March 23, 2007
By Ken Krayeske • Hartford • 10:30 AM EST
On the mall in Washington, D.C. last Saturday, thousands of peace protesters gathered to march to the Pentagon. Across the street, under the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial, hundreds of Vietnam War veterans crowded to hurl hate at the hippies.
Apparently, somewhere on the blogosphere, some anonymous "peace" poster suggested that someone would defile and spray paint the Wall, the Vietnam War Memorial.
Conservative bloggers like Michelle Malkin began prepping us for this counter-demonstration, called the Gathering of the Eagles, back in late February. Funny thing, I didn't even hear about it until I was actually on the bus ride down to D.C. But word spread and the battle was on.
The hype grew so large that the National Park Service set up metal detectors around the Wall, complete with signs prohibiting aerosol cans, to make sure that no one who entered could graffiti upon such monument.
The search wasn't a violation of the Fourth Amendment, explained Vietnam vet Dan Arnini from Hebron, CT.
"I have no problem with anyone searching me, I have nothing to hide," Arnini said. "They are not infringing on my rights."
But you've committed no crime, I said.
As long as they are protecting the monument, he said, and mentioned airline security as a classic example. But where do you draw the line?
Roger Gieger, another Connecticut native and Vietnam vet, said essentially there needs to be no line.
"I was 19 years old and hooked up to a 12-volt battery and they beat the crap out of me," Gieger said, noting that it was the Americans who did this to him. Nor is waterboarding torture, and information gleaned under torture is fair game.
The liberal peace people need a taste of what it's all about, said Vietnam vet Tom Lumpkin of Dale City, Virginia. He said 64 members of his unit are on the Wall.
"The rights of free speech have to be defended in blood," he said.
He had just left a conversation where a teenage peacenik employed expletives to further his point. Tom told the boy and his father he wished the boy got drafted. Tom also met an Iraq war veteran who was against the war.
"I shook his hand and thanked him for his service, and that was about as civil as I can be to these people," he said.
He recommended that in order to bridge the chasm and antipathy between the two sides, the liberals needed to be educated and show pride in America.
Enter Michelle Malkin, who happened to be on scene with Bryan, her sidekick cameraman who has an opinion or two of his own. After she interviewed one of the vets, I asked her how our divided country heals and deals with the deep wounds of this war.
"I guess I disagree with the premises of your question. People disagree with how we should proceed. No healing needs to be done here. One side wants us to lose," she said. "There's a huge divide in the country between people who want us to win and people who want us to lose."
The healing that is happening is for Vietnam vets.
"These Vietnam veterans were not welcomed home, they are getting welcomed now," she said.
Further, she said, we need to support the troops.
"Folks on the other side pay a lot of lip service to that," she said. "Look at Walter Reed. A lot of people say they care about the military, but they care now only because it embarrasses the Bush administration."
Malkin explained that she was writing about Walter Reed way back when.
But I was more curious about how we deal with the fissures in our country, the massive philosophical faults that the Iraq war has awakened.
She made it clear that there was only one way, and that was to win, and that her job was to help people see the light through the power of persuasion and argument.
"I was in Iraq in January," she said. "I came back, we came back, Bryan and I came back persuaded that the war is winnable, but we are not going to win overnight in Iraq, Afghanistan or in the Global War on Terror. We need patience, resilience, this is not an instant gratification war."
I think it was about this point in the interview that fawning middle-aged men came over and told Michelle they were her number one fans.
With that done, I asked about the idea that truth is the first casualty in war. Are we prepared as journalists to deal with a lifetime's worth of infringement on the First Amendment in order to win?
"There are costs that we all have to bear, that those of us who do not serve have to bear," she said. During war, "we as journalists speak under different circumstances. To win the global jihad, we have to be willing to pay a price, during war, the press has to pay a price."
What about the A.P. photographer in Afghanistan whose photos of a U.S. attack on a civilian convoy were deleted by U.S. soldiers?
"I don't know the specific details," she said, "but if publishing the photos endangers national security, then they shouldn't be published. There are tradeoffs. I don't want my child growing up in a burka."
Although I'm not sure that she has any children, before I could ask, sidekick Bryan stepped in and pointed out that the dirty hippies carrying the 9-11 Truth signs were stupid.
He turned around and pointed to a sign held by a Vietnam vet, showing the rubble and jutting steel of the World Trade Centers, with the caption "This is how terrorists negotiate."
The peace protesters don't understand. "These are chicken shit people, using nursery rhymes. They're idiots," Bryan said.
Then, Michelle said I was monopolizing her time. And off she went.