we shiver in the shadow of war, waiting to be shocked
and awed by the malevolent magnificence of militarism
in action, some in the antiwar movement are calling
action." What this amounts to is what
happened the other day in downtown San Francisco,
when about 200 people marched to the Pacific Stock Exchange,
and a few dozen of these sat down on the steps, refusing
to move, while their brethren disrupted traffic and
tied up the downtown area for hours. Why did they do
it? Let Warren
Langley, former president of the Pacific Stock Exchange,
and newly converted to antiwar activism, explain
it in his own words:
"It's my history and my lifetime.
This war seems very wrong for the entire world. I decided
I was willing to do whatever it takes to show a strong
stand against it."
me, me, it's all about Me! Langley's narcissism
is embarrassingly apparent. Like someone standing there
with his fly wide-open, happily unaware, he perfectly
embodies the unabashed self-absorption of the "direct
action" movement. In nominating themselves for
sainthood, the direct-actionists are acting out their
personal fantasies on the political stage. In their
little morality play they are the stars, moral paragons
who, by the sheer power of their goodness and bravery,
will shut down the war machine. "Shut
it down!" is their slogan, and they mean the
whole country. On the day war comes, we are instructed
to go on strike and pour out into the streets. Not only
that, but, as the Washington Post reports:
"Frustrated dissenters plan
sit-ins and blockades at government buildings, financial
centers, congressional offices and military bases and
installations. The day after war begins, dissenters
in at least 50 cities are planning direct actions. In
New York's Times Square, protesters are planning to
stop traffic. In Detroit, protesters are planning 72
hours of nonviolent disruptions at government installations.
In St. Louis, they are planning to block the entrance
to a Boeing bomb-making factory. North of Santa Barbara,
Calif., activists – many of them religious leaders experienced
in civil disobedience – are strategizing to shut down
Vandenberg Air Force Base."
is hard to imagine what the rationale behind this strategy
could possibly be, other than the psychological satisfaction
afforded by grandstanding. As Zein
El-Amine, described by the Washington Post
as "a Washington, D.C.-based organizer," explained
"'People want to do more, and
those of us who have been activists for a long time
have become demoralized by protesting that has not resulted
in any recognition.' Civil disobedience, he said, 'is
just the next logical step.'"
Never mind that such a strategy will
alienate 99.99% of the population. All that really matters
is that El-Amine and his compadres feel better about
themselves and get a little "recognition."
Me, me, me – it's all about me!
Aside from this rather unappealing psychological
profile of the direct-actionist mentality, there are
three major problems with this approach as a strategy.
First and foremost is its almost child-like naivete.
What, exactly, is the point of trying to infiltrate
Vandenberg Air Force Base? It's hard to believe they
really think they can win a pitched battle against squadrons
of enraged Military Police. No one doubts the ability
of the U.S. military to fend off such a hare-brained
assault: what the nutball caucus of the antiwar movement
is counting on is the unwillingness of the authorities
to make martyrs out of them. But, if I were them, I
wouldn't count on it. As the Sacramento Bee reports:
"Security forces at Vandenberg
Air Force Base may use 'deadly force against protesters
if they infiltrate the military complex if a war starts,
officials said. Some anti-war activists plan to trespass
onto base grounds in hopes of disturbing Vandenberg's
mission and to vandalize sensitive equipment they contend
helps guide the war effort. Vandenberg officials revealed
Friday that military security police may shoot to kill,
if necessary, to protect base residents and machinery."
road to sainthood often ends in martyrdom. Are these
crackpots really willing to go that far? I hope not.
It is clear, at any rate, that such a strategy would
be largely ineffective. That is, it would not accomplish
its ostensible goal: to stop or even slow down the U.S.
assault on Iraq. On the other hand, it would
succeed in giving John Ashcroft and the War Party a
perfect means by which to test the more draconian clauses
of the "Patriot"
Act – and a rationale for proposing even
harsher legislation in the near future.
"direct action" faction would put the broad
antiwar movement directly in the crosshairs of the state
apparatus. Their suicidal actions could be the catalyst
that unleashes a tsunami of repression unlike any seen
in this country since World War I. Open
authoritarians like David
Horowitz, who accused the hundreds of thousands
of antiwar marchers in this country of being "Communists"
guilty of "sedition," are licking
their chops, gleeful at the opportunity to call
for jailing their political opponents – all in the name
of defending "freedom," of course.
the direct-actionist approach will alienate most everyone.
From an antiwar point of view, it was utterly pointless
to go into downtown San Francisco and tie up traffic
for hours, making everyone late. Working class people,
stuck in traffic, had plenty of time to brood on the
question of what makes people behave like total jerks.
In the San Francisco Bay Area, the most antiwar region
of the country, most didn't mistake the antiwar cause
for its ostensible representatives. Elsewhere, however,
enraged commuters may perhaps be forgiven if their support
for the war is emboldened.
Another big problem with the direct-actionist
panacea is that it is bound to be a complete flop. The
plan is, essentially, to call for a general strike that
will bring the country to a screeching halt. As the
"The day – or days – after war begins
could see the largest coordinated displays of civil
disobedience in the United States since the civil rights
era. Protesters around the country plan on blockading
avenues, stopping traffic and generally disrupting business
Generals are always fighting the last
war, and that goes for the direct-actionists in the
peace camp as well. But the grandiose comparison to
the civil rights movement is absurd. The position of
the antiwar movement in this country is in no way analogous
to that of blacks in the South who had to live under
Crow. In the latter case, what Americans saw on
television were searing images of African-Americans
being humiliated and spat upon for trying to get a cup
of coffee at a lunch counter. In the case of the former,
however, they will see a bunch of spoiled children sitting
down in the middle of traffic and throwing a public
The narcissist, by definition, cannot
see himself as others see him. Blinded by self-love,
the direct-actionist cannot see the immense apparatus
of repression represented by the State, that will crush
his dreams of vainglory as effortlessly as one swats
a bothersome fly. In announcing
the policy of using deadly force to stop incursions
into Vandenberg Air Force Base, Major Stacee
Bako showed a much more acute and realistic understanding
of the theory of the State than the quasi-Marxoid direct-actionists
and self-proclaimed "anarchists":
"This is not fun and games anymore.
We're living in post 9/11. We don't know what's going
to happen with the war effort in Iraq. These folks have
got to realize their actions. ... They're illegal intruders."
The State never was about fun and games,
and it is now embarked on a deadly serious business,
that of extending its dominion overseas in a frankly
imperial adventure. The conniving cabal of chickenhawks
that has usurped power in Washington is not only willing
but eager to crush domestic dissent. If anyone was in
a joking mood, the idea that a few self-deluded publicity
hounds represent an obstacle to the War Party's plans
would be laughable. But this is no laughing matter.
These fools are hurrying us along the path to war and
repression by building popular support for both. They
might as well be on the War Party's payroll, and no
doubt some of them are.
is wrong with peaceful and legal protests on the day
war breaks out, but the advocates of disruption who
self-righteously howl "No business as usual!"
and advocate illegal acts have got to be told off, in
no uncertain terms. How dare they endanger the
rest of us, and subject the organized antiwar movement
to State repression at a fateful moment like this?!
It's outrageous, and impermissible. In San Francisco,
in the aftermath of the last mass protests, a contingent
of self-proclaimed "anarchists," who go under
the vague general rubric of the "Black Bloc,"
off from the main march and descended into the financial
district, breaking windows, throwing rocks, and creating
havoc. Dozens were arrested, but most were out of jail
in a few hours later, and all charges were dropped.
sinister note is added to this turn of events by the
revelation that undercover agents of the San Francisco
Police Department were deployed
in the crowd, videotaping protesters and doing …
whatever. The antiwar movement of the 1960s, you'll
recall, was thoroughly infiltrated with police agents
who routinely provoked violence, in the guise of "radicalism,"
in order to bring discredit on the antiwar cause.
then, smashing windows is out, but what to do on the
first day of the war? Stay home from school? Don't go
to work? That is the somewhat milder version of the
"No Business As Usual" mantra being pushed
by "Not In Our Name" (NION).
This is a tactical error based on an over-estimation
of the antiwar movement's numbers. Even if every person
who marched in the massive February rallies participated
in NION's symbolic general strike, that would amount
to only a very small fraction of the general population.
Not only that, but it just goes to show how disassociated
from reality the direct-actionists really are. Most
people, of course, can't afford to miss a day of work,
and, in this economy, can hardly afford to be fired.
One can sympathize, of course, with
the idea that we have to somehow mark this occasion,
Day One of the American Empire, by doing something unusual.
But why not use that day to gather together, look to
the future, and come up with some new tactics?
We're going to war without having a
real debate, either in the Congress or in the country:
this is often said by the antiwar opposition. Well,
then, instead of preaching to the converted, let's challenge
the other side: I propose a series of town hall debates
at which we confront the advocates of war, right and
left, and expose them in full view of the American people.
Both visually and intellectually, such
a device is so much more interesting than a sea
of chanting protesters: it has a built-in dramatic structure
made for television. The 21st century equivalent
Lincoln-Douglas debates, re-enacted in hundreds
of cities and towns across the country: what better
way to reassert the legitimacy of dissent and throw
down the gauntlet to the War Party? If the civilian
advocates of this war fail to pick it up, then they
lay themselves open to the charge of cowardice. We can
then point to the anomaly of a War Party that doesn't
flinch at mowing down whole cities full of Iraqi civilians,
but is too scared to face their fellow Americans on
the battlefield of ideas.
are, after all, plenty of questions that need to be
posed, as this war progresses, escalates, and spreads
throughout the Middle East, the first one being: when
and where does it end? How long will the troops
stay? How much is this going to cost us? How soon will
a plebiscite be held? Do they plan on admitting Iraq
to the Union as the 51st state, or will it
be accorded commonwealth status, like Puerto Rico? The
American people think we are going in there to clean
out the bad guys, and then declare victory and go home.
Wait until they find out that it
will take several hundred thousand troops, in place
indefinitely, to keep the peace. As more reservists
are relocated overseas, and the costs become all too
apparent, the soft support for this intervention will
a nuclear attack by Kim Il Jong on American forces in
Korea, or some diplomatic rabbit pulled out of a hat,
war in Iraq by the end of this week seems likely. What
antiwar activists must realize is that we are in this
for the long haul. The day war starts marks not the
end but only the beginning of our struggle. On that
day, antiwar activists should meet in conclave, and
watch the horror with like-minded souls: not with "shock
and awe," but with full understanding of what we
are up against, and what it will take to win.
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