER, was asked about proposals to draw down gradually the U.S. troop presence in Iraq, his response was to immediately recall how even after the withdrawal from Vietnam began, American soldiers continued to fight and be killed for years. "Unless we go from protest to resistance, which is what we hope to trigger, this war is inevitable," Becker said.
After the news conference, when Post reporter Michelle Boorstein asked Becker how this week of civil disobedience will differ from previous anti-war actions since 2003, he immediately and intensely described the famous scene of Vietnam veterans hurling their medals in defiance over a fence at the U.S. Capitol. "That," Becker said, "was a shifting moment in the war. That stereotyping Nixon had done of the anti-war movement as a bunch of outsiders was being exposed."
During the news conference, Mahdi Bray, director of the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation, said there has not been enough attention given to the anti-war positions taken early in the Iraq conflict by many major religious denominations. "It took years during the Vietnam War for clergy to speak out," Bray said, his voice rising.
Here's how the D.C. coordinator for the Gathering of Eagles, Kristinn Taylor, describes her motivation for organizing today's events: "I've felt the same sense of urgency since Sept. 11, 2001. I vowed then that I would not allow the anti-American left to do to this generation of servicemen and women what they did to the Vietnam veterans: Deny them the victory they earned on the battlefield by destroying morale on the home front."
And here's how Chris Hill, the Eagle's national director of operations, puts it: "We have all promised not to let this generation be treated as our brothers from Vietnam were. They are winning, and we must support them until the fight is done. They are doing their part. Now we must each do a little bit more than our part."
Vietnam--the war that never really ended.
By Marc Fisher |
September 15, 2007; 11:25 AM ET
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