Woke up this morning, turned on Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now, and had to consult my calendar: I thought I’d time-traveled back to 1968. Dozens of war veterans stood on a stage in Chicago, tossing their service medals and awards into a trash heap, dedicating them to the civilians they’d killed, to children who’d lost their parents, to their comrades in arms who have PTSD, to those who didn’t return alive, and to those who can’t return because they deserted. The men had long hair and wore bandannas. They condemned what they said was a war fought not to liberate people but oil, and regretted they’d been duped into thinking, when they enlisted, that they’d be fighting for oppressed people, when in fact they were fighting for American CEOs. I would have sworn it was old footage from Vietnam war protests (photo above), but in fact it happened this weekend outside the NATO summit meetings and the vets were throwing their war trinkets to, they said, “the NATO generals.”
It was a shocking sight. Sure, I knew a lot of vets were sorry they’d gone to Iraq and/or Afghanistan; I’ve been against these wars from the start; and I don’t believe most of the reasons “they” give us are absolute truth. But this veterans’ protest provided a new view, even new information. This was so much like Vietnam, that alone shook me up. I remembered the most poignant scene in Born on the Fourth of July, when hundreds of vets marched in DC shouting “One two three four/we don’t want your fucking war!” (I thought I fell in love with Tom Cruise, but I’d actually fallen for Ron Kovic!) What this weekend’s protests remind me of most vividly, though, is a scene from real life: “The Whole World is Watching.” Protesters in 1968 outside the Democratic convention in Chicago were beaten up by Mayor Daley’s cops. Mayor Daley’s gone now, but a whole new batch of Chicago’s finest were on hand to beat up the protesters at the NATO meetings.
“The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
Scott Olsen, the Iraqi veteran who was shot by police during an Occupy Oakland demonstration, was on hand, wearing a helmet. Olsen did 2 tours of duty, by the end of which he felt he wasn’t doing any good for the Iraqi people, but was wrecking their country. When he came home he began checking out anti-war activities, but it wasn’t until he was shot that he made a serious commitment to do all he could to end the wars. He and other veterans repeatedly apologized to all kinds of people; it could break your heart. During the ritualistic trashing of the trinkets, one of them said, “We talk about taking care of our sisters in Afghanistan, but we can’t even take care of our sisters here.” Amen, brother! I have my own apologies to make to American kids who, in the full flush of youthful vigor, fought and died, or got messed up in the head, or had their lives radically altered by injury. I don’t know what I could’ve done to prevent it other than stand around Market Street holding a sign, which I did, but hell, I apologize anyway. (Right and above right: NATO summit demos)
“Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
America just keeps on repeating, while some Americans keep on saying I’m sorry.
- Chicago police clash with Nato summit protesters (guardian.co.uk)