This year I missed the most portentous of Manhattan events, the Puerto Rican Day parade. But after years of reflection, the parades meaning has become clear: with its historical roots winding back directly to the Spanish American War, it is the nearest thing Americans have to an Empire Appreciation Day. A hundred and one years later the empire has reached all the way into the Balkans, and Puerto Rican Day found me in San Francisco at a conference of the Center of Libertarian Studies, trying to come to terms with that fact.
Though not celebrating the victory over Serbia, these libertarians were the best natured bunch Ive come across in years of journeying amongst the ideological factions. They have their quirksa tendency to leap from casual political banter to deep theoretical questions, laced with references to tomes by Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard. But as these things go, this was pretty easy to take.
A core libertarian belief is that a state strong enough to wage war for obscure reasons is a state ready and able to oppress its own citizenry. One of my dinner partnersa prosperous Marin County businessmantraced his own turn away from neo-conservatism to revulsion at the governments conduct at Ruby Ridge and Waco. What astonished him was that the powerful Beltway conservatives didnt seem to mind the massacres a bit. As often happens, ideological conversion followed from a gut reaction.
Todays libertarians also worry that an aggressive U.S. foreign policy could spark retaliation through terrorism. Jon Utley reminded the audience that the nuclear armed protagonist in the thriller Peacemaker several years back was, oh clever Hollywood, a Serband that any major act of terrorism in the United States would result in a massive and probably permanent crack down on civil liberties.
Several speakers scorned the corporate media: Lew Rockwell (editor of the provocative Rothbard-Rockwell Report and the conference organizer) analyzed the last few months of the Wall Street Journal editorial page, which he deemed more effective than Lenin at creating a linkage between free enterprise and warfare in the public mind.
A left winger, author Norman Solomon, drew sardonic laughs with his riff on the NBC News new advertising tag All you need to know. Neither NBC nor any other major news organizations, Solomon noted, thought Americans needed to know about the annex to the Rambouillet agreement which Milosevic refused to sign in March. This document asserted a Nato right to occupy not only Kosovo but all of Yugoslaviaa fact which, had it been reported before the bombs began falling and the refugees poured out, might have changed the political climate a bit.
Eric Garris and Justin Raimondo, animators of the strikingly successful web-site antiwar.com (which could claim more readers than Rupert Murdochs Weekly Standard once the war began) talked of the power of the internet while acknowledging some political limitations. Garris, a red diaper baby who had been won over from SDS when the Young Americans for Freedom entered the anti-Vietnam War movement in the 60s, recalled the late Timothy Leary saying (back in 1977!) that the internet would one day become a great tool of political empowerment. Tim has taken too much acid, Garris thought at the time.
Raimondo, the author of a groundbreaking study of the Old Right whose urban lilt makes him sound like the Andy Warhol character in Basquiat, regaled the crowd with tales of his encounters with the Marxist cults in a quest to build a peace movement that reached beyond Serb immigrants and the Far Left. Sadly, he discovered that the Trotskyite splinter parties, while retaining an ability to poster a city in minutes had insurmountable prejudices against letting conservatives or Republicans anywhere near the podium at their demonstrations. The task then for those who worry about further Nato thrusts On to Belgrade or On to Baghdad or deep into the Caucasus is to build their own anti-war institutions and have them ready when the time comes.
As of now, such a movement exists only in conversation and diffuse sentiment. At the conference, Congressman Ron Paul (R-Texas and a former Libertarian presidential candidate) related that about one hundred of his colleagues (both Republicans and Democrats) are engaged in serious and worried discussions about American foreign policy. In nearby Palo Alto, a veteran staffer of the famously anti-communist Hoover Institution told me over a beer how strange it felt to be quietly applauding the entrance of Russian troops into Pristina. Among former Cold Warriors, he is by no means alone.
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