In the days immediately after the 9/11 attacks, there were millions of people across the country trying to find some way to help. Some volunteered at their church or community centers, millions gave blood or donated money to survivor funds, and some even drove out to New York to help clear the rubble.
I put on my dog tags. It was a simple way to remind myself that I was helping by being in the National Guard. Part of the implied threat that the US is ready for military action whenever and wherever. 6 years later, I still wear my dog tags every day.
But while I was in Iraq, it became evident that serving in the military may not be enough anymore. While we were sweating in the 140 degree heat in Iraq, some folks back home were trying to give away our efforts.
I've seen pictures of some of the anti war kooks, and read about the things that they do, from the innocent and naive contention that all war is evil, to the disgusting and probably mentally unbalanced ones who accuse all US troops of murder, torture, and every war crime under the sun.
Yesterday, I got to meet some of these kooks in person.
A good sized 'peace march' of about 400-450 people started at the Cathedral in St Paul and marched to the capitol building. I showed up with about 25 others to counter-protest. I was there partly out of curiosity, but also because I think it's important for the public to know that not everyone is anti war.
I didn't know any of the counter protesters, but I was immediately welcomed. It reminded me of helping someone move, when a bunch of strangers show up to get a job done. The only thing missing yesterday was a crock pot of sloppy joes, the ever-present moving fuel in Minnesota. We laughed and smiled as we saw the war protesters walking by looking so serious.
As the peace march finally got going and marched past us, the chanting started. 'No blood for oil' and 'Bush lied, kids died' were the ones that really made me angry. I held US flag and a sign that said 'This OIF Vet supports Victory'. In retrospect, I don't think most of the kooks knew what OIF means, since many of them told me to go over to Iraq and fight the war if I thought it was a good thing. Most of them had no response when I told them I just got back from a two year deployment.
Even in the sea of goofiness, there were voices of sanity, though. Several people walked up and shook my hand and thanked me for serving. One older gentleman, a WWII vet by his hat, snapped me a quick salute. But these few folks were drowned out by the ones with placards calling US troops murderers. The 9/11 truthers that never met a conspiracy theory they didn't like. The two women (I think they were women) dressed in pink rooster outfits.
One thing was amazing clear though, and that was the difference in patriotism. Among the 25 or so counter protesters, I counted about 20 US flags. Among the 400 or so war protesters I counted 2. Of course, that's not counting the flag flown upside down, the perversions of the US flag with a peace symbol where the star field should be, and several Mexican flags. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that carrying a flag is the only way to show patriotism. But patriotism to me is love of your country and pride in your country. The war protesters didn't seem to have much of either.
Lastly, I couldn't help but grin at the location of the counter protest. Triangle Park in St Paul has a memorial to the first soldier to enlist in the 1st Minnesota for duty in the Civil War. My unit, 2 battalion 135th infantry traces it's roots all the way back to that same 1st Minnesota.