The theme of this front-page article in the International Herald Tribune is the fact that oppposition in the U.S. to the Iraq war is remarkably muted, given the fact that recent polls show that a majority feel the war was not worth fighting.  --  Addiction to cheap petroleum and silent complicity in the U.S. national security state's resource wars for Middle Eastern energy resources are certainly principal factors, but they are rarely mentioned in the mainstream press.  --  This piece, for example, never mentions "oil," "petroleum," or "energy," though it does mention "democracy" twice.  --  "It is hard for Americans to ignore the war completely," writes Brian Knowlton.  --  "But it is possible for many to watch from a distance, without personal sacrifice.  So far about one American in 200,000 has died in Iraq; the Vietnam War killed one in 4,000." ...

By Brian Knowlton

** 2 years on, the voices of protest rise **

International Herald Tribune
March 19, 2005

BARRINGTON, Illinois -- To pierce the still-frozen earth of the corner yard at his Main Street business in this comfortable Chicago suburb, Paul Vogel sometimes needs a drill. Finding a spot to plant another small flag to represent the latest American war death in Iraq has become harder as well, two years after the war began.

Vogel's sea of flags has been spreading since late 2003, when he began planting them. Then there were 480; this week, out in the yard fussing over some that had tipped a bit, he set the total at 1,518. Four of them represent men lost to his son's reserve unit, a bridge-building outfit that spent a year in Iraq without, Vogel said, ever building a bridge.

"People are forgetting the human costs of the war," Vogel said in an interview at the employment agency that he and his wife, Patricia, run in a handsome green Victorian house.

Along with the flags honoring the dead, Vogel has erected a sign that asks simply, "Do you care?"

With the second anniversary of the "shock and awe" assault on Iraq this weekend, hundreds of war protests are planned against the continuing violence there, including the recent deaths from U.S. fire of an Italian and a Bulgarian. But there has also been hopeful movement throughout the Mideast, and as Americans take stock, the picture is mixed.

Signs of division, over the war and the president who ordered the attack, remain stark and undeniable.

Bookstores carry The Right Man, which sings the praises of President George W. Bush.

But antiwar activists, even one who said that organizing against the war "can feel like stirring concrete with an eyelash," point to tangible changes: Scores of local communities have voted to demand that U.S. troops come home. Small protests are staged weekly.

And military recruiters have had increasing difficulty in attracting enough recruits.

A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll underscored the ambivalence in the United States. Only 45 percent of Americans said that the war had been worth fighting, down from 70 percent at its outset. But a majority also believed that Iraqis were now better off than before the war. More Americans believed that the war had improved chances for democracy in the region than said that it has hurt those chances.

"I don't think that Americans are simply living with the war, or ignoring it," said William Connelly, a professor of politics at Washington & Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. "We're as sensitive as the next person to not just the American deaths but the Iraqi deaths. That said, there fairly clearly is some good news emerging from the region."

Indeed, many Americans, even some who opposed the war, say they are willing to endure in hopes that stability will return to Iraq, terrorists will be scourged and democracy will take root. Few see any other choice.

Criticism of the war by some Democratic politicians has softened. Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, long a strident critic of the war, has struck a more conciliatory tone. He said this month that Bush deserved credit for the democratic stirrings in the Middle East.

"What's taken place in a number of those countries is enormously constructive," he said on ABC-TV. Softening his call for a quick U.S. troop withdrawal, he now says a pullout must be approved by an Iraqi government., the pioneering political Web site that backed the antiwar presidential candidacy of Howard Dean, has turned increasingly toward broader political goals like Social Security. Antiwar militants complain that MoveOn, its membership split, has lost its nerve.

It is hard for Americans to ignore the war completely. But it is possible for many to watch from a distance, without personal sacrifice. So far about one American in 200,000 has died in Iraq; the Vietnam War killed one in 4,000.

For Paul Vogel, every death is a tragedy, and he wanted to make people aware of the war. But affluent Barrington lies in a deeply conservative part of a state that supported Senator John Kerry, the president's Democratic opponent, in the election last year.

"Speaking out in this town, we figured we could be jeopardizing our business," said Vogel, a spare, careful-spoken man with a neat beard. "But you reach a breaking point. My breaking point came in June 2003 when I went to the funeral of the first man killed in my son Aaron's unit," the 652nd Engineer Company of the U.S. Army Reserves.

That man, Sergeant Dan Gabrielson, 39, was a mechanic and father of three before a rocket-propelled grenade slammed into his truck. Vogel attended the funeral and was moved by the grief that tore the sergeant's small Wisconsin town of Spooner.

A concerned Vogel took a highly unusual step: He traveled to Iraq to see his son, quietly arranging the trip with the help of a Quaker group active in relief work, slipping in through Jordan. Aaron was astonished.

Paul has a picture of the two standing side by side before curled concertina wire. It was the longest of weeks for Patricia Vogel.

The experience hardened Paul Vogel's opposition to the war, and he began speaking out. He organized a march. His sea of flags kept growing.

His efforts have encountered mixed reactions. One day a retired marine came in to Vogel's office to thank him, in tears; two days later, another ex-marine walked in, angrily mouthing obscenities at Vogel.

Vogel said his business had not unduly suffered.

A worker at the liquor store across the street, who did not give his name, shrugged wearily when asked about the war: "Whatever we say about it, it's not going to do any good."

Others in town disagreed. Gwendolyn Whiston of Tivoli Garden Antiques said she was delighted that Saddam Hussein had been removed and the Iraqis freed and that America's enemies were being kept busy far from American shores. She was particularly gratified by the liberation of women in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"There's nothing but good coming out of this," she said, "except for the deaths of American soldiers." She grieves for them, but added that soldiers should know the risks.

Dawn Turner Trice, a columnist at the Chicago Tribune, wrote that Americans seemed barely to note when the number of deaths reached 1,500. Some peace activists fault news coverage.

"The media isn't doing the job, and this is one reason why people in Europe don't know about the very extensive antiwar movement that exists here," said Joseph Gainza, the Vermont director for the American Friends Service Committee.

Gainza helped push for local referendums urging Bush to bring the troops home from Iraq. Forty-nine towns -- 86 percent of those that voted -- passed such referendums in a state that has sent more guardsmen and reservists to Iraq, per capita, than any state but Hawaii. Eleven Vermonters have died in Iraq

"We're getting a lot of excited phone calls and e-mails from people all over the country, and overseas, too," he said.

People like Connelly, the professor in Virginia, say that young people are not as mobilized as they were during the Vietnam War. "You clearly don't see the campuses erupting," he said.

But Bill Dobbs, a spokesman for the antiwar group United for Peace and Justice, insisted that below-the-radar efforts were working.

"Steady, low-profile organizing work has slowly helped to move a huge glacier," he said. "Certainly over half the country believes that Bush's handling of the war has been very bad."

His group's Web site lists more than 800 antiwar protests planned for this weekend, more than twice last year's figure, including a rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina, where many military families and veterans are expected to take part. Flying in from California, where he now studies photography -- though as an army reservist, he could be sent back to Iraq at any time -- will be Aaron Vogel.