Washington area residents interviewed yesterday were sharply divided over Saturday's gigantic Desert Storm victory celebration, with some calling it an obscene display of militarism and others excitedly looking forward to the $8 million parade and fireworks display.
"Excited is not even the word to use. I just can't wait," said Lisa Lowe, a salesclerk at the Hecht Co. Her brother, Marine Lance Cpl. Eddie Lewis Lowe Jr., is scheduled to return to Alexandria today after serving six months in the Persian Gulf.
"There was so much stress during the war, people not knowing if their brother or sister would come back alive. For us, we missed Thanksgiving, Christmas, Eddie's birthday," she said. "Now we'll have this to celebrate."
But Northwest Washington writer Christopher L. Beakey wants no part of the celebration. "It's hard for Americans to be seen as peaceful people when we are celebrating tanks and missiles," he said. Saturday's parading of armed troops, fighter jets and tanks, he said, "glorifies war."
In interviews with some 50 people selected unscientifically from across the Washington region -- in an Annapolis bookstore, Silver Spring donut shop, District park, Fairfax County mall -- men and women, old and young, had very definite opinions about the upcoming victory celebration, the first of its kind since World War II.
Some think it will cost too much. Some have philosophical objections to displaying tanks, rockets and bombs that killed untold thousands of Iraqis. Some say the mammoth, multi-million-dollar celebration, one of 200 around the country, is wildly out of proportion for a war that lasted 43 days.
Still others said the prospect of a huge crowd, projected to be in the hundreds of thousands, will keep them away. But many said they will be present for a once-in-a-lifetime event.
How many people will show up may depend in large part on the weather, according to the National Park Service, which monitors major events on the Mall. Estimates of how many people will see the parade, USO concert, military equipment display and fireworks show, which is expected to be three times the size of that on the Fourth of July, vary from 600,000 to well over 1 million.
The largest Washington event on record was Lyndon Johnson's inauguration in 1965, which, according to D.C. police estimates, drew 1.2 million people. The Martin Luther King Jr. civil rights march on Washington in 1963 was attended by a quarter of a million people. The July 4, 1976, bicentennial celebration brought out 1 million, according to police estimates.
"Because of the nature of this event -- a lot of people have a good feeling about it -- we could get a crowd like the Bicentennial," said National Park Service spokeswoman Sandra Alley.
The weather so far is cooperating with parade organizers. The forecast reads no rain, few clouds, highs in the low eighties and lows in the sixties.
Washington hotels are expecting brisk business this weekend, with the number of reservations made well above normal, according to the major hotel chains and the Washington Convention and Visitors Association. Thousands of out-of-town visitors are expected this weekend because family members of the 8,000 troops marching are likely to attend.
In addition, the private organization overseeing the parade, the Desert Storm Homecoming Foundation, and the Hotel Association of Washington have taken out full-page ads in the New York Times and other newspapers, inviting people to join the celebration in which Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf will lead his troops.
Radio and television ads have also been aired near military bases on the East Coast.
In interviews with Washington area residents, the most talked-about part of the celebration was not Schwarzkopf, nor even the 8,000 Desert Storm veterans who will parade down Constitution Avenue, but the military equipment.
M-1A1 Abrams tanks, Humvees, Bradley Fighting Vehicles, rocket launchers, Patriot missiles and other hardware will be on display on the Mall all day Saturday and Sunday. They will also be paraded down Constitution Avenue with the troops.
More than 80 warplanes, including a Stealth fighter, an A-6 Intruder and an F-15 fighter, will zoom over the crowd lining the 2.5-mile parade route that begins at Seventh and Constitution NW.
"Doesn't it sound a little ridiculous?" asked Reston resident Bruce J. Rummel, 68, a former Marine who served in World War II. "It just seems like a little too much" celebration for a brief war that included 100 hours of ground fighting, he said.
But others say the festivities make up for lost time and bad feelings.
There was no welcome home for the soldiers who served years in Vietnam, said Pat Torrence, 42, a drug and alcohol counselor, who was sitting on a step outside an Annapolis laundromat.
"I lived through the sixties and seventies and had friends go to Vietnam who didn't come back," Torrence said. "I saw how (the soldiers) were treated who did come back and it was awful."
"Everyone was so down in the mouth about the military before Desert Storm," said Potomac resident Gregory Locraft, 19, a legislative intern who is "definitely excited" about the celebration. "Now everybody is up on it again."
But for those who believe there was no justification for the war, like Jason Fisher, 22, a student interviewed in an Annapolis bookstore, there also is none for the parade. It's "a waste of time, effort and money," Fisher said.
Staff writers Charles Babington, Dan Beyers, Stephen Buckley, Jane Seaberry, Fern Shen and Molly Sinclair contributed to this report.