August 27, 2008 – Two dozen Iraq war veterans brought Baghdad to Denver’s sidewalks Tuesday, repeatedly staging guerrilla-style theater before a confused yet generally supportive audience of pedestrians.
For the veterans, who aggressively engaged with 50 volunteers acting as Iraqi civilians, this was their personal version of shock and awe.
The goal of Iraq Veterans Against the War was to educate people about the reality of occupying a foreign land and the rigors faced by the U.S. military and the Iraqi people. To do so, the veterans broke into two squads, invisible weapons at the ready as they marched from street to street, facing off with loud, angry packs of pretend Iraqis.
“It’s not everything that happens in Iraq, but it’s a piece of the reality,” said Geoffrey Millard, an organizer who served in Iraq. “It scares people, and it should. You should be scared when your country is occupied.”
The effort garnered support from two renowned members of the anti-war movement: U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio and Vietnam War veteran Ron Kovic.
“Thank you very much for standing for peace,” Kucinich told one of the squads that came across him outside a restaurant.
Kovic, who took a bullet through the spine that left him paralyzed four decades ago, met the veterans at the Veterans Memorial at Civic Center.
“The world is watching you today,” Kovic said to the veterans. “You are the moral high ground . . . the truth that must be spoken.”
Each time the veterans staged a scenario – whether it was pretending to take direct fire or detain a wanted person – scores of people looked on, unsure of what they were watching. Emotions at times were raw, such as when the veterans would grab a volunteer, taking him or her down, strapping their arms behind their backs and putting a white synthetic hood over their heads.
Some misunderstood the demonstrations, but volunteers floated along the outskirts, handing out fliers that explained the effort.
“It bothers me,” said Kathy Johnson, 57, of Denver, whose 24- year-old son is soon heading with his Army unit to Iraq.
After someone explained what the veterans were doing, Johnson became supportive.
It was still hard to watch, she said, knowing these were the sorts of moments awaiting her son.
“I worry about how he’s going to come back,” she said.
Not everyone appreciated it, though.
One woman watched for a moment and then muttered, “No one told (Gen. Dwight) Eisenhower to bring the troops home. You guys would all be speaking German now.”
But Ben Yoder, 31, of Denver, found it fascinating.
“You don’t see this every day,” Yoder said.