We almost stopped the war

The “war” – or more accurately the massive assault on a small, defenseless country by an uncontrollable superpower — began precisely on schedule, although with a “pinpoint” strike of “only” forty cruise missiles rather than the “massive” attack of hundreds or thousands that have been trailed in Pentagon advertising. The massive attack, we are told, is still coming. So what do we do now?

Even before Bush issued his ultimatum, it had always been crystal clear that the hawks in Washington would have their war. War was always probable. War was always almost unavoidable. War was until the end nearly inevitable. But it was in the “almost” and “nearly” that many found hope and motivation to do everything in their power as individuals and as part of an unprecedented global mobilization to try to stop this madness. Now what?

The mind tries to comprehend the enormity of what is about to happen, the fear and terror that the people of Baghdad are experiencing as they wait, huddled in their homes for who knows what. Beyond the immediate, the sense of humiliation starts to sink in of what it means that the great city of Baghdad will, like Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Ramallah and Hebron, be occupied by a foreign power, while the Arabs sit by as helpless spectators. How to avoid the temptation to just sit and stare at this horrible spectacle?

It is also hard to resist a feeling of guilt, as all around us here in the United States, life goes on as normal for the vast majority of people. We shop, we eat, we go to work, we say good morning to our neighbors, sure that they and the homes we leave behind will be here when we get back. For us, participation in the war is optional. And if we do choose to participate, then that participation is limited to watching it as a we would watch a sports event. On channel 32 I can watch the war. If I don’t like that, I can turn to channel 7 and learn who will be wearing what and arriving with whom at next week’s Oscar’s ceremony. The ridiculous features on the local tv news on how to assemble a “disaster survival kit” for “you and your family” only underscore how far removed we are from any palpable, personal danger. Or, if as the 11 September 2001 attacks proved, the danger is real and massive, then such ‘preparations’ only show how woefully inadequate any personal preparation for it can be. The Code Orange, (or is it Red now?) stinks of a desperate attempt to make us feel ‘part of the action,’ to scare us into supporting the war.

The pundits are already predicting that the antiwar movement will wane as people in the United States and United Kingdom “unite behind the troops.” This is an understandable sentiment. But we should resist the pressure to make a virtue of blind conformity. If the war was wrong before it started, the dropping of bombs does not suddenly make it right. It is still wrong. We must oppose it. I support the troops. I support them not being sent to be killed in a distant country that presents absolutely no threat, and to kill innocent people and destroy and occupy their country. I support them being brought home at once. Not one American or British soldier should die in this war. We should also remember that America’s armed forces are disproportionately composed of the economically and socially disenfranchised, people who, denied a slice of the “American dream” at home by failing schools, racism, the prison industry, and growing economic inequality, must seek to escape by joining the military. Empires have always sent their poorest, least educated and most marginalized to fight in the distant provinces.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We must participate in a meaningful way, and stand up against this war and the degraded “values” of its authors. We have a greater choice than what to watch on tv.

First, I have decided to observe a strict embargo on watching American television network coverage of the “war.” Any useful information that could be gleaned from such, would be far outweighed by the cost to my mental health and sanity of being exposed to the gleeful belligerence and ignorance of organizations that serve as nothing more than extended infomercials for the US government and its weapons of mass destruction. Such “coverage” does not bring us closer to what is happening, but puts a further veil of unreality between the viewer and the events in Iraq. I will listen, instead, only to foreign broadcasts via satellite and the internet. I will read newspapers. I will look at the first-hand accounts from the Iraq Peace Team and others who have decided to stay in Baghdad as the true ambassadors to the Iraqi people of world opinion that rejects this war.

Second, although the global antiwar movement failed in its primary goal of stopping an American attack on Iraq, I will remind myself it did not fail, and its role may only just be beginning. All of us together, millions of people around the world, we nearly stopped the war. Nearly. But without the opposition, the US might have been able to assemble more than the ragtag band of tinpot governments it calls a “coalition of the willing.” As it is, they still don’t even have Turkey. And the Spanish prime minister, for all his warmongering and opportunism, has not backed this up with Spanish troops, only because Spain’s people stand almost unanimously against war.

If you start to think our opposition doesn’t matter, just imagine how much worse the world would be if the US attack on Iraq were totally unopposed. We still have an enormous job to do. So let’s get up, get out and let our voices be heard.