The New York Times reminds us that on this date in 1969--39 years ago--something like a quarter of a million people massed in Washington to demonstrate, mostly peacefully, against the Vietnam war. The Mall was full, from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial. I'm sure there were speeches. I don't remember any of them. What was extraordinary was this huge crowd assembled to tell its government--hey, you've messed up. This war is a mistake.
Nothing like that nowadays. I'm not sure why. I thought the Vietnam war was a mistake, especially after I'd covered it for some months. I haven't covered Iraq--too old and slow--but from the start I've thought it was a mistake as well. Sure, Saddam Hussein was a bad man, but he was no threat to the United States and he had nothing to do with the terrorists in Al-Qaeda.
One difference, of course, is that we still had a draft then. Every draft age young man, and every parent of one, could think--hey, I have a stake in this. Today our armed forces are volunteer. Another difference is that American casualties are lower--fewer than, 5,000 Americans killed in Iraq; 58,000 American names are on the Wall here which honors the Americans killed in Vietnam.
Still, a bad war is a bad war. That one was. This one is. I'm surprised we are not angrier about it. Will President-elect Obama get us out of it as Richard Nixon, of all people, finally decided to get us out of Vietnam? We have to hope so.
I remember that demonstration, all those years ago. There were many demonstrations and I could be wrong, but I think I ended my report for CBS News 39 years ago by saying, "It's been a very long day. It's been a very long war." This time too, Mr. President-elect. This time too.
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