I went to a peace rally the other day, and, I'll tell ya, it was almost enough to turn me into a warmonger. The event, which took place in San Francisco's Dolores Park, and was organized by the "International A.N.S.W.E.R." (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) coalition a front group for the Stalinoid Workers World Party started out promisingly: with a moment of silence for the 6000-plus victims of the twin towers attack. But, as at the Washington demonstration, this graceful act was followed by a moment of silence "for all the many thousands of people killed by the oppressive United States throughout the world." Say what?
I am not one to downplay the overseas crimes of the US government, but this struck me as a moral outrage: to equate the US government, in this instance, with Osama Bin Laden is not only counterintuitive (for any normal person) but also grossly immoral. Even as the US government wages a futile and counterproductive war against the Afghan people, its spokespersons go out of their way to emphasize that they are not targeting civilians, and there can be no doubt that the military has been given orders to avoid civilian casualties at almost any cost. Indeed, the US had a chance to get this Omar character, the Taliban chief, and yet this was vetoed by higher authorities. Bin Laden and his gang of murderous thugs, on the other hand, make no bones about targeting civilians: indeed, without having the balls to come right out and claim responsibility for 9/11, Bin Laden revels in it, and calls for more. The Left would like to characterize the US as the root of all evil in the world, but this time that argument is going to generate far more hostility than support. For it is worse than counterintuitive as far as most ordinary Americans are concerned: it is downright evil.
Brian Becker, the co-director of the International Action Center and a longtime member of the Workers World Party, gave voice to this know-nothing anti-Americanism in a press release issued by the ANSWER coalition: "People have asked us, if war and racism are not the answer, what is the answer? Are we for doing nothing? No. We believe the U.S. must do something if it wants to end the cycle of violence." Becker then goes on to list a series of demands: the US must get out of the region, the US must end the Iraq sanctions, and on and on, basically a reiteration of Osama bin Laden's own litany of grievances minus the religious rhetoric.
But what about Bin Laden? What is to happen to him? Should he and his minions face justice for murdering all those innocent people? We get no answers from ANSWER on this score. Nor do we get a clue as to how to deter future terrorism. As fear of an anthrax attack sweeps the nation, and every bottle of baby powder is suspect, Becker's non-answer the US government should do nothing except capitulate to the terrorists' demands invites contempt, if not repression.
It is of course not fair to tar the entire peace movement with the same brush: I have received a great many letters from sincere individuals who dislike the abrasive anti-Americanism of the IAC-Workers World nutballs, and are dismayed at the uniformly bad press generated by their activities. They ask me what can be done about it, and seek to cobble together some sort of working alternative. That may be possible, but I must say that the section of the peace movement not affiliated with the IAC isn't much better, and, in some ways, it is worse.
I went to a "Stop the War Teach-in" sponsored by the other left-dominated coalition, the "SF Town Hall Committee to Stop War and Hate," held October 7 in San Francisco's Mission district. The "Town Hall" coalition is dominated by the International Socialist Organization (ISO), American followers of the British Trotskyist Tony Cliff, who hate the IACers and invariably set up single-issue front groups to compete in the same milieu with their sectarian rivals. The Mission is a left-wing stronghold, a hothouse for every leftist party and grouplet under the sun, and they were all out there in front of Mission High School, hovering like vultures, hawking their unreadable newspapers and pouncing on passersby and attendees alike. In the lobby, every grouplet had their literature table set up, and behind them the same old Commies peddled the same old wares, sporting their berets and their Che Guevara T-shirts. Inside the auditorium, giant banners gave voice to the sectarian demands of numerous Commie outfits: "No War, No Racism," and "Defend Civil Liberties" declared the Socialist Alternative. The banner of the SF Town Hall Committee, which faced the audience directly, announced the coalition's "points of unity": "No US War, Stop Racist Attacks, Defend Civil Liberties." How about ending terrorism, and stopping anthrax attacks? Well, the latter hadn't happened quite yet, but the point is this: what is being evaded here?
The answer is: the same thing that was evaded all evening by most of the speakers, and, I suspect, by most of the audience: the 9/11 atrocity. There is no mention of this event in the "points of unity" but surely total condemnation of Bin Laden's barbarism should be a prerequisite for membership in any coalition that claims to speak for "peace." In spite of repulsing ordinary Americans with their nauseating moral equivalence, at least the IAC had the political smarts to open their event with a moment of silence for the 9/11 victims. The "Town Hall" crowd didn't even bother with a moment of silence, and instead the meeting was opened by local Green Party activist Medea Benjamin, who used her time to push her candidacy for a local utility district seat, and spent the balance talking about numerous alleged hate crimes directed against Arab-Americans. The 9/11 atrocity was never mentioned.
Then came the entertainment, one "Utah Phillips," a grizzled old hippie whose appearance was greeted by tumultuous applause. Who he? I asked of the person sitting next to me. She looked really surprised and even shocked, as if I'd asked "Who's Elvis Presley?" "You mean you don't know who Utah Phillips is? Why he's the father of bluegrass." And, she might have added, one of us, i.e. a left-wing celebrity and cult figure. And that, really, was the feeling evoked by the whole depressing evening: that I had stumbled on the meeting of some obscure cult, one whose arcane practices and theology place it entirely out of bounds for most ordinary Americans.
So I had to sit there and listen to the ramblings of Utah Phillips, who didn't sing for a good 45 minutes but just ranted and rambled on about the travails of striking workers, the inherent evil of all men (women, we are told, don't make war, but what about Maggie Thatcher?) and the dubious virtues of war tax resistance.
He wasn't a bad singer, when he finally got around to it, but a funny thing was the lyrics of his own song seemed to mock both him and his audience. It was some Woodie Guthrie tune, a bit of Commie agitprop all about how wars profit the evil capitalists (will somebody please explain this to those stock market gremlins who have been pulling the market down?). "Your big money goes where the missiles fly." This was said after a week in which the stock market had taken the single biggest week-long dive in its history, and billions of dollars in investments and savings evaporated virtually overnight. Oblivious to either economic or political reality, Phillips and his adoring audience launched into "Bread and Roses." Everybody knew all the words by heart .
Rather than confront the hard question of how America ought to rationally confront the threat of terrorism, the Town Hall teach-in seemed in large part dedicated to inaugurating if not exactly celebrating the initiation of Arabs as an officially-sanctioned victim group. Victims, that is, of "racism." But is it really racism to unreasonably attribute all sorts of hidden motives to Arab-Americans in the present circumstances? This is not singling out immigrants on account of their race, but on the suspicion that their religious loyalties may trump whatever affection they hold for their adopted country. But Eyad Kishawi, representing the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, glossed over this difference and instead spent a good deal of his time talking not only about "racism" but also about himself. He interrupted his autobiographical musings, briefly, to mention all the various groups accused of the twin towers attacks, but, curiously, doesn't mention Bin Laden by name. In the middle of an extended anti-Israel tirade, which had little if anything to do with the ostensible purpose of the "Town Hall" meeting, I noticed that this guy looks like a Bin Laden who has shaved off his beard and just kept the mustache, and wondered: Could it possibly be .?"
Kishawi's arguments, if they can be called that, sent a chill down my spine: ranting against "racism," he denounced the idea that Al Qaeda might have planted "sleepers" agents just now being reactivated after a long quiescence in order to carry out further acts of terrorism. A few days later, news of the first anthrax case hit the headlines: I wonder what Mr. Kishawi has to say now, but somehow doubt he'd be willing to acknowledge the utter wrongness of his position. He also claimed that unnamed agents of the US government called on him personally to warn him off from protesting the war: puffing up his chest and heaving it outward at the audience, he set himself up for thunderous applause as he bellowed his defiance. And lest it seem that he thinks this war is all about him, he let us in on his own personal analysis of what the war is all about: it is, he averred, nothing less than an effort to "consolidate the power of global capital." Thank you, comrade Kishawi .
Speaker after speaker mounted the podium and essentially uttered the same leftist banalities. In between appeals for Mumia, attacks on "global capital" and self-righteous tirades against "racism," there was a great emptiness, a silence so deafening that it seemed at least to my mind to drown out the speakers and blend their words into a cacophony of bromides and sloganeering. One speaker claimed that "they" are preparing "hundreds of thousands" of jail cells for "suspicious immigrants." This even as Bush was reiterating, for the umpteenth time, that this is not a war against Islam, and that we must not victimize Arab-Americans. Incurring the wrath of the neoconservatives, the President even met with a delegation of representative Arab-American groups, and spoke at a mosque. What more do these people want?
Only two speakers made any sense: Tania Farzana, of the Revolutionary Afghan Women's Alliance (RAWA), and our own Alexander Cockburn, columnist for the Nation magazine and editor of Counterpunch. Ms. Farzana, an American citizen and a remarkably well-spoken and self-assured young lady, was honest enough to admit to having "mixed feelings" about this war. She described the horrors of life under the Taliban, and focused, for a change, on the event that catalyzed the American response: she sincerely expressed her shock and unequivocally condemned terrorism.
Cockburn, too, was unequivocal on this score, and also admitted that the issue may have a degree of complexity not comprehended or fully appreciated by his leftist brethren. He took issue with Christopher Hitchens, his friend and fellow countryman, who has posited the existence of a bogeymen known as "Islamo-fascism" and is prepared to wage a world war against it. Most importantly, Cockburn disputed the odd notion that to examine the history of the region is to capitulate to terrorism or postulate any sort of "moral equivalence." Unlike Brian Becker, and some of the speakers at the Town Hall meeting, he clearly recognized terrorism as a problem to be faced, and made the telling point that a refusal to understand the historical roots of terrorism would mean a victory for Bin Laden.
Cockburn was his usually acerbic self, asking "Can anything good come out of this?" and quipping: "They stopped crop-dusters." The audience loved it, but then this smugly self-righteous and self-infatuated audience was just made for "in"-jokes. By way of translation: See, the crunchy-granola Left hates crop-dusters, on account of they spew all those terrible chemicals over everything, because, you see, the evil Corporate Giants are trying to poison us . Oh well, anyway, you had to be there, really to appreciate what a left-wing hootenanny the whole thing was, an event designed not to reach out and convince any on the fence, but to reassure the faithful that all the old slogans and ideas could be safely invoked. In short, as the old song goes: "Gimme some of that old-time religion, it's good enough for me!"
But it isn't good enough: not this time around. This is "the new war," as the TV talking heads call it, and they're right: this is the first war since 1812 in which the US is the principal battleground. The irony is that the US government, like the peace movement, seems to be fighting the last war, and not this one. While US planes are terrorizing the civilian population of Afghanistan, and causing a mass exodus into an already destabilized Pakistan, the American people have not escaped the terror, as the number of anthrax cases climbs and we brace ourselves for the attack we have been told is 100% certain. Yet the vanguard of the War Party is calling for a massive invasion of not only Iraq but virtually the entire Middle East, as the Weekly Standard calls for establishing an "American Empire" and National Review Online editor Jonah Goldberg extols the forgotten "virtues" of colonialism.
These people are just as clueless as the peaceniks, in their own way. Colonies? When we can't even ensure the safety of our own people on our own soil, we are supposed to extend our defense perimeter and take on colonies? What universe are these people living in? Perhaps an alternate universe in which 9/11 never happened: either that, or they haven't quite realized the implications of that seminal event, which is a telling symptom of what several writers have called "imperial overstretch."
The Left and the Right have their own agendas, which are subordinated to the central problem both fail to even acknowledge we are facing a band of renegade nut-cakes who have somehow established an international criminal network, just as the Mafia, Colombia's drug lords, and the Kosovo Liberation Army did before them. The problem is not abroad, and cannot be solved by pulverizing or conquering some foreign land. We can and should wipe out the Al Qaeda network tomorrow, and still terrorism would persist and flourish. The problem is that we have been so focused on defending the security of Europe, of Asia, of central and South America, that we have forgotten about the one legitimate function of government: to protect us right here at home.
Our foreign policy, too, has been conducted without either the interests of America or the safety and prosperity of its citizens in mind, and that has got to stop. Before 9/11, foreign policy did not even show up in the polls as an issue: today it ranks number two, with terrorism at the top: Americans want answers, and the antiwar movement must be ready to give them. But leftist bromides and mindless slogans will confine the movement against a widened war to the margins. It is time for the antiwar movement to stop fighting the last war, and address the valid concerns of the American people.
We have tried to do that here at Antiwar.com, by providing our readers with reasoned analysis and historical background to go with it. I have tried to present a balanced position in this column, most notably in "The Anthrax War," although not without some initial stumbling (an earlier and shorter version of the piece was pulled at my instigation, because it seemed to me unsatisfactory, but not before several hundred readers saw it). The good news is that an independent current of the peace movement, in reaction to the embarrassing antics of the leftists, is apparently growing up, especially on campuses, and has raised the slogan "Peace with Justice" meaning justice on behalf of 6,000-plus dead Americans. This is the way to go. It is the only way that can reach the overwhelming majority. Americans are a people justifiably angry at what has been done to them: they rightfully seek not only justice but vengeance not against innocent civilians, but against the perpetrators of a heinous act. Americans don't want a Mideast war: what they want is to be rid of the incubus of terrorism.
What is remarkable about the Left is its incredible thick-headedness, its dogmatic insistence on imposing its own countercultural ethos on movements it dominates. At the conclusion of the Town Hall teach-in, I was up on the stage talking to Alexander Cockburn, and Medea Benjamin, local leftie media starlet whose antics make her almost a regular on Bay Area television news programs. "Hey," I said, "where were the American flags?" I saw plenty of banners with leftist slogans emblazoned all over them, but not a single representation of Old Glory. Ms. Benjamin didn't even bother to answer, but just sneered, as if the thought were so alien that I was probably making a joke. Cockburn, however, nodded agreement, and said "I'm for it," adding that he had always been in favor of reclaiming true patriotism from the War Party. Alas, I'm afraid his advice fell on deaf ears. As a result of that night, I began to think that, except, perhaps, in the case of people like Cockburn who is really an anarchist, I suspect, and even had kind words in his speech for Bob Barr for standing up for civil liberties the anti-Americanism cannot be taken out of the Left.
But, who knows? Perhaps a few more terrorist attacks a few dozen, or even hundreds, of new anthrax cases may shake these dogmatists out of their sectarian slumber. Then, perhaps, they will realize that they were patriots, after all, and that they really did love their country right before it ceased to exist. For unless the peace movement begins to face up to the real issues and offers some real arguments against a wider war, the free and open society that was the United States of America may soon be only a fond memory. Racial victimology and America-hating just will not cut it: indeed, they will create a backlash against any possible upsurge of antiwar feeling, and set the movement up for accusations of collaborating with terrorism.
Furthermore, the tendency of the organized antiwar movement to go parading about, shouting slogans and carrying placards is an indulgence that serves only to give the most marginal groups maximum publicity: it is a throwback to an unusable past. This is not yet a quagmire: the idea is to prevent us from becoming bogged down in such a war before it even starts. But in order to do so it will be necessary to face an entirely new set of circumstances with tactical creativity, organizational openness, strategic wisdom, and above all honesty or else be consigned to utter irrelevance.
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