- The Washington Times - Monday, March 19, 2007

Over the weekend, several thousand military veterans and their supporters who back President Bush’s war effort in Iraq turned out from around the country for the “Gathering of Eagles,” so named by its organizers. They waved flags. They bore “spit shields.” They carried banners of support for Iraq’s fledgling government. In the current domestic political climate, that’s a story. It’s a countercultural story — counter-media narrative, counter-opinion poll and certainly counter-climate for much of today’s debate in Washington.

We can’t know the crowd numbers for certain, and the conflicting numbers and reports show it. Private police estimates obtained by this newspaper figured on 10,000 to 20,000 anti-war protesters answered by counterprotesters numbering in the thousands — “a large group of war supporters and military veterans waving American flags,” wrote our reporter. The Washington Post counted “several thousand vets” in car caravans and buses. The New York Times called them “an unusually large contingent” — although “large” for the NYT is “several hundred,” sourced to anti-war regulars. The counterprotesters claim that they numbered 30,000. And, as is the norm, the National Park Service won’t touch this one with a ten-foot pole. “The National Park Service never gives any estimate. It cannot be attributed to us. It is made up,” said spokesman Bill Line. Into the numbers do protesters of every stripe pour their hopes and desires.

Forget the numbers game for a moment. Consider the substance. These military-vet counterprotesters are now swimming directly against the tides of public opinion and against the Democratic congressional leadership. Convinced of withdrawal’s wrongness, they don’t care that the latest CNN poll numbers show that only 35 percent of respondents support the Iraq war. Their banners bore messages like these: “Peace Through Superior Firepower” and “Marked for Death if We Cut and Run Now,” over the once-famous, now-neglected photo of a purple-fingered Iraqi voter. Or the familiar and harder-edged statement: “Vietnam Vets Against Kerry.” These messages were wildly popular four years ago. Today they are decidedly countercultural.

If a man’s or woman’s political measure is to be taken by constancy and resolve in service of heartfelt conviction (and we certainly think so), then the actions of these veterans and their supporters — and countless others like them — speak for themselves.

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