WASHINGTON -- Unlike the 1960s, when tens of thousands marched on the Pentagon to protest the Vietnam War, small pockets of protesters fanned out across Washington to mark the fifth anniversary of the war in Iraq.
They began Tuesday afternoon singing on the steps of the National Archives.
"Someone's in the White House with George,
Someone's in the White House I know-ow-ow-ow,
Someone's in the White House with George,
Cooking up another war-r-r-r."
First thing this morning, they tried to block the entrance to IRS headquarters, but the entrance was already blocked by cops and barricades, so about 15 demonstrators had to climb over the barricades in order to get arrested.
Later, among other protests, they turned Pennsylvania Avenue into a theater of the absurd. "Veterans for Peace" made a symbolic citizens' arrest of President Bush and Vice President Cheney. About 50 demonstrators dressed in black and wearing white masks conducted a "March of the Dead" in front of the White House. At the same time, there was a waterboarding demonstration a few feet away.
For all of the theatrics, and despite the war's unpopularity, the number of demonstrators paled in comparison to the Vietnam protests.
"That's because the climate has changed considerably," former Sen. Mike Gravel, D-Alaska, said, noting the end of the military draft in 1973. "Right now, the war doesn't affect that many families because you've got the volunteer army. It hits families differently than it did then."
Chris Knowles of Troy, N.Y., whose son served in Iraq, said it's not that people don't care.
"Most of the people are against the war, but they're going about their daily lives, they're focused on getting by," she said. "The war is out of sight, out of mind."
That would change in a flash, the protesters said, if the draft were reinstated.
"If we were to reinstitute the draft right now and all of a sudden 180,000 more families would be affected, I'd guarantee you, there'd be a lot more people out on the streets," Ann Wright, who spent 29 years in the military, said.
A return of the draft, however, is about as unlikely as a quick resolution of the war, now in its sixth year.
Washington Producer John Rutherford is a decorated Vietnam veteran. He also posts stories on the military at www.dailynightly.msnbc.com (click on "John Rutherford" under "categories") and at http://john-rutherford.newsvine.com/. A tribute gallery to U.S. service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan can be found at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22802019/.