The Free Press, Mankato, MN

March 27, 2013

Our View: Protest still worthy of attention


The Free Press

— It is not a popular thing in America these days to be a war protester. But worse than to be treated with disrespect, perhaps, is to be ignored.

We were intrigued last week to come across an Associated Press story out of Montpelier, Vt., that related the story of a small group of anti-war protesters who gathered at noon every Friday in front of the post office holding signs opposing whatever war the U.S. happens to be fighting at the moment. The story reminds us of the small contingent of anti-war demonstrators who show up every Wednesday in front of The Free Press propping up their own home-made signs.

Whatever one thinks of war, this is a good time to applaud the right of peaceful protest, especially in this day and age where many contrary opinions -- anti-war sentiment being just one of them -- seem to many Americans mostly overlooked. Washington D.C. does what it wills, and a certain segment of our society wonders whether even the ballot box changes some things.

Anti-war protesters want to remind us of the cost of war. The human cost, obviously. But consider the economic cost, as well. The Associated Press has reported that the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and the first Persian Gulf conflict in the early 1990s cost the U.S. $12 billion a year just to compensate inactive military personnel or family members of those who've perished. Since 2003 the total, not including medical expenses, has exceeded $50 billion. These costs will continue to grow for many years.

Such costs are not limited to recent wars. Vietnam War compensation payments are now above $22 billion annually, about twice the size of the FBI's annual budget. We spend $40 billion a year compensating veterans and survivors from the Spanish-American War from 1898, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the wars beginning in the 1990s in Iraq.

Meanwhile, the wisdom of our current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to be debated, though those small bands of protesters are hardly noticed by the majority of Americans going about their daily business. We all realize that these aren't the '60s any more, and most of us have gotten so used to our country being on a war footing that we hardly notice that it wasn't always so.

Most of us would be surprised to know that there are 10 living recipients of Spanish-American War benefits. The Spanish-American War was arguably the most popular U.S. war we have ever fought. It became known historically as the "Splendid Little War" that gave America an excuse to flex its new-found muscle. It was won quickly, and it led to U.S. control over Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Guam.

But despite the war's popularity and its lucrative aftermath, there were pockets of resistance within our borders. Jackson Lears, in his book, "Rebirth of a Nation: The Making of Modern America, 1877-1920", tells us that a few naysayers argued that the war was unconstitutional. They said that to attempt to influence other peoples in that way spelled "a departure from republican tradition" dating back to 1776.

In our modern times, the U.S. seems always at war. To many of us, it seems to be a fact of life that will not change, something beyond our control. But while most of us still believe cases can be made for military action, we should always have the debate. Just because people continue appearing on street corners who seem inconsequential, they still have something to say.