By DOUG THOMPSON
Lyndon Johnson told the nation,
“Have no fear of escalation.
I am trying everyone to please.
Though it isn’t really war,
We’re sending fifty thousand more,
To help save Vietnam from Vietnamese.”
Tom Paxton’s lyrics from 40 years ago came back to mind this weekend as thousands upon thousands of protesters gathered on both coasts to protest yet another questionable war.
I jumped off the old troop ship,
And sank in mud up to my hips.
I cussed until the captain called me down.
Never mind how hard it’s raining,
Think of all the ground we’re gaining,
Just don’t take one step outside of town.
Vietnam brought war protests to new heights and George W. Bush’s illegal and immoral invasion and occupation of Iraq has stirred American emotions again to levels not seen since that time of national turmoil. Bush’s war brought Jane Fonda out of antiwar retirement and his Presidency has split this nation down the middle into a class war of right vs. left, liberal vs. conservative, partisan vs. patriot.
We go round in helicopters,
Like a bunch of big grasshoppers,
Searching for the Viet Cong in vain.
They left a note that they had gone.
They had to get down to Saigon,
Their government positions to maintain.
As with the protests against the Vietnam War, both sides play a numbers game. The protesters say more than 100,000 streamed into Washington’s National Mall. Police and pro-war types say it was less. But one could say the count that mattered is aleady on the record: Real American anger against Bush’s war that emerged last November when voters tossed out the corrupt and compliant Republican leadership of Congress and demanded an end to the Iraq war.
Johnson saw the voter anger against Vietnam and chose not to run again in 1968, leaving the problems of the war to his successor. Bush makes it clear he has no intention of leaving Iraq before he leaves the White House in 2009 and he will leave his Iraq debacle to whomever moves in on January 20 of that year.
Well here I sit in this rice paddy,
Wondering about Big Daddy,
And I know that Lyndon loves me so.
Yet how sadly I remember,
Way back yonder in November,
When he said I’d never have to go.
Vietnam, like Iraq, was a war based on lies. Johnson had the deceptions of the Gulf of Tonkin, Bush has weapons of mass destruction. Both wars sent thousands of American men and women to their deaths for reasons that did not exist in vain pursuit of an impossible victory.
If you want to know how many protested war in Washington Saturday, take the estimates by organizers or the police and add to either two sets of numbers – the 58,178 names on the Vietnam War Memorial and the 3,000 plus Americans who have died so far in Iraq.
But don’t stop counting. Add to that list the the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians who have died or have been wounded plus the 304,000 wounded in Vietnam and the 25,000 and counting wounded in Iraq. God knows how many more of the 2.59 million Americans who served in Vietnam came home with emotional scars or how many of their brothers and sisters in arms will live or die from the emotional scars of Iraq.
When it comes to protesting war, those are the numbers that count.
(Lyrics from “Lyndon Johnson Told the Nation,” by Tom Paxton)