Can we talk?
By Mike Ferner
Online Journal Contributing Writer
Sep 21, 2007, 01:47
WASHINGTON � This began as a story about the Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) �Truth in
Recruiting� campaign. But by the end, it seemed more like a story about whether
or not we can still talk with each other in this country.
In the early morning chill of September 17, on the plaza in
front of Union Station, members of IVAW set out literature and donuts on a card
table and waited for the young International A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition activists
to arrive. After a briefing, four-person teams left for various military
recruiting offices and the campaign was underway. In addition to handing flyers
to people walking into recruiting offices, the effort includes �Befriend a
Recruiter,� a tactic intended to waste as much of a recruiter�s time as
possible by talking with youth who have no intention of joining the military.
Within minutes, the teams at an Armed Forces Recruiting
Station in the northwest quarter of the District called back to the IVAW post
with a report that volunteers were being hassled by �Gathering of Eagles�
members -- in town to dog peace activists throughout a busy week of activities
in the nation�s capital. IVAW members Adam Kokesh and Mark Train, and Veterans For Peace (VFP) member
Leah Bolger jumped into Kokesh�s aged Ford Bronco to offer assistance.
When they arrived at the recruiting office, D.C. Metro
Police and Federal Protective Services officers were already on the scene and
more were on the way. A dozen Metro Police formed a line between a handful of
�Eagles� members in their 50s and 60s holding signs, and about a dozen
20-something activists in yellow A.N.S.W.E.R. T-shirts, walking and chanting in
a picket line.
Already the volume on both sides was approaching a 10, on
its way to 11. VFP President Elliott Adams, a former Army paratrooper familiar
with much more explosive situations in Vietnam, had arrived with the A.N.S.W.E.R.
activists and was talking with the police. Bolger, a retired Navy commander,
was soon in conversation with one of the women Eagles.
Bolger said she tried asking the woman if she was concerned
about the civilian death toll in Iraq. �She thought the reported estimates were
way off base," Bolger related. "But when I started explaining what I
thought was the case, she asked me how many abortions I�d had and whether I had
a man waiting for me at home!�
Deborah King-Lile, 55, and a 25-year Navy veteran from St.
Augustine, Florida, who served in the Persian Gulf War, was the first to offer
a comment to a reporter.
�We didn�t finish the job then (in 1991), so my husband had
to go there in 2005. My son-in-law just returned from a one-year deployment and
he�s prepared to go back if necessary to keep my granddaughter from having to
go.� Nodding towards the pickets the neatly-coiffed woman added, �I�m sick of
the vocal minority.�
Beverly Perlson said her son is on his fourth deployment in
Afghanistan with the 82nd Airborne. The Oak Lawn, Illinois resident stressed,
�He believes in the war.�
Pointing to the picket line she said, �It�s really painful
for a mother of a soldier to see that. I wish they�d go somewhere else, like
Iran. I don�t believe they represent mainstream Americans who are quiet and at
work on a day like today.� Contrasting her version of mainstream America with
the sight before her, she added disdainfully, �Just look at these people and
look at their clothes.�
Before rejoining a colleague carrying a �Support the troops�
placard from Veterans of the Vietnam War, Inc., Perlson said, �I�m tired of
having Cindy Sheehan speak for me. I came out of my living room because of what
she was saying.�
�That boy there called me a bitch, a fucking bitch,� Angela
Lashley said, looking towards a picketer who was angrily telling one of the
Eagles to �get back over on your side� of the police line.
�My son is in Iraq, I don�t know where,� Lashley added. �He
educated himself; he didn�t need the education benefits. He felt compelled to
She pulled a CD out of her purse and pointed to a song on
the label she wrote called �So Brave.� �It�s not about waving the flag or God
bless America. It�s got nothing to do with a political agenda. What we need to
do (about the war) is get the politics out of it and let the president do his
�It�s painful to the parents of a dedicated soldier. We�re
not warmongers. We are artists and teachers. When these children scream nasty
words, it hurts. I tried to speak kindly to them. Screaming won�t help,� she
said, her eyes filling with tears. �The mothers of this country won�t tolerate
people like this breaking the morale of our soldiers.�
A few minutes later she was in conversation with IVAW board
member, Adam Kokesh. �I respect you. I can see in your eyes you are good. But I
also see much hurt and disappointment. I�m glad you served. I�m just sorry that
whatever happened to you made you feel like this. But while you�re doing this
you�re breaking the morale of our soldiers. It�s hard for me but I try to be
kind. Didn�t Cindy Sheehan�s words have a bad effect on you?�
�Cindy Sheehan had no effect on my morale,� the former
Marine replied. �My morale was low because we couldn�t get the equipment we
Larry Bailey identified himself as chairman of Gathering of
Eagles. From Chocowinity, North Carolina, the gregarious 68 year-old is a
retired Navy SEAL Captain. He smiled and said, �I like talking to people with a
�Our group is ad hoc, we don�t have membership fees so
anybody who feels like they�re part of us just is.� He said that the Eagles who
came to Washington this week �paid our own way, just to get in the face of
these people we call the �moonbats.��
Asked what motivated him to travel to Washington, he answered,
�I�m a Vietnam vet. I�m doing this to make sure the troopers from Iraq and
Afghanistan don�t get the same as troops coming back from Vietnam. Back then,
the American people didn�t counter the left-wing propaganda. I�m not pro-war.
Later, Bailey and Kokesh began conversing about whether
Iraqi civilians have been killed in the war.
The Eagles chairman, referring to a widely-quoted Johns
Hopkins study published in the British medical journal, Lancet, said, �Six
hundred thousand Iraqis . . . that�s the number we�re supposed to have killed.
That doesn�t make any sense whatsoever. I can guarantee you that our military
did not directly kill any such number of Iraqi civilians.�
Kokesh countered, �That number is based on a scientific survey
�Come on,� Bailey laughed,� We both know that you can make
scientific surveys say anything you want.�
�I�ve heard of the Lancet,� he continued. �It�s right up
there with the top medical journal here. But you know who controls the media . .
. let me tell you what La Monde (a prominent French publication) did.�
He related to Kokesh a brief anecdote about a story La Monde
did on a Gathering of Eagles demonstration in which the magazine published
�completely untrue� crowd figures, making it look like his group was greatly
outnumbered by their opponents.
Although they interrupted each other at times, their
conversation continued and it seemed that both of them were looking for
something on which they could agree.
Bailey offered that he was a Libertarian. Kokesh smiled and
said so was he, and repeated his earlier concern that in Iraq he saw U.S.
troops that were poorly equipped. Larry responded that he had given $100 to
help purchase helmets for U.S. a troops.
A spokesman for Gathering of Eagles, Kristinn Taylor, said
he has three family members in the military, including one who was in
He related a number of details he considered important
background about the groups involved. �The IVAW was started by Veterans For
Peace, you know, and that�s a Marxist front. VFP had a �water project� for the
Sandinistas, and the same thing for Cuba and even Iraq.�
A middle-aged man in business casual dress, wearing a USEPA
I.D. tag, watched while he took a smoke break. He offered that he was a Vietnam
veteran, and when asked if the actions of protesters of that era affected his
morale, he answered with a smile, �Ruin my morale? I was wishing somebody over
here would pay attention to them!�
Two construction workers eating lunch on the sidewalk looked
preoccupied with their sandwiches. When asked their opinions, one said he had
no comment and the other replied, �Well somebody�s got to go. It (war) is
inevitable, isn�t it?�
Meanwhile, the pickets, numbering about 20 with the addition
of two VFP members, continued to march in a loop in front of the recruiting
station, chanting loudly, �Hell No We Won�t Go,� and �No Justice; No Peace.
U.S. Out of the Middle East.� Four TV cameras and what appeared to be assorted
independent videographers eventually showed up to cover the ruckus.
Bullhorn-amplified chants continued for another hour.
Asked if he viewed the morning�s activity as a success,
Kokesh said, �We got some help doing our job and no one got recruited here
today. There must be 30 cops here. Do you think any kid is going to go in there
and talk to a recruiter with this going on?�
is a freelance writer from Ohio.
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