November 21, 2003

A Tale of Two Americas
Melding the Elderly and the Anarchists

by Anthony Gancarski

Unsurprisingly, the mainstream media's coverage of upwards of 30,000 people marching in Miami in protest against the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) decontextualizes the act of protest itself. To the average person watching Wolf Blitzer hem and haw over the footage of baton-wielding police regulating an unpredictable crowd, the protests mean very little. "Thousands take to the streets", intones the CNN voiceover, but the network can't be bothered to talk about why.

But why they protest, really, is the question. It's not a particularly sexy event; the gist of the FTAA meeting in Miami, according to Cuba's Granma, is that "the United States will no longer press its FTAA project in its entirety, which covers the free transit of capital, tenders of the same kind for state purchases, subjection to courts beyond national borders but totally excluding subsidies on products or merchandise. [The US] has decided to make the process of establishing the FTAA more flexible in order to avoid talk of failure. Thus each nation can enter into negotiations with another, or in groups on areas of interest to them." Despite the accommodations proposed by the US, the Cuban paper claims that many of the protesters themselves are immigrants from Latin America and the Caribbean.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, for its part, claims that this weekend is a rallying point for anti-globalization protesters. "As many as 20,000 demonstrators – trade unionists, farmers, retirees, environmentalists, anti-war activists and anarchists – are expected to noisily make known their opposition to the proposed trade pact for 800 million consumers. Not since "the battle in Seattle," when hundreds of demonstrators went on a rampage that caused $2 million in damage during the 1999 World Trade Organization meeting, have the anti-globalization stars been so aligned."

Interesting equations there from the Atlanta paper. "Retirees" meld seamlessly into "anarchists", and it surprises me that it's taken the media so long to turn the Greatest Generation into scapegoats. In every Grandpa Simpson lurks the feisty heart of Emma Goldman, apparently.

So what is this all about? Do people in their golden years bristle with anger over "free trade", leading them inexorably to street protest? Or are they really protesting something somehow larger, even more salient?

I believe it's the latter, and that belief is one of the reasons I write as I do and where I do. It's easy enough for political commentators to sell out, especially when one considers how thoroughly foundation money pervades political discourse. Pervades it, and cheapens it beyond repair. How many times is it possible to watch Respected Commentator A squabble with Left-Liberal Firebrand B over some piddly piece of minutia like Laci Peterson, Michael Jackson, or some other "on-the-edge" topic? The political spectrum domestically is a hustle, has been for a long time, and it's hard not to see the increased radicalism of the elderly as a response to the mendacity of the establishment media.

Besides, the radicals are right on some issues. Despite the loopiness of the International ANSWER crew, their position on the Iraq invasion, if heeded, would've saved a lot of Americans heartbreak. Boys wouldn't be coming home with stumps where limbs once were, and women wouldn't be coming back home under "medical hardship" [which is increasingly code for getting knocked up in country, and sent home to raise a squalling bastard child of a humanitarian war].

Active duty soldiers, meanwhile, understand that they're being sold out for some purpose – but don't want to undertake the demystifying task of what that is. Recent speculation that there are no less than 50,000 guerrillas in Iraq begs the question: can America win this war? As a Marine of long-standing wrote in an email to me, "Army Gen. Eric Shinseki, who I agree with, earned the ire of Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz when he stated in February that the occupation of Iraq could take "several hundred thousand troops."

But America does not have several hundred thousand troops available for Iraq detail, and that manpower shortage may have led to adoption of questionable tactics. Again, from my correspondent: "People need to realize that the "US vs. Iraq" during the invasion was basically a no contest, no one ever questioned that our forces were better trained, better equipped, etc. The issue that I constantly brought up was what's next after we win? Obviously we don't just leave. But what was the plan for occupation? It appears there wasn't much of a plan, and that was the entire problem all along. Remember, in basic training, regardless of the service you're in, you learn about weaponry, how to blow things up, first aid, and how to take orders. That is not what you do to train a peacekeeping/occupation force, but that's essentially what we are now. There have been many blunders already, where US troops accidentally kill Iraqi civilians."

But aren't we liberators? My correspondent begs to differ. "I think it's obvious that no matter what spin is put on what's going on in Iraq, that we aren't prepared for what's happening. The propaganda about Iraqis welcoming the US was Disney-like fantasy, the reality is what's happening now, and even if we doubled the number of troops, we'd still face guerrilla opposition. Think about how many losses the Russians suffered during World War II, estimated at 20-25 million people. 9/11 is nothing compared to that. Compare the 58,000+ American troops lost in Vietnam to the more than 3 million Vietnamese dead, with millions more wounded and/or displaced. So I'm not sure it's even a question of numbers, but resolve of who we're fighting. And no matter how many hospitals or schools our troops open up, there will still be guerrilla attacks."

Richard Nixon wrote a book once with the title No More Vietnams. Someone needs to write one called No More Cakewalks. Especially since even active service members are becoming numbed by the ever-changing visage of the next Hitler/Stalin: "It's rare for me to hear the name 'Osama,' almost like no one cares anymore. Don't take these words as the gospel truth however, I'm sure it's different in other units, this is just what I've experienced. Service members can get tunnel vision. Two years ago, it was all Osama. We never caught him, but no one cares, because it's all Saddam now. Who will the next bogeyman be, I wonder."

Even if no one's sure Why We Fight, at least there are perks attached: "I don't know how the other services are doing with their recruiting, but the Marine Corps is making their numbers. However, I wouldn't be surprised to see a mass number of service members leaving the military over the next year or two when their contracts are up. I'm leaving, mostly because of this administration, and I can't take the chance that Bush will be elected. On the other end of that though, the economy still sucks, despite the baby steps it's taken recently, and it's a gamble to leave the guaranteed pay, medical/dental, and the other benefits the military offers, so because of that, the services may still retain a lot of key personnel."

Ironic, isn't it, that the closer we get to the front lines, the fewer niceties about "liberation" we hear. The active duty military understands what the War on Terror is; a shell game for old men and their younger, flabby, soft-palmed, unctuous, duplicitous, and effete neoconservative adherents. All Hell will break loose domestically when these newly-embittered veterans find common cause with the elderly and the anarchists, and it looks like that day is coming soon enough.

~ Anthony Gancarski

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Anthony Gancarski, the author of Unfortunate Incidents, writes for The American Conservative, CounterPunch, and His web journalism was recognized by Utne Reader Online as "Best of the Web." A writer for the local Folio Weekly, he lives in Jacksonville, Florida.

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