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Published: Thursday, 2/6/2003

Anti-war protesters are patriots, too

BY EILEEN FOLEY

“Peace is also patriotic,” read the sticker that a friend of writer John LeCarre said had been swiped from his car.

You wouldn't think so these days with so many Americans in a fundamentalist fervor, insisting President Bush knows best. He hasn't convinced most of the world and a good chunk of the nation, but supporters go into major snits at peace marchers and other dissenters.

Comcast cable television rejected ads an anti-war group wanted to air during the State of the Union speech. Its claims weren't substantiated, Comcast said, as if Mr. Bush's were.

That's scary, because even Mr. Bush has said that “diversity is not disorder. Debate is not strife. And dissent is not revolution.”

What's on the minds of peaceniks? Well, “Thou shalt not kill” is big, especially for serious Christians who'd prefer to die themselves than kill someone else and for those who think war barbaric. Except for the Pope, I've not spotted masses of right-to-lifers in this contingent.

Some Vietnam vets resent what they call “chicken hawks” - Mr. Bush and several in his entourage - who never fought in a war yet press so hard to send others to die. Trust? None.

Defying international law with pre-emptive strikes gives others acid reflux of body and soul. In this “what goes around comes around” world, they talk of the practicality of justice, and about boomerang effects.

At home and abroad, countless lawyers, homemakers, students, poets, writers, and others are stricken at the prospect of carnage. They are marching, contacting the President and Congress, and sending Mr. Bush little bags of rice, urging him to feed the Iraqis, not kill them.

Most galling to many is what Bush supporters call his “moral clarity.” To others, including me, it seems a trite and flagrant use of piety to mask traditional venalities. God is always on the side of conflicting warriors.

Spy novelist John LeCarre said last month that “America has entered one of its periods of historical madness ... the worst [he] can remember: worse than McCarthyism, worse than the Bay of Pigs, and in the long term potentially more disastrous than the Vietnam War ...

“The religious cant that will send American troops into battle is perhaps the most sickening aspect of this surreal war-to-be. Bush has an arm-lock on God. And God has very particular political opinions. God appointed America to save the world in any way that suits America.”

His critique is mild compared with British playwright Harold Pinter's in accepting an honorary doctorate at Turin University in November.

Recovering from cancer surgery, Pinter said he found himself in “an infinitely more pervasive public nightmare - of American hysteria, ignorance, arrogance, stupidity, and belligerence ... ‘If you are not with us, you are against us,' President Bush has said. He has also said ‘We will not allow the world's worst weapons to remain in the hands of the world's worst leaders.' Quite right. Look in the mirror, chum. That's you.”

He gets after Americans for thinking their 3,000 deaths on 9/11 are the only ones that count, forgetting the 3,000 deaths in Afghanistan, the effect of depleted uranium we used in the gulf war - Iraqi children born with severe birth defects - the millions dead in Central and South America and southeast Asia in actions we supported and subsidized.

In Pinter's opinion, we will kill to control Iraqi oil and “because the U.S. administration is now a bloodthirsty wild animal. Bombs are its only vocabulary.”

These people are not for the Butcher of Baghdad. But unlike the international human rights groups who are sitting on their hands, they are saying we need to think deeply before letting the government kill for us.

In Davos, Switzerland, Malaysian Prime Minister Mohammed Mahatir was more succinct. He told world bigwigs: “People want revenge. You kill our people, we will kill you.” It wasn't a threat, just a fact.

Lots of antiwar protesters are having night sweats thinking the same thing and feeling helpless to make a difference.

They aren't all lefties. In a recent full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal, Republicans who backed Mr. Bush because he would make America “a more humble nation in our dealings with the world ” now feel betrayed. “We want our money back. We want our country back,” they said.

For a lot of us not opposed to war in principle, it's also hokey to possibly kill Iraqi kids to keep Saddam from doing it.



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