This week was the 10th anniversary of the start of the Iraq War. How quickly times flies.
I’d come down to NY that winter after a few months back in Canada. Prime Minister Chretien, the consumate politician, had hemmed and hawed then finally come out and said, no, Canada would not be a member of the Bush/Cheney ‘Coalition of the Willing’.
I was shocked by the war fever in the media and across the nation. I’d never seen anything like it. At the border, the border guards came on with dogs, angry aggression. We weren’t their friends anymore. In the US, the tabloids and most of the supposedly ‘liberal’ were baying for war. Even the NY Times, which should have known better, was behind invading Iraq. Certain Republican congressmen were calling for anyone who questioned the need for war to be charged with treason.
Yet, on a brutally cold February day, 600,000 New Yorkers came out to march against the war. I went down with my girlfriend, a NY native, and we joined the crowd on the Upper East Side, since midtown was too crowded. The wind whipped off the East River, and the police were out in force, directing the crowd this way or that, making it difficult to reach the main body of the protesters in midtown.
The cold got so bad, we ducked into an Irish bar on 3rd Ave. At the top of the hour, between ‘Money Matters’, some show about pets, both NY1 and CNN broadcast 30 second ‘by the way’ updates on the biggest protest since the ’60s.
Of course, the marches made no impact whatsoever. I can’t remember if Bush even acknowledged that they’d taken place.
A year and a half later, some half a million marched against the Republican convention held in Manhattan that year because it made for great optics. Ground Zero, 9-11, ‘America’s Mayor’ Rudolph Guiliani. In the West Village, where the marches began, the protest was so packed traveling a single block took an hour. The cops were out in force then as well, but the mood was relaxed, and some of the cops even seemed supportive. Security around the conference centre was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Choppers, riot cops with machine guns, secret service agents in aviator shades and earpieces racing off off in black SUVs with reflective windows. I’d never seen anything like it, not even in ’80s London where terrorism was a real and daily threat.
That protest too made little to no impact. But both protests did redeem my faith in New York.
10 years on, the US is finally out of Iraq. Cheney claimed that Iraq was a better place, that he had no regrets. I wonder how many Iraqis feel their country is a better place. Their infrastructure destroyed, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead. And the war goes on, except now America is no longer a part of it.
A version of this post was first published in February, 2010