A Cafe Opens to Serve a Mission to End the War
By MICHELLE YORK
On Veterans Day, John Hartlaub wandered into the newest cafe in Watertown, N.Y.
It was sparsely furnished, with three Internet stations, a black sofa and an offering of hot or cold cider. A customer who actually wanted coffee would have to buy it a few doors away.
Mr. Hartlaub stayed most of the afternoon anyway. He
browsed a few dozen military books for sale, then
pulled up a folding chair to watch "Poison Dust," a
He left with mostly positive feelings. "It could end up
being very informative and helpful," said Mr. Hartlaub,
41, who has served in the military on and off since
The organizers of the cafe were hoping for such a reaction. But, being not far from the largest military installation in the Northeast, they are prepared for backlash, too.
They say theirs is the country's first G.I. coffeehouse for the war in Iraq. It is a project of the peace movement that is focused on changing opinions within the military, with an ultimate goal of ending the war.
During the Vietnam War, about 20 G.I. coffeehouses, as they were known, operated around the country. Each was close to a large military base and was intended to support the efforts of soldiers who were against the war. The coffeehouses were incubators for war resistance and part of the counterculture. Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix were on the jukebox. A decent cup of coffee was on the menu.
"It was extremely important," said David Zeiger, the writer and director of "Sir! No Sir!" a 2005 documentary about the G.I. movement to end the Vietnam War. "One thing coffeehouses will do is link civilians and soldiers."
The idea is that the two can meet, learn about movements against the war and talk about the contradictions of what the public hears versus what soldiers have witnessed, he said. In the past, coffeehouse patrons were sometimes subjected to arrests and intimidation. A cafe in Mountain Home, Idaho, was firebombed, and another near Camp Pendleton, Calif., was shot up.
But the main organizer of Watertown's new coffeehouse,
called Different Drummer Internet Cafe, said he did not
expect such confrontations this time around. "The
After Mr. Ensign decided this year to open the coffeehouse, he sent out a few dozen letters asking for financing, including one to the Ben & Jerry's Foundation. "They talk a lot about peace," he said.
The appeals went unanswered. Undeterred, he used small
donations from activists, farm workers and war
resistance leagues to start the project, which he
estimates will cost $50,000 a year. He chose Watertown,
a city of 27,000 people near the Canadian border and
Fort Drum, home of the 10th Mountain Division. The
Mr. Ensign has three goals for the cafe. They are to
allow the free exchange of ideas, to provide accurate
information and to be an enjoyable gathering place,
Most in the community do not seem to know what to make
of the cafe, several people said. Watertown's mayor,
Jeffrey E. Graham, said he did not attend its ribbon
cutting on Oct. 27. In part, because it was
inconvenient and in part because he was not sure of the
cafe's purpose. "I don't think people want to be openly
In the cafe's first three weeks, foot traffic has been
minimal. Its manager, Cinthia Mercante, who served for
eight years in the military before the Persian Gulf war
Paul Foley, a volunteer who works in highway design, said he hoped the community would warm up to the cafe."There's been a little talk," he said. "But the people who come will see that we're not dangerous rabble- rousers. We're just giving people a place to talk."