by Justin Raimondo
A LEGEND IN OUR OWN MINDS
May 24th was our moment in the sun: while Antiwar.com had received its share of recognition in a few magazine and newspaper articles, our main source of personal satisfaction had been the email that poured in and continues to pour in, personal messages of support from Osaka to Novi Sad and all points in between. But now we were ready for the hard stuff television, of course and when PBS called we were up for it. Jeffrey Kaye and his camera crew from the Lehrer News Hour met Eric Garris, our Webmaster, at a rally on the Peninsula, and then interviewed him for hours at Antiwar.com HQ (i.e. his house). As the day of the broadcast drew near, the antiwar movement itself was just beginning to get off the ground, and already beginning to take on a specific character, like a young child who is already beginning to acquire the habits and mental tics of a lifetime. The show, I realized, purportedly a reflection of the movement, would have a hand in shaping it: that they had chosen our website to frame their story was, I hoped, a good sign. As it turned out, it could not have been better.
THE NEW ANTIWARRIORS
The right note was struck in the first few frames: antiwar demonstrators march behind a huge banner emblazoned with a demand to stop the bombing of Yugoslavia, shouting in unison "Stop the bombing! Stop the war!" Gee, that guy holding the sign sure looks like our very own Eric Garris. If not for this glimpse of Antiwar.com's Webmaster, I might have mistaken it for footage of a Vietnam War protest. All very old-fashioned in a sixties kind of way but Kaye puts a new twist on an old story: "The rallies are reminiscent of anti-Vietnam war demonstrations," he says, "though they are nowhere near the size. And there's another major difference. This war's opponents include conservatives and the right traditional supporters of U.S. military ventures as well as peace activists and progressives on the left." This theme was vividly dramatized in footage of the Los Angeles forum sponsored by the Nation magazine, where Jesse Jackson and Tom Hayden shared the stage with Arianna Huffington. And while Jesse went through his by now familiar routine, and Hayden was looking unusually seedy even for him, Arianna stole the show with her expressive body language and her richly accented voice ringing with indignation: "It is truly amazing that we are willing to countenance thousands upon thousands of Serbian and Kosovar casualties as long as no American dies." Much better and far more articulate than Abbie Hoffman, and certainly better dressed.
LEFT AND RIGHT
Cut to Eric, sitting at his desk, pointing out to Kaye the lower third of the screen, where the hundreds of statements against the war are listed: "We have the American Legion sitting right next to the American Friends Service Committee. I mean, when was the last time you saw them on an endorsement list together?" And that, my friends, sums up the theme of this new movement to a tee, and what follows illustrates the truth of this idea in such a dramatic fashion that it takes one's breath away.
COLONEL NORTH AND THE PROFESSOR
Both Oliver North, the Reaganite soldier of the contra revolution, and Edward Said, the leftish college professor, agree that the bombing raids sparked the refugee crisis, but what is striking about this segment is the contrasting styles not the similarity of views. North is passionate, clear, direct, and unequivocal: there is something eternally youthful in the squared-off planes of his face, his eyes twinkling mischievously. Said is dour, and slightly rumpled looking, his tone uninflected and professional, with about as much passion as a doctor giving his diagnosis. He seems hesitant, and his words have a somewhat tentative air about them, as if uttering any really definitive statement would violate some arcane etiquette known only to the scholarly few. "There's growing evidence" that utterly devastating Yugoslavia is not such a hot idea after all because "it has made matters worse in almost every respect." Contrast this pallid protest with North's robust blast at Clinton's crusade: "There are two point six million Europeans under arms in what we call NATO. And every damned one of them ought to be committed first before the first American has to go to war." This is the perfect retort to Tony Blair, who would fight the Balkan War to the last American, and a bold declaration of the nationalist-flavored isolationism that dominates the populist Right. Said may inform us, but North inspires us. Not since Charles A. Lindbergh has the antiwar movement in America had such a leader: he is the perfect antipode to the slimeball Clinton, the bureaucratic Berger, and the witch-like Albright an all-American boy-next-door standing up to that grotesquely malevolent crew in Washington.
PAT AND IMANI
I liked the juxtapositioning of Pat Buchanan and black antiwar activist Imani Henry. This is a civil war, says Pat, and none of our affair, as the camera cuts to Imani speaking at a New York demonstration sponsored by the radical left International Action Center. With her shaved head, and her very different political spin, she is visually and intellectually a vivid contrast to Buchanan: but there is a passion that animates both of them, a sense of outrage at this senseless war, that seems to transcend ideology, if only for the moment.
CUT BACK TO ERIC
Kaye opines that support for the war is declining as the camera cuts back to Eric, and then a close-up of our site the real subject, or main character of this story so that the masthead is clearly visible on the television screen. Easy access to information about the war via the Internet is a major reason why opposition to it has become so widespread so quickly.
From Eric the scene shifts to Bill Clinton a bit of editing that I found personally thrilling: from Antiwar.com to the President of the United States, as if they were two roughly equal forces poised at opposite ends of the battlefield and ready for combat. In the madness of the moment I think: 'Does Bill Clinton know what he's up against?'
EARTH TO IAC: NO GROUND TROOPS
Most of the rest of the program drove home the left-right inversion on the war question, underscoring the support of Clintonian left-liberals and the opposition from the Right, without ignoring Democratic dissidents such as Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Georgia). The one off-key note was sounded by Brian Becker, of the International Action Center, who was asked about the Clintonian argument that Milosevic is another Hitler. "If it was really Hitlerism and if it was really genocide, why aren't they sending ground troops?" he asked. "Why only bomb from the air?" Earth calling Brian: We don't want them to send in ground troops, remember? Since Becker doesn't have the nerve to say that we shouldn't have intervened in World War II either, he resorts to an argument that could easily boomerang. For if it is at some point "necessary" to send in ground troops to "save" the Kosovars because, as the War Party insists, Milosevic really is Hitler reincarnated what then will Becker say? As a representative of an organization that has, up until now, sounded very much like an extension of the current Yugoslav government, Becker's statement was weak-kneed indeed.
THE GRITTY REALITY
The program ends by noting that the June 5th demonstrations sponsored by the IAC could be the measure of growing antiwar sentiment a thought that jerks me back to reality. It is Monday, and time for yet another meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee Against the US/NATO War in the Balkans. This, you will remember from previous columns, is a collection of Trotskyist grouplets, the anarcho-lumpen "Food Not Bombs," and various independent and largely innocent individuals drawn in by the prospect of doing something about this sickening war. After PBS has made Antiwar.com into a virtual metaphor for the emerging antiwar movement, I am all hopped up about the meeting, convinced that what I have just seen on the television screen conforms to my local reality. Boy, am I in for a shock!
THE CAST OF CHARACTERS
The meeting starts out with the same old regulars Socialist Action, the International Socialist Organization, and a few other Old Leftist types and a fresh wave of new recruits (none, of course, from the previous meeting). The "Food Not Bombs" head honcho a streety-looking hippie with long straggly hair, who looks well past his forties is one of the co-chairs, along with one of the ISO leaders, a fellow with a British accent and the air of an intellectual. The agenda is almost identical to last week's: introductions first, with everyone identifying themselves by name and organization. I see we have a few new Trotskyist grouplets: the Freedom Socialist Party and Radical Women are represented, along with Solidarity (non-Leninists), Pax Christi (at last some Catholics!), and a whole new cast of innocents, that is, people who came without a preconceived political agenda except for opposition to the war including a few who identify themselves as having heard of the group through Antiwar.com. It was, I have to say, a bit of a rush to meet these people who greeted me like an old friend although I had never met any of them before.
THE FIRST SKIRMISH
I admit to feeling a bit cocky, all pumped up with visions of an antiwar movement that transcends the traditional categories of "left' and "right," my head still spinning with images from PBS's "Voices of Dissent." As the ISO chap proceeded on to the next agenda item "a discussion of the general political situation and the war" I could not restrain myself: The thought of having to sit through at least half of hour of the ISOers making speeches to each other, with the other Trotskyist grouplets all putting in their two cents worth for yet another 45 minutes, was too dire a prospect to be borne in silence. When the chair asked for discussion of the agenda, I raised my hand and made a motion to switch this agenda item with number 8 on the list: a discussion of planned actions and upcoming events. The chair looked shocked, but my motion was readily seconded. The ISOers, taken by surprise, were mortally offended, but they could hardly argue effectively against a motion to get down to business. How they love to pontificate, and how well they do it, especially the men (the women seem much more practical and down to earth, and while the men are debating theory it seems like the women do most of the practical work). One older white guy with rimless glasses, a Leninesque beard, and a manner completely devoid of humor who seems to be a leader in the ISO was particularly upset at this lost opportunity to show off his analytical abilities. He argued strenuously that we really needed to get "political clarity" before we plunged into practical activity as if we had all sacrificed an evening and come to this dinghy room in a quasi-dangerous neighborhood after dark just waiting for him to dispense some political clarity. I called the question, and the ISOers looked crestfallen: they knew they were going to lose. The Socialist Action people, being practical types, tend to avoid making ideological speeches unless the occasion really calls for it, and they voted massively for my motion. So did the independents. The ISOers were isolated, left sputtering with poor old Ralph Schoenmen, the Champion Pontificator of All Time, who sat frowning and shaking his head in wonder that anyone would be so cruel as to deprive him of his favorite pastime.
DOWN TO THE WIRE
Next on the agenda: the June 26 debate, which I had worked on with some of the Socialist Action people in "committee." Of course, as Jeff Mackler, the Socialist Action honcho pointed out, this committee had only met over the phone. In reading the text of the leaflet advertising this event, which he suddenly produced, I could readily see why. For the Socialist Actioneers had turned this "debate" into a program devoted to leftist soul-searching, starring Alexander Cockburn (who favors United Nations intervention, not NATO intervention, as Jeff Mackler explained it), Michael Lerner (yes, that Michael Lerner, the New Agey "politics of meaning" guru to Saint Hillary, and also editor of Tikkun magazine), and Paul George, director of the Peninsula Peace and Justice Center and editor of PeaceWorks journal. Faced with this fait accompli, the body was asked to come up with a fourth member of this distinguished panel, someone against the war (preferably unequivocally). After Mackler's presentation, there was some discussion: some felt that this was a kind of coup, since at the last meeting we had been told that Cockburn opposed all intervention, period, and the idea was to get somebody from the War Party, someone in some way responsible for the policy to defend it. But this idea had somehow been shelved in favor of a leftist gabfest in which anguished liberals and "progressives" publicly agonized over the fine distinctions between "humanitarian" interventionism and old-fashioned imperialism. But of course Socialist Action had a candidate for the job: their own Carol Seligman, a charming woman, with a very practical turn of mind who nevertheless hardly seemed up to taking on the acerbic Cockburn. The whole thing had obviously been discussed and decided in advance, in some kind of deal between the ISO and Socialist Action. But I wasn't going to go along with the program, in spite of the fact that both organizations had mobilized a good dozen or so of their members for this meeting, which insured them a majority, I naively thought it was within the realm of possibility that the party discipline of the organized socialist currents could be broken with an appeal to reason. The original concept of the event was to challenge the policy-makers, i.e. the US government, and this had somehow been turned into an intramural debate between leftists. The opposition to this war is not exclusively or even primarily on the left: the Roman Catholic clergy, the American Legion, the House of Representatives how can we possibly ignore all these powerful institutions? I then made a motion that we invite Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) to be one of the antiwar debaters, and emphasized that we ought to put pressure on the pro-war politicians to show up by publicizing our challenge.
This motion provoked such a fury of leftist phrasemongering and posturing that the room virtually shook with the sound of it. One gangly and very excitable, although not very articulate ISOer inadvertently stated the real thesis of the enraged Commies: "The antiwar movement is the left," he declared, hesitating only for a moment before continuing, heedless of the implications, "that's what we are." One after another, the ISO men sputtered their denunciations of the heretical idea that the antiwar movement could possibly extend beyond the walls of that room, while the ISO women sat looking quiet but restless and visibly disturbed. A few of the independents spoke up on behalf of my motion, two of them quite passionately, but I was not given the floor again they knew better than that and the numbers were against us from the beginning.
PONDERING THE MYSTERY
As the meeting coasted to a halt, a number of the independents came up to me and we commiserated in a corner, somewhat dazed by over three and a half-hours of wrangling. I went outside to smoke a cigarette, and a discussion soon developed outside the door that escalated as quickly as the Balkan war. The Little Lenin of the ISOers made a great show of approaching me, while the other ISOers started hectoring my allies: "Just why are you against this war?" I started to take out a copy of my pamphlet, Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against US Intervention in the Balkans, but he kept hectoring me: "Why do you think They started this war, eh?" He was a tall fellow, and he leaned over me, a little too close. I looked at him, unable to see his eyes through the reflection on his glasses: "And of course you know?" I said, stepping back a bit; he was getting right up in my face, and I wondered if class warfare was going to break out right there on the streeet. "Because I'll admit I don't." Was this guy privy to the inner councils of Bill Clinton, Sandy Berger, and Madeleine Albright? Somehow I doubted it. "Well listen, I know all about you right-wing libertarians, and I know that if the antiwar movement follows you " he continued to rant as I turned away: "I'll fight you!" he yelled, as he stalked away, satisfied that he had confronted the bourgeoisie. I looked at my friend Andy, who was being hectored by an even more unpleasant-looking specimen, and rolled my eyes. I had just about had it with the antics of the ISOers, at least the unnaturally aggressive and rather imperious male of the species. Just then one of the ISO women, whose name escapes me, came out the door. Young, with short hair and a determined, businesslike air, she had been the master of ceremonies at the last demonstration, and seemed deeply involved in running the day-to-day practical activities of the coalition: getting leaflets printed, handling the money, taking care of the stage, etc. She stood there, her thin shoulders a bit slumped, and smiled wanly at me. "I'm so sorry I seemed to have disrupted your meeting." "Oh," she laughed, looking at me a bit less warily, "don't' worry about it, sometimes we just need to have a discussion." "Well, anyway, I hope I didn't stir the pot too much." It turns out she's a kindergarten teacher, and has spent the entire day with her very young charges, and this meeting was not exactly a change of pace. She looks like she could use a good night's sleep, and as she excuses herself to go home for a well-deserved rest I wonder: how is it that the ISO men are such preening assholes and the women are so nice? They are so different as to be readily mistaken for members of two separate species. Pondering this mystery, and feeling just a little dejected, I wander off into the night.
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Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com. He is also the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (with an Introduction by Patrick J. Buchanan), (1993), and Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against U.S. Intervention in the Balkans (1996). He is an Adjunct Scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in Auburn, Alabama, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Libertarian Studies, and writes frequently for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (forthcoming from Prometheus Books).