Fighting Words

Peace and Quiet

Four projects for righteous anti-war types.

The Daily Kos lot received such a Niagara of ridicule for their meeting in Las Vegas (Alexander Cockburn’s column in The Nation, available in a slightly different form on the Counterpunch site, making me almost feel sorry for them) that I now feel guilty for piling on. In particular, I feel that I ought to retract what I said on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show last week, where I mentioned the self-important bloggers and Joseph Wilson-cultists in the same breath as those who are gathering—in quite another city—to indict the Bush administration for secretly sponsoring the assault of Sept. 11, 2001. Some comrades have rightly protested to me. I take the opportunity to say that, though there is some overlap between the two factions, this was a misuse of an amalgam on my part.

By way of restitution, may I propose some ways in which those who don’t want to be associated with Michael Moore, George Galloway, Ramsey Clark, and the rest of the Zarqawi and Saddam apologists can make themselves plain? Here are four headings under which the anti-war types could disprove the charge of bad faith.

1) What about the land mines? A few years ago, a fairly broad consensus was achieved, to the effect that land mines should be regarded as an illegal and immoral method of warfare. Jody Williams and her group received a Nobel Peace Prize for their work on the question, and Princess Diana became an international star on the subject. The Clinton administration declined to sign the treaty, mainly on the grounds that a huge number of American land mines guard the so-called demilitarized (actually very highly militarized) zone that helps protect South Korea from a “dear leader” attack. But nobody is going to wander innocently into that zone. Whereas in Iraq and Afghanistan, every day dozens of these devices—sometimes known as “improvised explosive devices,” or IEDs—are buried where anyone can step on them or be blown up by them. We have persuasive evidence that Iran and Syria have contributed some sophisticated explosives to the gruesome business. Would not now be the time to demand that the international community denounce land-mine atrocities and—especially the states that underwrite them? Anyone who has ever uttered the phrase “civilian casualties” has a particular obligation here.

2) What happened to the human shields? I didn’t think it was wise or principled of certain activists to go to Baghdad in 2003 and swear to put themselves between Iraqi civilians and undue harm. (To most Iraqis and Kurds, they looked like sheepish guards who were standing between Saddam Hussein and what was rightly coming to him, and there were protests at their presence. And they did seem to leave when things became nasty.) But the idea of witnessing for peace in this manner has its attractions. That new hero, Rep. John Murtha, repeated a familiar slur the other day, attacking Karl Rove for supporting the war from an air-conditioned office—as if a person with a White House job has no right to an opinion on the war. But would not now be the ideal time for those who hate war to go to Iraq and stand outside the mosques, hospitals, schools, and women’s centers that are daily subjected to murderous assaults? This would write an imperishable page in the history of American dissent.

3) Couldn’t you say at least something about the sanctions? While the Baath Party was still in power, I would receive appeals every week about the number of children who were dying because of the embargo. I think the figures were inflated to some extent, but there is no doubt that a huge and very distressing statistic concerning the death and malnourishment and health crisis of the poorer Iraqis had been uncovered. Well, I tried to point out that the best way of lifting the sanctions (which the grossly obese Iraqi ruling party was manipulating for profit and corruption) was to remove the regime that had made the embargo necessary in the first place and that was stealing baby formula and medicine for its own ends. I didn’t exactly get a standing ovation for the idea and suddenly was told that sanctions were actually a good idea since they kept Saddam “in his box” and thus obviated the need for his removal. But again, if civilian casualties are the question, is it not true that the end of U.N. sanctions has been a positive and humanitarian thing by definition?

4) Isn’t it time to revive the demand that homosexuals be allowed to wear the uniform of the U.S. military? This was once the united cry not just of all gay organizations but of a wide liberal consensus that helped elect Bill Clinton. How can such a thing have been so vital and yet been so hastily dropped? Surely the slogan should be “Now More Than Ever”? Our enemies are torturing and butchering gays whenever and wherever they find them (as are some of the militias who claim to be our “friends”), and meanwhile the American establishment is not just denying gays the right to join but actually firing those who have joined. (I am thinking in particular of the Arabic and Persian translators, fired by a CIA that can barely read English, let alone any Middle Eastern language.) Which Republican will dare resist?

Every now and then you hear people complaining that the president called for shopping and not for sacrifice. How true. But are you telling me that you need a cue from Bush before you contribute something yourself? The opportunity exists to make the Iraq crisis into a testing ground for the relevance of “progressive” ideas and to contribute to that better plan for victory of which so many Democrats have spoken. Will you let such an opportunity slip through your fingers? Either write to me about this, too, or quit complaining.

This has been fun. Now, please, get back to Plame and Haditha.