Building A Peace Movement In Wartime
the launching of cruise missiles and bombs the war is truly on.
It would be prudent to take American leaders at their word that
this is likely to be a protracted conflict think Cold War rather
than Gulf War if only because war is the health of the state
and a protracted war can serve as justification for accretions of
may be episodes of relative calm and respite from direct military
conflict times when, as President Bush would have it, the forces
of freedom are enjoying invisible victories over the invisible enemy.
But it is probably wise to expect something resembling a wartime
footing for at least several years and possibly more.
could argue that this is only a more active phase of a continuing
conflict. Back in the 1980s sociologist Robert Nesbitt gave the
Jefferson address for the Smithsonian Institution and noted that
in his view what would surprise the founders the most about the
United States was that it had been in a constant state of war for
70 years and counting. Most Americans thought active war would end
or at least ratchet downward a bit with the demise of the Soviet
Union and the end of communism as a worldwide threat.
from neocons aside, however, the defense budget was not really reduced
all that much and U.S. commitments were certainly not scaled back.
The propensity to meddle in the troubled affairs of other countries
never abated. The Clintonistas might have preferred symbolic skirmishes
and bombing from 15,000 feet to the kind of hand-to-hand combat
that some traditionalists believe is the defining characteristic
of true manhood for other mothers sons. But they continued
to intervene, and the regnant ideology that bombs and military
action are the most effective if not the only way to deal with nasty
folk out there in the rest of the world was reinforced rather
than seriously challenged.
the missiles and bombs of the last few days represent a serious
ratcheting up of military hostilities. With military hostilities
will come changes in domestic policies and repression, from the
relatively gentle repression of self-censorship in the face of war
enthusiasm to much less gentle forms.
what are those who believe in peaceful policies and restraint in
the rest of the world to do during these relatively active phases
an old saw to the effect that patriotism is the love of ones
own country, while nationalism is hostility toward some other country
or countries. Its a simplistic distinction that might not
be entirely valid in every case. But its a useful distinction
with a certain amount of analytical power.
that is the distinction, Im a patriot but not a nationalist.
I would urge other antiwar activists and writers to think about
adopting a similar stance if they can do so conscientiously.
are people who genuinely believe America is a pox on the earth and
the source of most of the globalist capitalist evil that threatens
everything good, true and beautiful in the world. If thats
really their sincere belief, bless em. But I dont think
that viewpoint will sell very well in the American body politic.
an enthusiastic capitalist unfortunately a theorist rather than
a practitioner, so I have trouble meeting my mortgage payment every
month. I think that what mainly afflicts the troubled spots of the
earth is a lack of capitalism or of free markets, to refine the
terms a little bit. What irks me most about US foreign policy is
not that it spreads anything resembling capitalism though it
often enough does serve the interests of certain US mega-corporations
but that it subverts genuine free trade and free markets.
that said, as the war on terrorism drags on and I think our would-be
masters intend to drag it on for as long as they can, using it to
enhance state power at home and abroad Im more than happy
to join hands and form coalitions with people who believe that the
IMF is an instrument of global capitalism instead of global socialism,
so long as theyre sincerely interested in slowing down the
spread of global militarism.
I, for one, will express myself in terms of American patriotism,
of this country being true to its origins, ideals and better angels
(and the real wishes of the majority of American citizens), rather
than characterizing the United States as a demonic force in the
world. I yield to few in my criticism of US foreign policy as fashioned
by arrogant ignoramuses with educations so incomplete that they
are barely aware of the vast stretches of their ignorance. But I
think of America more as a blundering, essentially good-natured
giant rather than a malignant force though the results are often
as people can do so and still be true to themselves, I would urge
others to avoid characterizing America as evil.
of the reasons the United States is ill-suited to the role of world
policeman is that for various reasons of history, geography and
culture, few Americans know very much or care to know very much
about the rest of the world. (Unfortunately, too many of those with
an interest are more interested in trying to run the world than
in trying to understand it.) As a consequence, most Americans are
baffled and then indignant when confronted with a litany of the
sins of the CIA and American hegemonists and the implication that
this country is a malignant sore on the world.
Americans know that they arent personally malignant, and in
fact are generous and openhearted. They find it difficult to take
in the idea that their country is malignant, and are more likely
to reject the idea than think about it when confronted with a hostile
the other hand, most Americans dont have much confidence in
politicians or the government, and might be open to the idea that
they are making horrendous mistakes, either because they fail to
understand the full implications of their actions or because institutional
imperatives push them in the direction of unwise actions. So I advocate
a patriotic tone even a reminder that it is not only our birthright
but to some extent our American duty to be willing to criticize
the government and hold it in check rather than a blame-America-first
of America First, I do think it is imperative not to follow in the
footsteps of those early critics of American interventionism and
war fever in at least one respect. Once Pearl Harbor was attacked
and the United States declared war in 1941, almost all the members
of the America First Committee were essentially silent in public
for the duration of the war. Some became supporters of the war effort
and others kept their criticism or misgivings to themselves, whether
because of fear of offending the majority or essential patriotism.
can make a case either way as to whether that was the wise course.
In todays circumstances, however, I believe it is essential
that critics of the War Party maintain a steady drumbeat of criticism
and sometimes opposition. For starters, Congress hasnt declared
war, despite all the metaphors and military action, so theres
no justification for wartime repression of speech and criticism.
If were smart, it should be responsible criticism, delivered
in measured tones and backed by solid research and a reasonable
appreciation of the facts as we are able to determine them.
may be circumstances in which it is more effective to criticize
particular tactics or actions rather than getting to the root of
whats wrong with American foreign policy in every presentation.
We should be prepared for the likelihood that we will sometimes
get little attention and will sometimes be dismissed as cranks.
But we should determine that we will not relent in our determination
to change American foreign policy over time which means we have
to be willing to criticize it at almost every step.
have no idea how dangerous this course might be for some. It is
certainly likely that patriotism will morph into jingoism from time
to time and critics will be threatened. It is possible that we will
face official sanction, especially if Attorney General John Ashcroft
gets the kind of repressive "anti-terrorist" legislation
he craves. But I think the best defense is to establish a record
at the outset of calm, reasoned, thoughtful, patriotically grounded
the United States embarks on a campaign our leaders assure us is
narrowly targeted on known terrorists and their supporters, a campaign
to protect freedom and democracy, there are subtle dangers of which
we should be aware. It is typical during time of war or military
action for tolerance of differing opinions, of different cultures,
even of innocent eccentricity to decline. This is likely to be especially
true of a war initiated by an act of terrorism on American soil,
when most authorities expect terrorists of some sort (perhaps not
directly connected to those who carried out the first atrocities)
to seek to retaliate with another act of dramatic destruction.
we have heard retired military people on television urging Americans
to be ready to report suspicious activities to the FBI.
vigilance is to be expected and is important, given the circumstances.
But we must be vigilant and persistent ourselves, reminding our
fellow citizens that among the values assaulted by the terrorists
are freedom of speech and the right to be odd, different or unusual
and be left alone.
freedom doesnt, or shouldnt, end during wartime; indeed,
it is desirable in many ways that it be encouraged. Promoting unity
and discouraging troubling questions are not only subversive of
enduring American values, suppressing honest criticism can often
lead to bad decisions.
the weeks and months to come we and other Americans will question
everything from the timing of certain attacks to the weapons used
to ways to minimize casualties all the way to the broader
question of whether we should be in a war at all. This is healthy
in a free country. A strong America can not only tolerate impertinent
questions, it will become stronger as a result.
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