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This Content From 2003 (or earlier) see index

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Thoughts on an Anti-War Movement

If this sort of thing interests you, you might also want to check out my critical analysis of the pro-war mindset as well as the results of some dialogue I've had with an intelligent hawk. For more regular updates, keep tabs on my no-warblog

I'm a pacifist. I believe that war often creates more problems than it solves. I believe that the only justification for war is defense. When someone creates the state of war and brings it onto you, you're given little choice but to respond in kind. War in the defense of others is a far more complex subject, but if the intent is pure it can be ok too. But understand that pure intentions and war mix about as well as oil and water. War is atrocity. War is hell. Even in the most noble of situations it is an institution of injustice and brutality, and we must never loose sight of this.

Sentimentality and major motion pictures aside, war does not generally bring out the best in humanity, it brings out the worst. It is a maelstrom of all our worst urges: violence, greed, blind hatred, shameless opportunism. War is people who fundamentally have no personal conflict killing one another. More often than not war is the poor of one nation slaughtering the poor of another.

For all those reasons and more, I'm opposed to this war in Iraq that everyone seems so fired up about. I'm not the only one. However, there's a pretty potent media/politics war machine on the move, and if we're going to really resist this thing there are a few points to consider. These are my thoughts on how to resist the call to war.

Part One: Talking Points

I think there are a number of persuasive arguments against going to war. Here's a quick topical summary. Use these simple logical, ethical and emotional appeals at your will. Rip me off, please! These are notions that need spreading, and the nightly news isn't getting the job done. We (personally) need to pick up the slack.

Enough rhetoric, nervo. Make with the anti-war rationales.

Security: This war will not make us more secure (Update: the CIA agrees!)

  • Saddam Hussein has no weapons that can reach our homeland. We're out of range. The "security" concern is that he will give some of his weapons of mass destruction to a terrorist who will transport them here and use them.
  • Most savvy politicos know this is unlikely. Saddam is not suicidal, and he's not dumb either. He will not give terrorists weapons and leave Iraq as the return address.
  • A de-stabilized state-of-war Iraq is more likely to leak weapons of mass destruction to the outside world. In chaotic times, it's easy for things to fall into the wrong hands.
  • A threatened Saddam is more likely to pull the trigger, be it on Israel, on our troops, or anyone else in his range.
  • Every Iraqi killed is a potential martyr/figurehead for more radicalization in an increasingly polarized middle east.
  • Increasing anti-us sentiment (which this was is sure to create) aids Al-Qieda's mission by increasing sympathy/solidarity with their cause and making it easier for them to recruit.
  • The war could spark revolutions in currently "friendly" (though despotic) places like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Not good democratic revolutions like Paul Wolfowitz imagines; bad fundamentalist uprisings. Don't forget that Pakistan has the bomb.

Economy: War is not good for business

  • Even if things go swimmingly, we're in for a long financial commitment if we remove Saddam from power. Is now really the time to saddle the government with a huge foreign commitment? We're already into deficit again.
  • If things don't go swimmingly, a good probability given the nature of war, you can double all the costs.
  • War spending does little to rev up the economy as proportionally few Americans are actually employed by the military industrial complex these days.
  • A flood of cheap oil will not offset the cost of conducting a massive war campaign, let alone building a nation.

Humanity: War is bad a priori and should be avoided at all costs

  • If we're to take the country, we'll need to take Bhagdad. Urban warfare is bloody, no two ways about it. This will not be like Desert Storm for us. Many more Americans will die.
  • Even if casualties are low on our side, we're likely to kill hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. That's right, hundreds of thousands of people will die. That's an unimaginable amound of humanity, hundreds of thousands. That kind of loss of life should not be taken lightly.
  • If we really want to help the Iraqi people, we should focus on getting more humanitarian aid delivered. This will mean taking risks, going around Saddam, but courage is something we have, right?.
  • War can only worsen the humanitarian crisis in the short term, and is far from certain to improve it in the long run.

Politics: This war sets a number of bad political precedents

  • The idea of instituting "regime change" as a militarily-enforceable policy undercuts the foundations of the international order. It's not a good idea to legitimize pre-emptive military action just because you don't want someone in charge "over there." This undermines sovereignty, the basis for all trust between nations.
  • Jingoism and the threat of war are being used to influence domestic elections, intentionally or not. This sort of thing has a real bad historical track record.
  • If we hold ourselves above international law by moving without full UN backing and a host of allies, we essentially de-legitimize international decision-making. If we're above that law, then so is everyone else. The US needs to play by the same rules as the other children, or the name of the game is anarchy.
  • The United States should not seek a position of absolute international supremacy, a Pax Americana. All power is corrupting and all dominion fleeting. We should be using our momentary strength to build a more sustainable, more peaceful, more civil international society.

Why are we doing this again? Who stands to gain?

Part Two: Leadership

Moving on to the question of what we must do to stop this war, the left desperately needs leaders. We're not unique in this need -- in case you haven't noticed, there's a real crisis of leadership in this country -- but this is the left's crisitunity. If we could get someone real and viable and honest (those are three killer qualifications), we could really get a lot done.

Delusions of grandeur aside, it ain't me. I'm real, and I'm pretty honest, but I'm nowhere near viable. But I have a visceral need to follow someone I can believe in, and I'm not the only one. Everyone wants someone to bear the standard. That need is going pitifully unmet at the moment, and it gives me a real bad feeling in my gut when I think about it, an angry feeling, misanthropic and cynical: "is this the best humanity has to offer? Well then maybe we deserve what we get." That's a bad way to think, but it's gaining a little more momentum in me all the time. Again, I'm not the only one.

Power is a bitch. We all want it, even/especially artists. That's why we do what we do. We like playing God. But we need someone who's got the ability to lead, who's able to take the front, and who we can trust with the power. Otherwise it's the 1,000 tongues of babel and nothing gets accomplished, everyone trying to lead in their own half-assed apologetic way. Someone's got to run to the front and wave the flag here. We don't have time to set up an alternative democratic structure; shit needs doing. I'm hoping for a benevolent dictator to get the movement started.

If this Iraq thing turns into a sustained "war of generations" as some have suggested, then a more democratic power structure will emerge from the progressive nature of the anti-war culture. We're smart enough that democracy will take care of itself. Right now we need to get the ball rolling. We need to think tactically.

Part Three: Tactics

The tactical goal of any viable anti-war movement is the cessation or aversion of war. Anything else (e.g. tearing down the current administration) is peripheral. That being said, there are many possible tactical routes to take.

I've listened to a lot of people talk about direct action and media attention, and I'm very skeptical of that track of thinking. The bare, bold, unvarnished truth is that the major media outlets are more or less firmly behind the war at the moment. Unless you can do some personal convincing on the highest level, things will go unreported. In the past two weeks, there have been demonstrations in London attracting upwards of 400,000 people, yet we do not see this in the American media.

If we got 400,000 people to come out here in America, we'd probably get a spot on the evening news, but the numbers would be downplayed, the message marginalized and the movement largely ridiculed. This is the attitude of reporting that's been gaining momentum in the past decade: people who take to the streets are strange fringe elements.

I don't think we can rely on the major media outlets to get the ball rolling here. They are huge institutions. They move very slowly and they're for the war at the moment because it makes for great ratings. Unless we provide them with something that will sell more ad spots we won't get their support, and War is a real tough draw to beat. So either we get moving on our own or wait until things go wrong enough that the network executives' atrophied sense of social consciousness and justice kicks in. I don't think we can wait.

So what's the tactic? It's not "demonstrate and get in front of the cameras." People who prostitute themselves to the media get treated like whores by those in power. I think the tactic is to engage people on a personal, bi-directional level.

Dialogue has a contagious nature, and I for one think there's more domestic opposition to the idea of a war (especially a protracted "regime changing" one) than people realize. But Ari Fleicher's admonition to "watch what you say" still rings loud in the nation's ears. The dialogue on this issue is frozen. We need courageous souls to take the first step in opening frank, honest and likely hotheaded discussion.

Don't be afraid. Argument, debate, rhetoric, these are long-standing and deeply rooted American values. People just need to be woken up. Use the talking points from section one. Depending on the interlocutor, you'll may want to lean towards one topic or another, or maybe just use them all to overwhelm the opposition.

Part Four: Strategy

Strategically we need to think about trying in some way to shift the course that our culture is taking. I heard someone say, and I agree, that this is a crucial time. In 10 years, things are either going to be a lot better or a lot worse.

I think one of the key things to avoid is getting bogged down in political machinations. There are a lot of people who want to use this as a means to take shots at Bush, to unseat that particular group from power. I'm all for taking shots at Bush, but the focus here needs to be the aversion of widespread violence, international political polarization, economic strife and humanitarian catastrophe.

Working against those things in the long run is not a partisan pursuit. It's not just about Bush and Cheney, it's about opportunistic Democrats who vote for war because they want to have a shot at election in '04.

Strategically, our goal can be nothing less than the revitalization of the left and Liberalism in general. However, this will not be accomplished by tearing down our political enemies. This will be accomplished if we are able to grow our own strength and absorb other powerbases. This will only be accomplished if we move from being a dissident or anti-culture and toward standing for a viable, realistic, attractive alternative.

This kind of strategic goal is difficult. True, we hold the ethical high ground, but we must not condescend or assume superiority. We need to use our resources (ethical superiority, celebrity figureheads, money). Only with leadership and a clear message can we shift the national debate away from its current greedy right-leaning focus. It's hard work, but it's the only work worth doing.

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Trips

Trips in Space and Time 8/02/03

Big Wheels in Berkeley
I scored a set of west-coast wheels today at the Ashby BART station flea market. It's a very tall schwinn road bike, black, deceptively heavy but smooth-riding. Thirty-five dollars to boot. I oiled and cleaned the works, dialed in the bakes and took it out for a shake-down cruise immediately. Nice riding on a beautiful saturday, realizing how out of shape I am as I wheezed my way though the hilly area behind the Berkeley campus.

After about an hour I started to get the swing of it. Made some minor mechanical adjustments (including a free wheel truing at the bike collective on Shattuck), drank a few liters of water and started finding my groove, cruising up and around and ending up with a beautiful view of the whole bay. The roads here are not kind to the speed inclined -- too many stop signs and crosswalks and lights -- but it was good to get out and proj for a while. This changes my summer dramatically.

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