Warren Langley, a former president of the Pacific Exchange in San Francisco, was arrested March 14 while blocking the entrance to the exchange during an antiwar protest. The 60-year-old Air Force veteran talked to us about why the conflict in Iraq prompted him to protest war for the first time, and what he is doing to get others in the business community involved.
What's different about this war that led you to get involved opposing it?
I was in my 20s and 30s [during the Vietnam War] and my view of the world was different. I was in the Air Force and was trying to do my job as best I could. … I didn't question whether the war was right or wrong or any of those things at that point in time. [Mr. Langley served as a U.S.-based engineer and professor for the Air Force during the Vietnam War.]
Now, I turned 60 in January so I have a different perspective of the world. … I watched things unfold after Sept. 11 and it seemed to be that we jumped from protecting against terrorism to focusing on Iraq, and that never made sense to me. As we kind of marched through the fall there was this huge disconnect between what are we doing and why are we doing this. … It started to feel like a political war to me.
Fundamentally, I think war is the last resort. War is when you can't find other ways to accomplish your means, and it appeared to me there were lots of ways to disarm Saddam Hussein without invading him. That just didn't make sense to me and I always rebel against things that just seem totally out of whack. I have to say that that feeling got stronger on my 60th birthday in January. My wife said, "Well, what do you want to do for your birthday?" And I said, "Well, I'd like to march in this march they're having here in San Francisco." And so on my 60th birthday I went down and marched.
What was your role up until then in the antiwar movement?
I had been writing to [my senators] and asking them why they haven't been speaking out more strongly against the war because they're my elected representatives. I've always followed the rules and that's what you're supposed to do.
How did it feel to get arrested?
It's one of those things where you're nervous because you've never done it before and it is certainly something that you've been taught all your life is wrong, so there's this overhanging guilt. The police acted very appropriately and it wasn't confrontational. There was a group of us sitting around in a circle at the intersection and the police went around with a last warning, and then you got up and they handcuffed you. It was a bit strange to suddenly have this helmeted guy with a face mask, a plastic face shield, putting handcuffs around my arms and putting me into a prison bus with metal barriers all around it. That felt really strange. The next day I was actually riding in a taxi someplace and I saw a police car and my stomach flip-flopped. … I do look at the world slightly differently because I went through that process.
How would you characterize the protesters?
There are a lot of different groups. There was a very strong veterans' group and I kind of identified with those guys. There were more traditional protesters, if you will, and then there were some odds and ends like me. A trader I used to know very well from the floor came and sat with me on the street until the police warned us for the last time and then he got up and left. People were mostly in their 20s and 30s and my gray hair stood out.
Is the goal now still to stop the war?
You don't want to take on things that are totally impossible. You need to take on things that are achievable.
What do you think the protestors will achieve?
I hope it makes politicians who are in office right now more accountable and gives those who need it more courage to stand up because they realize there are people out there, more than they thought, who think a certain way. I hope in the next year or two it affects choices we have to make about supporting peace in Israel, about reorganizing Iraq, about not going into North Korea and about not going into Iran.
What have you found the reaction to the war to be in the business community?
I think people who are in the middle of their careers, I found a number of them who agree with me. But they are reluctant to speak out because they see it as a risk. If I'm running a business, what if half my customers don't like what I say?
What's going to happen when you go to court?
I don't think I'll contest it. I did it. I'm used to consequences. When you make choices, you have consequences. [Protesting] is one of things I'm most proud of in my life. I feel like my taking a little bit of risk myself has had an effect. I certainly didn't stop the war, but certainly maybe will add one stick to the pile of stopping the next war.
Kudos to the Journal for this interview, which presents a point of view quite different from its opinion pages. In the online version there was a picture and biographical highlights, a nice tribute to an ordinary hero.