Theater of Battle With A Familiar Script

From left, Ryan Foshee, Keith Clark and Michael Rigby recall the 1960s hippies who protested the Vietnam War.
From left, Ryan Foshee, Keith Clark and Michael Rigby recall the 1960s hippies who protested the Vietnam War. (By Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)
By David Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 18, 2007

Here we go again, another war that most Americans have concluded is a mistake, a president and Congress doing their own things, and we're on this Memorial Bridge again, the media and the protest kids, and some of the protest kids' parents, the riot police and the horses and the stink of fresh manure: Everyone fulfilling destinies that feel like flashbacks.

The last time was 40 years ago. Different war, same complaint. Then, there were hundreds of arrests, cracked heads, tear gas. On this day there will be few arrests, just the repeated police threat of "chemical munitions."

All day, the echoes and ironies give you whiplash. Doug DePalma, 16, who rode a bus from Chicago, looks across to where some counter-demonstrators have draped a forgotten banner.

"That's the South Vietnamese flag," says DePalma. Good at history, that boy. A country that disappeared when the United States quit that war. What if we quit this one?

A lot of the counter-demonstrators are veterans -- of Vietnam and other wars. They're always ready to have this fight again, anytime. But then, a lot of the peace marchers are veterans, too, filling the front rank of the protest column from the Lincoln Memorial to the Pentagon. "Boo! Boo!" shriek the sideline veterans at the marching veterans. "Traitors!"

Bands of brothers in Baghdad, broken apart at home. The veterans for peace, including active-duty men and women, and guys fresh from Iraq in desert camo, one of whom is sobbing, don't seem prepared for veteran-on-veteran trash talk. The marching vets look so much younger and more vulnerable than the ones on the side waving flags. They still have the thousand-yard stare, and a battlefield hauntedness. "Bring our brothers home," is what they say.

Behind the vets come the tatterdemalion battalions of dissent, the students, the Hip Hop Caucus, the radical grannies, the neo-hippies, the anarchists and the socialists, the Code Pink women, the unions, the Morgantown Freethinkers Against Bush War, the Virginia Anti-War Network, and the Black Bloc teen radicals, wearing bandannas and spoiling for a fight.

One of the kids in a black hood and a bandanna takes aim and spits -- not on a soldier or policeman -- but at a Fox News radio man, leaving a gooey gob dripping down the man's microphone.

Last time a file like this marched onto the bridge, with Lincoln's white citadel rising behind, the Pentagon a mile or so down the road, and the great war cemetery in between, was October 1967. Major American involvement in Vietnam was two years old.

The new march, organized by the Act Now to Stop War & End Racism (ANSWER) Coalition, was timed to this week's fourth anniversary of the Iraq war, with conscious homage being paid to that other march 40 years ago.

Robert Lowell, the great Yankee poet, was at the front of the last march, arms linked with Norman Mailer. Both Lowell and Mailer were having visions of the Civil War. Mailer wrote his sprawling masterpiece "The Armies of the Night" about the march, beginning with his drunken rant in the Ambassador Theater on 18th Street NW, his hung-over participation in a draft card protest at the Justice Department, and his arrest for crossing a police line at the Pentagon.

Lowell refined the experience into two brief poems.

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