WASHINGTON, March 25 (UPI) -- "We're here today to present a wide range of perspectives on the war in Iraq that have been largely absent from the mainstream media," American University history Professor Peter Kuznick told military veterans, fellow scholars, students and activists gathered over the weekend at the Kay Spiritual Life Center on the university's main quad.
The subject: "Operation Iraq Freedom." The venue: a teach-in, a form of protest regaining favor during the current U.S.-led war against Iraq.
Kuznick organized the teach-in along with a coalition of veterans' organizations, Veterans Against the Iraq War. The veterans helped organize the teach-in as part of their "Operation Dire Distress," a campaign to show their opposition to the preemptive military action in Iraq.
Kuznick cited NBC anchor Tom Brokaw's comment that "One of the things we don't want to do is destroy the infrastructure in Iraq because in a few days we're going to own that country," as a particularly disconcerting development in mainstream media war coverage.
Bobby Muller, president of Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, delivered the first speech, emphasizing the need for more public understanding and debate about the current war in Iraq.
In Vietnam, he told the audience, he joined the army with grave misconceptions about the nature and purpose of the conflict. He thought he was going to Vietnam to fight off a "massive communist invasion of the freedom lovers of the south," he said. Once there, however, he found "the very people that we thought we were helping were the ones coming after us."
He warned of a similar situation developing in Iraq, but voiced an even greater fear. "The war in Iraq is not the problem," he said. "It's symptomatic of the overarching agenda (of the administration)."
Describing what he called the "Bush Doctrine," he defined the doctrine as a view that accords the United States a unique role in the world, given its "exceptionalism." Muller went on to say that this doctrine asserts that the United States "must maintain absolute military supremacy, a view that is now incorporated into our national security strategy."
World War II veteran Adm. Gene La Rocque -- currently president emeritus at the Center of Defense Information -- bolstered Muller's comments, and criticized anyone who might refer to members of the peace movement as unpatriotic.
"Those who question our right to be here today have every right to do so, but they have no right whatsoever to cast dispersions about our patriotism to this great nation," he said. "Where there is no dissent there is no democracy."
He warned about the growing spirit of militarism he sees in America, and the detrimental effects of a never-ending war against evil. For a country that claims to love peace, he said, the United States has found itself frequently at war.
"War has become a spectator sport," he said. "The idea of patriotism has changed. Today, if you're militaristic, then you are a patriot."
Daniel Ellsberg, a Vietnam veteran responsible for leaking the Pentagon Papers to the press in 1971, also attended the teach-in. The Pentagon Papers were a 7,000-page study of U.S. decision-making in Vietnam. The leak helped ignite an already disturbed American public and end the war in Vietnam.
Ellsberg joined the teach-in fresh from a stint in jail for protesting the Iraq war. He chose to spend the time in jail instead of posting bail in order to avoid watching the military's "shock and awe" campaign in the first days of the war. "I particularly wanted to miss this massive war crime that is under way now, in the midst of a clearly illegal war from start to finish -- an aggressive war," he said.
A pensive Ellsberg spoke with the audience about lessons from United States history. The only other unjust war that Ellsberg could remember the United States fighting was the Mexican War. He quoted from a passage written by Ulysses S. Grant about the Mexican War: "For myself I was bitterly opposed to the measure of annexation, and to this day regard the war which resulted as one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation. It was an instance of a republic following the bad example of European monarchies in not considering justice in their desire to acquire additional territory."
He went on to say, paraphrasing Henry David Thoreau: "In a country conducting an unjust war, the place for a just man is in jail."
More than another dozen speakers also addressed the audience. They ranged from Vietnam nurses to family members of a marine currently fighting. Former diplomat John Brown, who gained national attention last week after resigning his post in protest of the U.S. policy in Iraq, also stepped up to the podium. "The president's disregard for views in other nations, borne out by his neglect of public diplomacy, is giving birth to an anti-American century," Brown said.