The mock soldier's grave in the front yard, along with the bottles of urine in the refrigerator and the anti-war posters festooning the first floor, tell visitors this is not just another group house for politically minded Washington DC twentysomethings.
The bottles, says Adam Kokesh, a tattooed, muscular former US marine sergeant and prominent member of a community of virulently anti-war Iraq veterans based in the house, are to be tested for depleted uranium, a munitions component thought to be harmful to soldiers exposed to it.
The house, in a rundown neighbourhood of the US capital, is headquarters for Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), a group with more than 1,200 members across the country and on military duty in Iraq. It is also a flophouse for visiting and needy veterans, a "frat-house on steroids" in the words of one resident, and a friendly space where veterans can commune with like-minded comrades.
On a recent Sunday evening, I joined Kokesh, several other Iraq veterans, and a crew of other anti-war activists for a cook-out at the vets' house. They talked politics, shared war stories, drank beer and wine. Then, and over several other meetings, the members told me about the domestic situations peculiar to the group: the bottles of urine stored in the refrigerator, a member's inordinate rage at malfunctioning computer equipment, and a shared sense of purpose and experience that mitigates and outweighs the strife.
The members of the IVAW house are the newest incarnation of a long tradition of anti-war activism by US military veterans. They are the tattooed, web-savvy descendents of the Spanish-American war veterans who decried US torture of Filipino rebels at the turn of the 20th century, and the shaggy-haired Vietnam vets who tossed away their medals in protest. They offer legitimacy to the anti-war movement, showing that peace activists aren't necessarily anti-military or motivated by knee-jerk opposition to George Bush. Some were against the war from the start, but had already joined up and hoped they could speed US involvement in Iraq to an end. Others were afraid to resist deployment or were unaware how to do so...
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