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Volume 2, Number 29              August 25 - 31,  2002            Quezon City, Philippines

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With Talk of Conflict with Iraq, Americans Remember the Human Cost of Vietnam

By Duncan Campbell
The Guardian

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"It's going to be a nuclear war this time," says Danny Gonzalez, 25, whose tattoos are sprinkled with the white paint he has been using for his building work round the corner from Belvedere Park in East Los Angeles. "It's cool that Bush wants to get rid of him but they're going to be walking into nuclear shit this time."

It was 32 years ago this month that 20,000 Latinos gathered in East LA for an anti-war protest that degenerated into violence which killed three people. Part of the reason for the protest was that Latinos made up a disproportionate number of those dying in Vietnam. So what does East LA today think of the possibility of a war against Iraq?

"The Vietnam war was a political war and we shouldn't have been there," Al Orozco, 40, who remembers the 1970 protest, says. "This is going to be different. There is going to be a war but this time people are going to be united." Justin Ky, who works at the nearby Olympic Donuts, agrees: "I would go. I think it's a good idea - and we have the best technology."

But in Houston, Texas, it is just as easy to find anti-war views. "Most of my friends and neighbours would be opposed to a war because so many young people are going to go to war and probably lose their lives," says Maria Alanis of the Association for the Advancement of Mexican Americans, whose headquarters are in the city.

Don Ross, a state representative for the biggest African-American constituency in Oklahoma, district 73 in Tulsa, says his constituents would be the ones who could be fighting. "The kind of young men that fight are generally lower income and minorities, and my community is reluctant [to go to war] unless there is a direct assault on the United States.

"I think at the moment it's only to draw attention from the awful economy. What we have is election-year sabre rattling. I think it's doubtful that we're even close to a war. It would be a big gamble without our allies to embark on this and have Americans coming home in bodybags."

One of the sources of anger about the Vietnam war was that a higher proportion of black and Latino soldiers seemed to return home in bodybags than their white counterparts.

But according to the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll 69% of Americans support some form of military action to remove Saddam Hussein from power, and only 22% oppose it; 57% said they supported a US invasion of Iraq with ground troops, and 36% opposed.

But when people were asked if they would support a ground war that produced "significant" US casualties, support dropped to 40% and opposition rose to 51%. Men back military action by more than two to one, but only 49% of women are in favour and 40% are against.

Susan Pinkus, who organises opinion polling for the LA Times, says public support for a war with Iraq varies greatly with the type of questions asked: support drops dramatically if it is supposed that there will be a significant number of American casualties or that there is no allied support for the war.

Richard Becker of the International Action Centre, one of the main anti-war coordinating groups, which is chaired by the former attorney general Ramsey Clark, says: "That support looks shaky to us and we think these numbers can shift very quickly.

"We think there is a lot of opposition and that it is growing. When Dick Cheney was in San Francisco last week there were 500 people outside his hotel at 8am, and the big question without any doubt was Iraq. It's hard now to make a case that Iraq is a threat to America. I think what the administration is trying to do is make a connection between September 11 and Iraq, but I think there is an understanding that this is another oil war."

Mr Becker says there are plans for anti-war demonstrations in 10 cities in October. "We have had a lot of calls and emails from people who are deeply concerned about what Dick Cheney calls "the endless war". There is great trepidation.

"I think we are also overcoming the impression that some people have abroad that there is very little opposition here. The mainstream media and mainstream politicians have been telling people over and over again that Saddam Hussein constitutes an imminent threat to the US. That's ludicrous."

Bob Mulholland, a wounded Vietnam veteran and a senior figure in the Democratic party, said: "It's all talk and no cattle herd. The very day that Bush was criticising Saddam, we're buying oil from him. It's like buying coal from Hitler at the start of the second world war. It was a mistake to leave Saddam Hussein in Iraq - we didn't leave Hitler in Berlin."

Mr Mulholland does not believe that Mr Bush would order an invasion without the backing of allies in the region: "Bush is very arrogantly announcing US policy without consulting Europe but it'll be kind of difficult to launch the invasion from Florida."

Although some religious leaders have voiced opposition to a war, others support it. Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in LA said: "If they make one more effort [to have weapons inspections resumed without restriction] and they are thwarted, they shouldn't think twice." Removing Saddam Hussein would be "the only, only moral solution".

Thuy Li of the daily Nguoi Viet, which is based in the heart of the expatriate Vietnamese community, Westminster, California, says: "We are against all wars because we have been victims ourselves and we know what it is like." But, if it were proved that President Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, the US would be entitled to take action, he said.

In some parts of the US the issue is barely registering. Larry Blatskey, editor of the Daily Dispatch in Douglas, Arizona, says the possibility of war has not featured in readers' letters or discussions. "It's not really started to boil here."

And at the other end of the country, in Alaska, Gina Farrell, opinion page editor of the Fairbanks Daily News Miner, says: "It's not really on the radar here at all."

While more Democrats than Republicans oppose a war, some of the most outspoken comments have come from the former Republican secretary of state Larry Eagleburger, who served in George Bush Sr's cabinet. "

I am vastly ambivalent about what my country ought to do now," he said on the BBC's World this Weekend. "I must say to you I am not one of those, like [the Pentagon adviser] Mr Perle and [deputy defence secretary] Mr Wolfowitz, who are in my view hairy-chested tub-thumpers. I am not among those who would go to war tomorrow morning and invade Iraq.

"I am particularly nervous that the administration, or some parts of it, have come to the view that we can go in and get this done in about three days," he added.

Back in the noon-day sun in East LA, Nancy Lepe, 17, is chatting with friends. War with Iraq is not part of the conversation. "We don't talk about it - because there's nothing we can do about it," she says.

August 16, 2002 Bulatlat.com  

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