Lessons of the War, for the Movement and the Media

From Protest to Resistance

I didn’t make it to the march on the Pentagon.  The storm up and down the east coast of the United States knocked down a thirty foot tree in my yard in Asheville, North Carolina, messed up my flight from Asheville to Washington, DC, and left me with a choice of being stranded in Atlanta or staying home in Asheville and dealing with the tree.  I spent Saturday dealing with the fallen tree.  My new chainsaw works quite well.  In retrospect — and after communicating with some of my friends in New England and New York — I am one of the lucky ones.  I didn’t have to deal with sleet, snow, and a scheduled bus that couldn’t get out of the departure point.  All of this, of course, made the march on the Pentagon smaller than it would have been had Mother Nature cooperated.  Nonetheless, the march and the civil disobedience that preceded it made the weekend a worthy one for the antiwar movement.  I ended up watching the rally on CSPAN.

The biggest impression I got was that it might be time for an umbrella organization that would encompass the two current supposedly umbrella antiwar organizations: UFPJ and ANSWER.  Both groups have proven their ability to draw crowds, and both organizations seem unwilling to move beyond the folks in each group who refuse to compromise and cooperate on the calling of national protests.  I say this because the March 17, 2007 march on the Pentagon was called partially to summon forth the spirit of the 1967 march on the Pentagon against the US war in Vietnam.  That protest was called by the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam (Mobe).  It was an amalgam of hundreds of organizations against the war.  Churches, communists, civil rights organizations, labor unions, liberal Democrats, socialists, student groups, anarchists, hippies, people without a group or ideology, and a multitude of others.  The groups within the Mobe worked together on the national stuff and left each local group to its own agenda.  UFPJ does this to an extent and so does ANSWER.  If there were a coordinating group that existed solely to organize large gatherings, there would most likely be fewer such gatherings, but the ones that did occur would enjoy the unconditional support of the entire movement.

A model that seems quite workable is the week or two of actions that took place in late April and early May of 1971.  The week began with the Vietnam Veterans Against the War Dewey Canyon III encampment and protests and ended with the massive direct action to shut down the war machine organized under the auspices of the Mayday Tribe.  Sandwiched in between were several protest and actions called by numerous groups and individuals.  The antiwar movement took over the streets of official Washington for more than a week.  Official Washington could not ignore the war and the demand to end it.  Indeed, many congresspeople and their staffers joined in some of the protests.  The White House chose to arrest over 12,000 folks.  This week required a good deal of planning and a committed and large movement.  Today’s movement might be large, but a question remains as to its commitment.

On Saturday March 17th, Appeal to Reason co-founder Liam Madden and a number of other Iraq vets stood on the stage near the Pentagon and called on people to move from protest to resistance.  Madden’s call echoed similar suggestions that have been coming up more frequently among movement activists.  In fact, some groups have already begun this move, occupying legislator’s offices and insisting that they go beyond criticizing the war and stop funding it.  In Washington state, activists with the Port Militarization Resistance have attempted to block shipments of Stryker vehicles and other supplies on their way to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan from the ports of Olympia and Tacoma.  On March 16th, Christian antiwar activists participated in a sit-in across from the White House to protest the war.  In New York, 200 SDS members occupied a recruiters’ office until they were cleared by police.  These instances are but a few examples of how the momentum of the movement can be pushed forward.  Although the actions at the ports in Washington and the recruiters’ offices are the only actions designed to actually prevent the war from being conducted, the others do serve as vehicles for inspiration to other antiwarriors and can acts as effective organizing tools.

The Washington Post Finds Its Head Up Its Ass

The Sunday, March 18, 2007 editorial in the Washington Post is a prime example of how far the establishment media in the United States has its collective head up its ass.  The editorial, titled “Lessons of War,” does a good job of showing why the US establishment is not only still in Iraq but why it is sending more troops over there.  “The decision was right, the execution wrong,” states the collective wisdom of the Post editorial board.  It was so right, in fact, that the Post recommends more of the same.  Not once in the entire piece do the writers challenge the fundamental wrongness of the war.  Indeed, they barely challenge how it was begun or even how it continues to be waged.  “Unquestionably,” writes the Post, “the experience has shown the risks of preemptive war.”  Despite this unquestionable bit of wisdom, however, the Post insists that sometimes preemptive war is necessary because, after all, “not acting also can be dangerous.”  The editorial does not contain a single challenge to the legality or morality of such wars — it only speaks to the dangers they might present to the nations that start them.

The Post editors do acknowledge that the failure of diplomacy in the case of Iraq should not have been seen as a “sufficient argument for war,” but they entirely fail to mention the fact that what the Bush administration called diplomacy was in reality nothing more than a series of ultimatums and threats followed by the total rejection of any attempts at conversation put forth by the Hussein government.  For those readers who don’t remember the so-called attempts at diplomacy before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, all they need do is look at the series of threats and ultimatums the US is now making against Tehran.  Despite what should be considered genuine attempts by Tehran to negotiate a solution to the conflict over Iran’s nuclear program, Washington continues to march bullheadedly on towards another military conflict in the Middle East.  The White House has made no serious attempt to sit down with either Tehran or Damascus to move towards an understanding of the nations’ differing views on Iraq and other problems.  So, instead, the dogs of war continue to gather off the coast of Iran while Bush and his bullies issue threats that the US public has come to think of as diplomacy.

The Post editorial pretends to ask serious questions about, and to provide equally serious answers to, the situation created by the occupation of Iraq.  However, it fails miserably in its attempt.  As long as those in the media refuse to acknowledge the wrongness of the war, they, as well as the government, will continue to make the same mistakes.  The only question left to ask is this: How soon are we going to bring the troops home? The only lesson to be learned is this: not only is war unpredictable, but imperial war is fundamentally wrong and will be resisted by those whom it attempts to subjugate.  Only when the wise men and women of the fourth estate accept this fundamental lesson will they conclude that the project can not be saved and that the only honorable and moral thing left to do is to withdraw all of the occupying forces from the countries of Iraq and Afghanistan immediately.  If the Washington Post’s editors are any indication, that conclusion is a long way off.

Ron Jacobs is author of The Way the Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground, just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch‘s new collection on music, art and sex: Serpents in the Garden. He can be reached at <rjacobs3625@charter.net>.

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