Remembering long, sad story of needless Iraq War

Chicago Sun-Times

The 1968 protests at the Democratic National Convention saw some 600 people arrested over the course of a week. But this week marks the 20th anniversary of the largest mass arrest in Chicago history, of nearly 900 people in one evening.

On March 20, 2003, more than 18,000 peace activists marched down Lake Shore Drive — with police permission — halting traffic in protest against the War in Iraq that began the previous night. Activists planned to go down Michigan Avenue, but at Michigan and Oak, a standoff transpired between police and activists. Police then trapped, attacked and arrested activists by the hundreds.

At the time, peace protests — when they could get coverage — were widely mocked. And yet, the protesters’ warnings were proven correct. The war’s pretext of “Weapons of Mass Destruction” unraveled, and the month-long war became a seven-year-long occupation whose long-term costs are slated to reach three trillion dollars.

Plus the human costs: 300,000 Iraqis dead by some estimates, some 7,000 U.S. soldiers and military staff dead from the “War on Terror,” some 30,000 veterans dead of suicide in the past 20 years. The war also “radicalized a generation of American zealots who for years to come will inflict violence on the country they were supposed to protect” (to quote writer Peter Maass).

It’s ironic that the War in Iraq took up so much attention in 2003, while its 20th anniversary will likely garner a tiny fraction of that attention — probably because history has vindicated those who opposed the war. That’s small comfort, given the growing costs and destruction in the war’s wake.

Chicago peace activists did win a $6.2 million free speech settlement from the city, which took nine years to resolve. And activists also won the right to march down Michigan Avenue, where a march for peace took place in 2010.

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