They marched through the streets and waved their signs and made their speeches. It was just like old times.
In 19 U.S. cities thousands of people gathered Saturday to demand that the United States withdraw its forces from the Persian Gulf.
Some of the faces and much of the rhetoric was familiar: Daniel Ellsberg was arrested in Washington and Ramsey Clark, a former U.S. attorney general, said in New York: "We're here because we have an imperial presidency as unrestrained as any military dictatorship that ever lived!"
All of it was supposed to remind us of the '60s and that decade's anti-war movement. And, on the surface, there were similarities.
But I think there is also one big difference: In Vietnam, we didn't know what we were fighting for. In the Persian Gulf, we do.
In Vietnam we fought for pride and platitudes and politics. We fought for all the wrong reasons. We fought because of the "Domino Effect." We fought because we were the nation "that had never lost a war." We fought because we could not stop fighting until we had achieved "peace with honor."
In the end, we got neither peace nor honor. And we tried to learn a lesson from it.
But in the Persian Gulf things are much more simple. We are there to protect the oil. And we will fight for it if we have to.
Yes, I know our president denies it. He said to a heckler only last week that, "We are not fighting for oil; we are fighting naked aggression."
I think this is a big mistake. There has been plenty of naked aggression in the world that the United States has not bothered to fight. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan is only one example.
So why do we now send troops to the Persian Gulf when we didn't sent troops to fight aggression in many other places? Because the Persian Gulf has the oil we need.
Not since Jimmy Carter has a president cared about conserving oil. And Jimmy Carter did not really have the American public on his side.
So when Ronald Reagan ran in 1980, he was able to make fun of Carter's energy-conserving ways and paint him as an old lady and a fuddy-duddy.
In Jimmy Carter's last year as president, America got 40.3 percent of its oil from overseas and the figure was dropping. But the figure began to rise under Ronald Reagan and today we get 49.9 percent of our oil from foreign countries.
Which means we can not live without it. Not in the manner to which we are accustomed.
You can see what just a mild shortage of oil is doing to our economy today. Oil prices jump, and we head toward a recession. Gasoline prices rise, school districts cannot afford to operate school buses, and it costs more to get raw materials to the factories and goods to the market place.
And even though truckers seem to be the guys who try to run over us on the highways, America is going to be in very big trouble the day those trucks stop rolling. Among other things, that's how our food gets to the food stores.
We do have untapped oil deposits in this country. But to explore and exploit those deposits, we are going to have to upset the caribou and the spotted owls and the sea otters. And a lot of people don't want to do that.
So we won't conserve and we won't exploit new domestic fields. And that means we need Persian Gulf oil. We can live without Iraq's oil and Kuwait's oil, but we would have a very tough time living without Saudi Arabia's oil, too.
And that is why we sent troops over there. So Saddam Hussein, who gobbled up Kuwait rather quickly, would not also gobble up the nearby Saudi oil fields.
It was that simple. And that is why we are sitting in the sand there now. Maybe economic sanctions against Iraq will work and maybe they won't. Maybe we will invade Kuwait and maybe we won't.
But, bottom line, we will protect the Saudi oil fields. We will protect the oil we need.
And I think President Bush is wrong to make this fight seem as if it is for anything other than oil. I think it is wrong to pretend we are there to protect freedom and democracy.
None of the countries we are trying to help in the Persian Gulf is a democracy. Not Kuwait, not Saudi Arabia. So let's not pretend we are fighting to preserve freedom.
What we are fighting to preserve is the oil that makes America go.
That, I think Americans can understand. And that, I think many people will support.
And there is another reason the conflict in the Persian Gulf will have more support than the war in Vietnam did: Back in the '60s, the baby boomers were draft age and the Vietnam war was a war they had to fight. Today, the baby boomers are too old to go and fight. Others will have to do it for them. And it is always easier to send others.
So, at least for the short term, I think most of the American people will support keeping our troops in the gulf.
The protests, of course, will continue. And there is nothing wrong with protest. It is healthy. But next time a few thousand protesters show up for a rally, I think they should ask themselves one thing: How did they get there?
By car? By plane? By train?
All those things run on oil.
America wants that oil. And sometimes you have to fight for the things you want.