Perhaps Starbucks will have to look to its laurels at least as long as the war in Iraq continues.

There is the cliche that there’s nothing new under the sun. Thirty-nine years back the swelling antiwar movement against the war in Vietnam created and opened a coffeehouse and counseling network.

The very first “franchise” was located outside Ft. Jackson, S.C. Just like when Starbucks opened with people lining outside the door, throngs of GI’s sipped Folger’s. Over the next year 20 coffeehouses sprang up outside major U.S. Military bases.

Today antiwar organizations are once again planning how active duty GI’s can be recruited. Organizers (sort of a shade of the American union movement there) from Citizen Soldier, a GI-veterans advocacy group met with anti-war vets and active duty grunts in Fayetteville, N.C. home of Ft. Bragg and it’s 40,000 combat soldiers.

Stars and Stripes, the media voice for the U.S. Armed Services, polled soldiers on the line in Iraq during March of 2006 reporting that 72 per cent wanted out within a year and 29% said right now would do just fine.

While the growing anti-war movement has its hopes, there is a fact of life, much of the fuel feeding the fire during the War in Vietnam was spelled d-r-a-f-t.

America’s armed forces are far less representative of the country today then they were 39 years ago. During the Southeast Asian conflict, the Army-Marine private earned $300 a month, lived in austere barracks, eating meals in dingy chowhalls. Todays soldiers earn a decent salary allowing them to munch down at Appleby’s or Mickey D’s; drive there in a good car and the better pay means half of our service people are married.

The Pentagon offers robust to say the least bonuses to counter serious retention issues with some elite troops receiving $100,000 to re up. Ten thousand dollars is commonly paid to induce re-enlistment.

Two other big time changes have also occurred since the Vietnam War era: every sixth soldier is a female, except in the Marines; the shrinkage in active duty forces and the demands of combat in Iraq means more and more reservists and National Guardsmen shoulder the burden of armed conflict where they seldom have had to before especially at the level now demanded of them.

During ‘Nam, GI’s identified the coffeehouses with the counter culture sweeping the United States with LSD, Timothy Leary and other psychedelic drugs as well as heroin as icons which along with changes in America’s sexual mores and gender values helped create challenges to the military’s chain of command. Those of us old enough can recall the American Servicemen’s (sic) Union which demanded an end to all the “siring and saluting.”

Today there’s a huge difference with much more diffusion in our military blending, goths, red necks, yuppies, gays (not openly within the services) born again Christians and many different ethnic groups.
Latte’s might be the order of the day in 21st Century GI coffeehouses along with wi fi access and a big parking lot.

The anti-Iraq War’s coffeehouse movement hopes the Ft. Bragg pilot program will expand nationwide hopefully nearly as fast as Starbuck’s has worldwide. The thought is a lively mix of free musical performances (Joan Baez, oh where are thou when so needed?), stand up comedy (“Good Morning Vietnam”) a nod to Robin Williams; political pep talks (hopefully President Carter will stay hale & hearty) will be popular with a significant number of our modern GI’s whether they be “Jane,” or “Joe.”

[Edited by Simon – Factual change it was Timothy Leary, not O’Leary]

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