March on the Pentagon: 2007

Many aspects of American life are starting to resemble forty years ago during the Vietnam War. In 1967, anti-war activists organized the March on the Pentagon, chronicled by Norman Mailer in “The Armies of the Night”. ““Others, using spray cans, crayons, paints and bush began to write slogans on the stone wall of the Mall, the pier, the sides of the ramp,” Mr. Mailer recorded. “ ‘WAR SUCKS’ went one of the signs, ‘PENTAGON SUCKS’ went another, ‘F— WAR’ went a third.”

This weekend, the ANSWER Coalition is planning a new March on the Pentagon. I write about it in a short story in The New York Sun.

But this year’s activities diverge from the 1960s in a key way. This year a group of veterans called, “A Gathering Eagles”, is planning a protest to support the troops and the cause for which they’re fighting. Originally billed as an effort to protect the Vietnam Memorial on the Mall, when it looked like ANSWER might hold its protest there, the demonstration is gathering steam. Thousands of participants are expected.

This is interesting on a number of fronts. First, the Iraq War, like prior wars is generating its own veterans’ groups. Much as the Spanish American War created the Veterans of Foreign Wars and World War I prompted the growth of the American Legion and the Bonus Army, Iraq is making itself felt on the homefront.

Second, the Gathering of Eagles will surely draw the ire of the anti-war crowd as pawns of the president. But one of their organizers, Col. Harry Riley (retired), was unafraid to speak up on conditions at Walter Reed. He told me in comments published here exclusively at Gitell.com:

“Obviously there were some serious shortfalls up there. It’s obvious that they were not caring for the warriors the way they should.
The government has developed an attitude of use and abuse. That’s what happens to the military warrior. He gets called up. He may be wounded. He may be killed, and then he comes back and finds an apparatus that is illprepared to take care of him.”

The ANSWER spokesman, Bill Hackwell, a combat photographer in Vietnam, added that his protest would advocate on behalf a range of causes, other than the war — including Katrina victims and immigrant rights.

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