WASHINGTON – Thousands of demonstrators protesting the fourth anniversary of the war in Iraq marched on the Pentagon on Saturday, jeered along the way by large numbers of angry counterprotesters.
Organizers billed the anti-war rally as marking the 40th anniversary of the 1967 march on the Pentagon. At times, verbal clashes demonstrated that the bitter divisions of four decades ago sparked by Vietnam are very much alive in the debate over Iraq.
The march, part of a weekend of protests that included smaller demonstrations in other U.S. cities and abroad, comes as the Bush administration deploys more troops in an attempt to regain control of Baghdad and Congress considers measures to bring U.S. troops home.
Paul Miller, 72, a Korean War-era Marine Corps veteran who flew from California for the march with his brother, was making his first appearance at an antiwar rally. “I was like everybody else. I trusted the people who ran the country, and I’m tired of being lied to,” Miller said, a beret with a Marine Corps pin on his head. “I feel so bad for the young Marines who are getting their legs blown off and losing their lives.”
Organizers said Saturday’s march on the Pentagon reflected a sense of betrayal in the public over the escalation of the war. As some speakers called for the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, others denounced Congress in equally bitter terms for not cutting off funding for the war. Yet attendance at Saturday’s march was noticeably smaller than one held in Washington in January, police said.
Much of the passion Saturday was supplied by thousands of counter-demonstrators, many of them veterans who mobilized from across the country to gather around the Vietnam memorial. Some said they came in response to appeals on the Internet to protect the wall against what they feared would be acts of vandalism; no such acts were reported.
Others said they were tired of anti-war protesters claiming to speak for the country. “I’m here because I think we need to commit to our troops in the field,” said Guy Rocca, 63, a veteran who drove nine hours from Detroit.
Some counterprotesters yelled obscenities and mocked the marchers as traitors. Anti-war protesters responded with angry words of their own, and police intervened at times to prevent shouting matches from escalating.