Once Again, The Pentagon Is A Potent Symbol And Magnet For Protest

Saturday, March 17th 2007, 5:06 pm
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Shivering in the shadow of the Pentagon ``Death Star,'' chilly protesters raged against the Iraq war Saturday near the symbol of U.S. military power _ 40 years after activists stormed the building trying to stop another war.

Thousands marched from the Lincoln Memorial to a rally across the road from the sprawling building to demand that President Bush bring U.S. troops home and that Democrats use their control of Congress to cut off money for the fighting.

The rally at the building shaken by a terrorist attack six years ago that set the administration on a course of retaliation anchored anti-war demonstrations being held across the country ahead of Tuesday's four-year anniversary of the Iraq invasion.

A counterprotest was staged, too, on a day of dueling signs and sentiments such as ``Illegal Combat'' and ``Peace Through Strength,'' and songs like ``The Battle Hymn of the Republic'' and ``War (What's It Good For?).'' Both sides shouted at each other but were largely kept apart by barriers and police on horseback.

``We're here in the shadow of the war machine,'' activist Cindy Sheehan told the Pentagon rally. ``It's like being in the shadow of the Death Star. They take their death and destruction and they export it around the world. We need to shut it down. ``

The march followed the path of a 1967 demonstration against the Vietnam war that turned into a melee between authorities and radical elements of the crowd on the plaza in front of the Pentagon. More than 600 protesters were arrested that day and several made it inside the building _ a development much less likely today, given the tighter security introduced after the Sept. 11, 2001, attack by a hijacked airliner.

Five people were arrested after the demonstration when they walked onto a bridge that had been closed off to accommodate the protest and then refused orders to leave so police could reopen it to traffic, Pentagon police spokeswoman Cheryl Irwin said. They were cited and released, she said.

The 1967 protest endures in the public imagination because the crowd chanted as one in an attempt to levitate the building, a fanciful goal never reached.

Smaller demonstrations were held in other U.S. cities Saturday. In Los Angeles, Vietnam veteran Ed Ellis, 59, hoped the demonstrations would be the ``tipping point'' against a war that has killed more than 3,200 U.S. troops and engulfed Iraq in a deadly cycle of violence.

``It's all moving in our direction, it's happening,'' he predicted at the Hollywood rally. ``The administration, their get-out-of-jail-free card, they don't get one anymore.''

Other protests _ and counter-demonstrations _ were held in San Francisco, San Diego and Hartford, Conn., where more than 1,000 rallied at the Old State House.

Tens of thousands marched in Madrid, as Spaniards called not only for the U.S. to get out of Iraq but for the closing of the prison for terrorist suspects at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

Speakers at the Pentagon rally criticized the Bush administration at every turn but blamed congressional Democrats, too, for being timid in opposition to the war.

``This is a bipartisan war,'' New York City labor activist Michael Letwin told the crowd. ``The Democratic party cannot be trusted to end it.'' Letwin said the key to ending the war soon is to bring more troops and their families into the protest movement.

President Bush was at Camp David in Maryland for the weekend. Spokesman Blair Jones said of the protests: ``Our Constitution guarantees the right to peacefully express one's views. The men and women in our military are fighting to bring the people of Iraq the same rights and freedoms.''

People traveled from afar in stormy weather to join the march.

``Too many people have died and it doesn't solve anything,'' said Ann Bonner, who drove through snow with her husband, Tom O'Grady, and two children, 13 and 10, from Athens, Ohio. ``I feel bad carrying out my daily activities while people are suffering, Americans and Iraqis.''

Protesters walked in a blustery, cold wind across the Potomac River with police motorcycles clearing their way as other police in boats and helicopters watched. Police no longer give official estimates but said privately that perhaps 10,000 to 20,000 anti-war demonstrators marched, with a smaller but still sizable number of counterprotesters also out in force.

An hour into the three-hour rally, with the temperature near freezing, protesters had peeled away to a point where fewer than 1,000 were left.

A January anti-war protest, with fine weather and celebrities on the stage including Vietnam-era activist Jane Fonda, drew more people.

Veterans in the counterprotest lined up at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and waved U.S, POW-MIA and military-unit flags. Not all were committed to the U.S. course in Iraq, however.

``I'm not sure I'm in support of the war,'' said William ``Skip'' Publicover of Charleston, S.C., who was a swift boat gunner in Vietnam and lost two friends whose names are etched on the memorial's wall. ``I learned in Vietnam that it's difficult if not impossible to win the hearts and minds of the people.''

But Larry Stimeling, 57, a Vietnam veteran from Morton, Ill., said the loss of public support for the Iraq war mirrors what happened in Vietnam and leaves troops without the backing they need.

``We didn't lose the war in Vietnam, we lost it right here on this same ground,'' he said, pointing to the grass on the National Mall. ``It's the same thing now.''

In Sacramento, Calif., nearly 200 veterans and parents of troops gathered on the steps of the state Capitol to rally in support of U.S. troops in Iraq.

``This is not a war that can be fought under a white dome in Washington, D.C.,'' said Kevin Graves, whose son died in Iraq. ``If politicians can't support the troops, they should go fight instead.''

Opening the weekend events, more than 200 were arrested in a demonstration late Friday in front of the White House and charged with disobeying a lawful order or crossing a police line.