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Eric Groves, Sr., ed., The Anti-War Quote Book, Philadelphia: Quirk Books, 2008, $14.95.
Murray Polner and Thomas E. Woods, Jr., eds., We Who Dared to Say No to War: American Anti-War Writing from 1812 to Now, New York: Basic Books, 2008, $16.95.
Barry Miles, Peace: 50 Years of Protest, New York: Reader’s Digest, 2008, $29.95.
Being anti-war makes for strange bedfellows. It unites all the political caricatures in one picket line: the UCC minister, the wan-looking vegan, the septuagenarian Trotskyist, the bearded bicycling grad student, the AFSC pacifist, the militant union staffer, a couple of high school kids with strange haircuts, the Ron Paul mendicants, and (in times of a Republican president) a couple of Democrats. This may sound like a flippant generalization, but on December 10 I joined just these activists on Public Square in Cleveland, Ohio to shine a light on U.N. human rights resolutions. Most of the activists, for some reason thinking their views are not shared by the majority of people in the U.S., only talked to each other as they huddled against the cold. A few of us picketed on the sidewalk and got a good response from homeward-bound commuters. Most thought we were demonstrating for jobs. We thought we should be, too. And for a lot of other things.
One of the problems with pushing forward anti-war work is that not a few pro-war activists infest the anti-war milieu. They say things like “The responsibility of the great state is to serve and not to dominate the world” (Harry Truman) or “There is no evil in the atom, only in men’s souls” (Adlai Stevenson). They mislead themselves and fresh forces attracted to opposing the Wall Street war barons, and they muddy things up just when clarity is priceless.
The above two quotes from two of U.S. imperialism’s most revered Democratic statesmen are from The Anti-War Quote Book edited by Eric Groves, Sr. Quotation books a typically historical cherry-picking or log-rolling in defense of indefensible people. Groves’ book has some nice quotes from Carl Sagan, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Cesar Chavez, and Mother Teresa: the usual crowd of Acceptable Peace Voices. Groves also tries to burnish the unburnishable C.S. Lewis with the quote “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of the victims may be the most oppressive.” In other words, don’t let the rabble climb to the seat of judgment; power is best left to those who grew up punting on the Isis and mastering Middle English grammar.
Thomas Jefferson is another monster (not a sacred monster, just a monster) who gets a quick once-over with the anti-war feather duster: “If there be one principle more deeply rooted than any other in the mind of every American, it is that we should have nothing to do with conquest.” Charming, isn’t it? Our most seminally genocidal presidents are always fated to be the smoothest Babbitts when peddling this kind of hypocrisy.
Editor Groves tells us “The Anti-War Quote Book contains the collected wisdom of men and women from diverse cultures and eras, all preaching against war.” But would Molly Ivins and Eric Alterman be so anti-war if Albert Gore, Jr. had been U.S. president for the last eight years? And is Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. really so anti-war for writing “All wars are popular for the first thirty days”? War hawks on Wall Street and in Washington repeat this hard-earned wisdom to each other and have acted upon it many times when launching their wars of conquest at home and abroad.
The heart of the middle class sentiment about war is summed up by the incomparable Agatha Christie: “One is left with the horrible feeling now that war settles nothing: that to win a war is as disastrous as to lose one.” What kind of war? Disastrous for whom? We aren’t told, because we don’t need to know; war, whether on the picket line, in Stalingrad, or in Flanders, is the problem. Causes and sides matter not to the petty-bourgeois Chicken Littles. Until it is time to turn the guns on the working class, they demand peace at any price.
The Anti-War Quote Book comforts the comfortable. It unites the table talk of Plato and John Paul II and beseeches that silence and acceptance is always better than fighting, much less war. Peace when, and for whom? Aside from quotes by Eugene Debs and Cindy Sheehan, most of the quotes let activists congratulate themselves for being uniquely courageous, possessing the aristocratic luxury of turning their backs on the by any means necessary militancy of the kind of people Debs organized and inspired. It also sadly smacks of super-individualistic moral witnessing that too often takes the place of bringing our coworkers and neighbors with us into anti-war action: It’s enough for me to be for peace, such activists sniff. Most of the quotes in The Anti-War Quote Book maintain that kind of moral superiority. Nowhere do we find the simply-put class politics of Mary E. Marcy (“You have no country!”) or Karl Liebknecht (“The true enemy is at home”). Being against “war” is the only price of admission here.
A caveat about this book: the binding cracked and fell apart after one reading. Such spinelessness can only be a coincidence.
We Who Dared to Say No to War: American Anti-War Writing from 1812 to Now is much in the same vein as The Anti-War Quote Book. It is self-reverential of its contents and its narrow national horizons. The writings form quite a narrow coalition of voices, just like the Ron Paul or Patrick Buchanan political rally it resembles. There are a few acceptable working-class socialist militants included for the sake of propriety and left-cover: Helen Keller and Eugene Debs are entombed with opportunists, misleaders, and outright anti-worker ideologues they would throw a shoe at if they were alive to realize the desecration that was taking place. Can President Eisenhower ever be said to have “dared to say no to war”? Or is he just here because the haters of the Federal Reserve and other libertarian bugaboos find him useful?
What about Robert A. Taft? Taft and Patrick J. Buchanan are outstanding and historic proponents of war: class war against the native-born and immigrant workers living in the United States, their unions, and their brothers and sisters around the world. Yet here they are, counted among the daring anti-war voices. This political line of editors Murray Polner and Thomas E. Woods, Jr. is reminiscent of that Shakespearean misalliance of anti-war forces quaking with admiration over Ron Paul in the spring 2008 presidential primaries, thinking Paul offered them the royal road to supposedly anti-war white men with blue collars. The depths of electoral opportunism expressed were enough to astound even the most jaded.
Unprincipled, pragmatic liberal and libertarian politics that apes the horse-trading clique-ridden approach of Wall Street’s Congress is one of the besetting handicaps our class is saddled with in any struggle we initiate. Creating our own political party will be the first step along the road to a workers republic and some real politics.
We Who Dared makes no mention of proletarian leaders who dared, other than Debs and Keller. The definition of war the daring editors give us is either the 1861-1865 Civil War or wars of foreign “intervention.” The spectrum of voices is severely policed. Paul Robeson speaking out against Washington’s war against the Korean people is not here. Trotskyists like James P. Cannon, who went to prison for helping to build a militant working-class movement against U.S. entry into World War Two, is not here. The recently deceased Peter Camejo, so pitch-perfect in mobilizing mass opposition to the Vietnam War, is not here either.
In fact, most of the voices in We Who Dared to Say No to War may have said No to a particular imperialist adventure they called an “intervention” (in the lexicon of the Ron Paulists and Libertarians), but did nothing more after that. Few mass workers, few builders of coalitions and united fronts, have a voice in this collection. Howard Zinn is given three pages, but Charles Sumner is given four. The name A. J. Muste does not appear, even in the index. Sargent Shriver appears as part of the America First honor roll so beloved of right-wing culture warriors, but there is no room for Rachel Corrie.
The best critics of Washington and Wall Street’s war-making, the anti-imperialists and internationalists of the world, have no place in We Who Dared to Say No to War. What could the people of Southeast Asia or Central America or the Arab East have to say about the prerogatives of the Pentagon? Polner and Woods want only U.S. voices, not those who know something about suffering under and opposing military intervention.
Where are the Winter Soldiers and their brave testimony? Did they not dare enough? Or perhaps too much?
I recommend to Polner and Woods that if they really want to put some lipstick on their pro-U.S., pro-capitalist politics, they need to work just a little harder. Let’s have We Who Dared Defend Our Picket Line or We Who Dared to Sit Down and Strike or We Who Dared to Defend Abortion Clinics. You see, gentlemen, if you really want to ensnare those seeking a genuine road to opposing Washington’s wars, you’ll need to hit the books. No one said being a misleader was easy.
UK artist and activist Gerald Holton’s anti-nuclear design, now known as the “peace symbol”, is the subject of Barry Miles’ sumptuous coffee-table book Peace: 50 Years of Protest from Reader’s Digest. Lacking the smugness and self-satisfaction of The Anti-War Quote Book and the generally pro-U.S. political line of We Who Dared to Say No to War, Miles’ Peace identifies the enemy quickly via full-page photographs: the U.S. Air Force, atomic bomb scientists, the U.S. government and its allies around the world. After the chauvinistic America-First Lucky Lindy values of We Who Dared, it is a pleasure to see the words Aldermaston and Greenham Common restored to print.
Greenham Common Women — Christmas 1982
One of the strengths of Peace is that it episodically celebrates the builders of anti-war and ban-the-bomb actions that sought to include the masses in action. There is no prettying-up of Pat Buchanan or Thomas Jefferson here. Instead, an entire page is lavished on A. J. Muste. All the pipe-smoking vicars and direct action Quakers are given their turn. The Aldermaston marches, now nearly forgotten, were objectively anti-imperialist, demanding an end to Washington’s military bases in the UK.
Aldermaston 50 Years On
Miles presents us with fifty years in the life of the peace symbol. Countless photos in the book show it on signs at the head of marches around the world. Those marchers showed the true daring, and it is too bad no one bothered to quote them at the time.
Peace presents some individuals with little or zero “peace” credentials, like Elie Wiesel and John F. Kennedy, but it also resurrects too-long-overlooked artists like Phil Ochs, whom no singer covers today. Too bad; we are long-overdue for an update of “Here’s to the State of Mississippi.”
The peace symbol wound up in some curious places, as illustrated in the book. One photo depicts the symbol engraved on GI Zippo lighters carried in Vietnam. Another is of a button printed with the symbol and the salutary slogan “Let the people vote on war.” That is one quote that bears repeating.
All the strengths and weaknesses of these three books exist within very narrow petty-bourgeois radical horizons. The most effective anti-war movements in the last century, movements that actually stopped wars (Russia 1917 and Germany 1918), are blacklisted. The whole labor-communist anti-war strategy, the fact that one existed at all and drew millions around the world to its banner, is also blacklisted from these books. Marx, Lenin, Connolly, Trotsky, Stalin, Mao, and Che are policed out of history by these editors and writers as effectively as if the books had been prepared by the old Dies Committee. This will not surprise socialists, labor militants, latter-day Wobblies, and reds who have attended peace and anti-war planning meetings and conferences. The level of red-baiting, cliquing, and double-dealing in such venues is sometimes of grotesque proportions and is always aimed at silencing and eliminating rank-and-file voices against war.
On May 1, 2008 a very important anti-war event took place in the U.S. It had nothing to do with supporting candidates for office or knocking on a million doors. It was the ILWU Local 10-led longshoremen’s strike that shut down all West Coast docks. The demand was clear: an end to Washington’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our ILWU brothers and sisters, like the recent UE sit-down strikers in Chicago, are the great teachers of our class today. Contempt for the warmakers, confidence in our class defending its own interests at home and abroad: this is the only road to peace. To stop the war machine, we must understand that wars are waged by and against classes in history, and that war against our brothers and sisters everywhere on the globe flows from the normal workings of capitalism, not original sin or the machinations of secret economic cabals.
The three books reviewed above do not advance our struggle one iota. They overflow with pretty pictures, sentimentality, and class confusion, and must be rejected.
Jay Rothermel lives in Cleveland, Ohio.