Veterans Tell Obama White House its War Policy is a Disgrace
A contingent of 20 right-wing veterans with flags and signs declaring their devotion to “our troops,” marched up to the blocked-off Pennsylvania Avenue area in front of the White House. One of the men wore a blue shirt with Army Security Agency printed on it.
“I was in the ASA,” I said to the man, attempting some cordial dialogue. At 19, 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.
A young woman who had served as a nurse in Iraq told the crowd a moving story of water shortages in Iraq and of 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 the 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 that 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.