AUSTIN, TEX. -- Perhaps it is true that times have changed, that each generation has its own cultural perspective, that every war is different. But Friday night at City Coliseum in Austin, at the "Only One Sky" peace concert, the scene had the distinct look, feel and sound of something from 1969 or 1970 during the height of the anti-war movement of the Vietnam era.
In the dark shadows of the old cement structure along Town Lake, about 5,000 people gathered for a long night of music interspersed with voices of protest, some with the strident edge of ideological certainty, others with emotional grace.
The peace sign was back -- on T-shirts, wall banners, medallions -- as was long hair, though that was not as relevant. Some of the singers were famous -- Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson -- adding a cultural tone. When local musicians heard that Willie was coming, they all wanted to take part, and organizers finally had to turn away some groups. But local favorites did play, and the speakers included Max Nofziger, a former flower-selling hippie who now wears three-piece suits to his job as a City Council member here, and Pat Wiggins, wife of Army Capt. David Wiggins, a pacifist doctor who went on a hunger strike at Fort Hood in Killeen after the military rejected his conscientious-objector petition.
The crowd was larger than organizers expected, especially since not all University of Texas students had returned to town for the second semester. While there was a definite counterculture feel to the gathering, there were also middle-aged men in suits and ties and middle-class mothers who were in their forties and fifties and concerned about losing sons and daughters in war thousands of miles away.
At a table set up by the Military Families Support Network, a nationwide group of military families trying to support the soldiers while oppposing military confrontation with Iraq, Maureen Chase, 48, passed out leaflets. Soft-spoken, she remembers the pain of Vietnam though she neither protested that war nor actively supported it.
This time, her son, Brian, 19, an infantry private, is on the front line. Her husband supports President Bush, saying Saddam Hussein must be stopped. Her son, Chris, 16, adores his older brother and wanted nothing to do with peace groups. But Maureen Chase cannot see losing a son for this cause and so was speaking out.
"I need for Brian to understand what I'm doing," she said. "I support him. I love him. And I support peace. Peace first. There needs to be a grave reason before we risk 450,000 of our sons and daughters. I don't see that reason."
Texas, Bush's adopted home state, has never been known as a center of the anti-war movement. "The subculture of Texas," said Tucker Gibson, political science professor at Trinity University in San Antonio, "has always been very, very supportive of military activity and ventures." In many parts of the state, including San Antonio, the military is an important part of the local economy. Killeen, home of Fort Hood, is a virtual ghost town since troops there left for Saudi Arabia.
There also are the frontier ethic, the state's unusual relationship with Middle Eastern oil and links to the White House from Lyndon B. Johnson to George Bush, all of which might make the Lone Star State one dominated by voices of support for attacking Iraq.
Yet an unlikely coalition is urging restraint and negotiation. John Connally, the former governor, returned from Baghdad late last year with hostages and a message that to attack Saddam would be a mistake with grave and long-lasting geopolitical consequences. Billionaire H. Ross Perot of Dallas has emerged as a leading opponent of Bush's course of action and has raised objections on national television and radio shows.
Perot, in a recent interview, said he has spoken to 15,000 businessmen and women since Iraq invaded Kuwait Aug. 2.
"I ask every group whether they are ready to go to war," he said. "Particularly early on, everyone was rocking to do it. Then I ask how many have sons and daughters in the Middle East. So far it's been eight out of 15,000. So I say, 'It's the people who work for you who have children over there.' Okay. So we can agree we ought to have a system of daily sacrifice here so we can be emotionally committed to our troops, right? The only way for that is a war tax. How many for that? Zero of 15,000. People think of this as Rambo V or John Wayne II or a Super Bowl. This is not an athletic event, and we have to have an informed electorate out there before we go to battle."
D-Day in the Persian Gulf today has a different resonance in Texas. This also is the day that Democrat Ann Richards succeeds Republican Bill Clements as governor. Most Texas political observers consider Richards the most liberal state executive in Lone Star history. She has avoided saying much on the gulf crisis, but in a recent interview she said that might soon change.
"I think that every possible avenue to avoid a confrontation that would lead to the deaths of American soldiers must be sought before we take a step toward war," Richards said. "You never waste a human life without having done everything you can. And I do not perceive that there is any public sympathy for armed conflict. . . . My response is simply one that comes from my heart. I just hope very, very much that we avoid this."