Response to Hayden

A few days ago, we posted an article by Tom Hayden about the impact the peace movement has had on the perception of the Iraq war. Here are some membership remarks and expansions on the general theme.


Hayden’s analysis is interesting as always, but I wonder why he doesn’t mention the obvious: the huge majority of people who were involved in the anti-war movement of the 60s, and anyone we’ve managed to significantly influence in the intervening 40 years, were not gung-ho about the current war in the first place. This is a qualitative difference from prevailing conditions when the Vietnam adventure began; heck, most folks then didn’t even realize U.S. troops were involved in actual fighting for quite a while.

Also, the intervening years have not been empty of foreign conflict; I’m not even gonna try to list them all, but the First Iraq War springs to mind, as does Grenada. And in each imperial conflict, another segment of the public sees through the government lies, all too often while standing at the fresh grave of an American boy or girl. Once you’ve seen through it; it’s not like you can go back, is it, to accepting anything they say.

It takes a couple of generations between wars, I think, for them to again appear brave, glamorous and patriotic. Time for those poppies to grow in Flanders fields, and so forth. But the empire increasingly cannot wait 15 years, 10, or even 5 between conflicts; like a junkie out of control it must have more and more warfare, expend more and more bullets and hardware and superfluous, inconvenient youth. And slowly, gradually, against the tide of poisonous propaganda, the people see through it more easily every time.

Today’s peace movement did not spring ex nilo from the earth with Cindy Sheehan’s grieta; it has been here all along.

My question is, why have we (that ongoing peace movement community) been so ill-prepared to address what we all knew was coming, theoretically at least? Or was “imperialism” just a term we tossed around back then?

Mariann Wizard

Was Marianne asking something like “why was the peace movement unprepared for the most reacen recrudescence of US imperialism?” My response, I don’t know anyone active in the peace movement who *was* unprepared. But we’re struggling with a hydra here. We stop it in one place and folks are surprised when it surfaces again in another. Ain’t propaganda and denial and apathy wonderful–they’ve made America what
it is today.

As for unprepared or surprised, 2 weeks from 9/11 we began weekly antiwar vigils here in San Antonio–true we didn’t know where the war was going to be aimed, but we knew there would be one. SA is not exactly the center of the progressive world, so I assume others were mobilizing, too. (The SA vigils came about after a meeting of over 60 people at the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center.)

One of the biggest obstacles IMO to the peace movement being unified and prepared is a lack of agreement about nonviolence. Not a few progressives, including folks on this list, heck, including QUAKERS (!) are clear about absolute nonviolence. When the violence gets really bad whether in Darfur, Kosovo or, ahem, Iraq, or (insert the crisis of the week here) folks in the peace movement begin to think that maybe this time, redemptive violence might work–or at least prevent further horrible injustice. Which is understandable, because the forces behind violent “peacemaking” are still much much stronger than propronents and praticioners of effective nonviolence. And if there is no egregious violent injustice going on in many folks’ awareness, then we seem unable to marshall our capacities to create and sustain the kind of efforts that various peace team groups are promoting. What would Iraq look like if 10,000 trained and equipped Tom Fox’s were there? What would it look like if many of them were Muslim, even Iraqis? What would it have taken to mobilize or train them?

Just as we all will be looked at by any surviving humans as having failed to stop environmental degradation, we will I think, if humanity survives, be the source of amazed headshaking for the reliance on violence to solve our problems. Or not. But if not, what sort of people will the survivors be?

“The choice today is not between violence and nonviolence, it is between nonviolence and nonexistance.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Paz–Val Liveoak

You ask: “My question is, why have we (that ongoing peace movement community) been so ill-prepared to address what we all knew was coming, theoretically at least? Or was “imperialism” just a term we tossed around back then?”

We were prepared. Many have been writing in opposition to this war (and pissing off Republican nephews and brother-in-laws) since way before it began – mostly here in cyberspace. We were remarkably prescient. The early critique by the antiwar Left was ignored and ridiculed in the mainstream (Rich Oppel threw me out of his office) until it all came true.

Our analysis has been a major factor leading to very widespread anti-this war sentiment in the US at this time, but as in Vietnam, events on the ground – the “objective condition” of defeat – is the main engine driving events. Few oppose wars your country is winning.

David Hamilton

Mar – As usual, you are correct, and David is correct – not to mention Val, Hayden, Alan, and a whole bunch of others. We were prepared in that we understood what was going to happen, and we knew why it was going to happen.

As you say below, Viet Nam took years to even surface. No surprise that it took us (“us” in the broadest sense) and objective conditions such a long time to have an effect. I think that it is remarkable, in light of 9/11 and of the relatively few U.S. casualties in Iraq, that we have such a potent anti-Iraq-war effort so soon.

We have been working in exactly the way that David describes. My experience was that no one offered to throw me out of their office – but then I live in a very blue (and green) part of the world. In fact I know that some people were pissed off at me, but they didn’t even try to confront me – somewhat different from 40 years ago.

Your underlying question, I think, is why can’t we have a stronger effect, even sooner? Why can’t we actually prevent this crap? Two comments: First, I used the term “anti-Iraq-war” above, because that is what we have at the 70% level. Anti-imperialist-war might be the position of 35% of the electorate. But you know that that’s a huge improvement over the last go-round.

The second point is that we should take David’s suggestion concerning national, electoral politics very seriously. We really can promote our analysis, going forward. Of course, it is already being done by various individuals and groups. Without doubt we need to join forces on some broadly-agreed level.

My only concern in that regard is that we (again – we in the broadest sense) continue to offer criticism and bits of programs. At some point we have to put forth, debate, and subscribe to a comprehensive program. That is why David and I put out our PDS statement one year ago. Frankly, I don’t recall any comment, let alone debate.

What is going on? Is “program” too confining? Are we still doing our own thing? We don’t have to reannoint Lenin to say that we believe in doing this and that. We can hope that the MDS meeting scheduled for NY in February may result in some movement toward a program. In fact I do so hope. Meantime, someone(s) will have to suggest programmatic elements in order for this to happen. What is wrong with the PDS statement that David (mostly) and I authored? Yes – this is a specific question – not a plaintive complaint. What is wrong, and what is right? What can Ragstaff suggest? What can we bring to the show?

Come on, folks. Let’s talk about something substantive. The old UT police chief’s home photos were a lot of fun, but what do we want to do, what do we want to see, in the present and future?

Paul Spencer

Paul – You don’t get thrown out of people’s offices because you are too damn nice. You were never good at ridiculing people to their face. But I couldn’t help but laugh when Oppel told me of his great familiarity with Chomsky’s “Manufacturing Consent” and then how being owned by the Cox family of billionaires had no influence on his editorial policy.

If the Left could run a campaign at the end of which “Anti-imperialist-war might be the position of 35% of the electorate”, I would be overjoyed. Sounds like Oregon thinking. More like 5% now in flyoverland.

I think our 15 point program didn’t cause much response here most likely because they’re not very controversial among Ragstaffers. In any case, I’m posting my latest version below. Hey folks, did we leave something crucial out or put in something stupid?

David Hamilton

15 Point Program for some yet existing organization that might be called
people or movement for a democratic society.

1. End militarism and support powerful international institutions for
conflict resolution.
2. End poverty via progressive taxation to support provision of all basic
services (clean water, sanitation, basic food, healthcare, affordable
3. Gender equality.
4. Racial equality.
5. Gay and lesbian equal rights, not subject to majoritarian limitations.
6. Two-year, universal public service (military, healthcare service,
infrastructure construction labor, emergency services).
7. Free public education through college, including related child-care.
8. Clean air, soil and water.
9. Development of “alternative” energy sources (solar, wind, wave,
geothermal, etc.).
10. Affordable, environmentally-sensitive public transportation.
11. Proportional representation and publicly financed elections.
12. Equal justice for all by measures to de-commodify legal services.
13. Public investment in or ownership of essential services and utilities.
(transportation, insurance, banking, power, heat).
14. Support co-ops for agricultural products from production through retail.
15. Legalize and tax all drugs. Release all marijuana prohibition prisoners.

Yes, indeed, that is what I was asking, or trying to get to; I think Val’s comments about the hydra-headedness of the beast and the disagreement within the left, for want of a better word, on when if ever violence is justified are particularly on target.

And yes, I do appreciate that many ongoing peace organizations, and individuals, have been actively opposing the present hostilities since before 9/11, but as Paul perceives, it is that larger unpreparedness of those of us who were busy fighting other tentacles and didn’t really see this particular one coming which concerns me.

I was living on my Mom’s farm near Parker, TX on 9/11, forty miles off the interstate, in a cel phone “dead zone”, halfway between Waco and Ft. Worth. I would hate to tell you how long it was before I even heard what had happened in New York! Beginning the next day, I had one of about four vehicles in two counties that was not flying a US flag, and for the duration of my residence in Johnson County, I resisted the efforts of well-meaning individuals to provide me with automobile flags or flag decals. My minister, a young woman still in seminary and serving two aging, rural congregations — one of them made up of mostly of military retirees — opposed war herself but had no analysis of its origins and feared upsetting the delicate balance of her ministry by too-vocal activism; my proposal that we toll the Rio Vista church bell for every US death reported in Afghanistan — a proposal which came from, and was endorsed by, a national coalition of churches — failed for lack of a second, the person who had told me she would second it finding herself unable to do so when the time came. An Indian family who operated a convenience store in Cleburne relocated to the Metroplex after the father was threatened. Everybody was outraged about that, the convenience store being quite convenient, but everybody also assumed that the man would continue to be threatened if he stuck around. Despite constant vocal and visible protestations of patriotism, a planned rally on the courthouse square one year after 9/11 drew just half a dozen fat women in red, white, and blue outfits.

Johnson and Hill counties are rural and poor, and people there knew from the beginning whose boys would be getting killed in any war. But the weight of a fairly homogenous population and the pressure of social conformity are strongest in such places, and many of those who “dare to be different” are caught up in methamphetamine manufacture and use, or pitting their dogs against each other in clandestine meetings.

Program. Yes indeedy, it is program that we need, to counteract the propaganda machine! Actually there was some discussion of the program you & David posted a while back, I know I mentioned ending the drug war and was seconded on that by Janet G., and I think there were a couple of other suggestions, but in general it was pretty comprehensive and made sense. You might want to go back on the website and look at the (little) discussion there was, and let us see it again; I think it might be worthwhile presenting to the Last Sunday group here.

Speaking of which, that’s another thing that makes me scratch my head over who the heck “the broader we” is and our relative “preparedness” — 600 to 1200 (estimates vary) white people in a room all together gave both Sage White and me pretty serious rashes, I believe!! I know we weren’t the only ones who were disturbed by that, and that the conveners are working to remedy the situation; hopefully Rag folk who are interested in this group are also talking to friends, neighbors and co-workers of color and asking them to come to the meeting this month on FRIDAY the 29th.

– Mariann Wizard

I guess that it must be geographic, judging from Mariann’s and David’s pessimism about the numbers of anti-imperialists in this country. It certainly looks different from my perspective. My point was actually to second David’s remarks concerning the historical juncture at which we find ourselves, starting from the fact (in my opinion) that we have more recognition of the problem this time around than in our previous adventures.

Your 9/11 story is emblematic of the situation at that time, but the percentages are Texan. In the Northwest the percentages were different – maybe 20% opposed to war in Afghanistan – but opposition grew quickly as Iraq became the focus. From what I heard and was told, I think that this same scenario was playing widely, outside of the South and the Rocky Mountain states. The Midwest was barely supportive of the war.

All of this was happening at a very grassroots level. As you and Val.recall, the organized anti-war groups were not very ostentatious and certainly enjoyed no MSM sponsorship. I fretted about that for awhile, until I realized that people were actually talking about the situation and publicizing their opinions in Letters to the Editor and such. As you and David have also stated in past posts, the internet became the main engine for this “movement” – especially after it discovered its potential during the 2004 election.

So – not, I hope, to be overly redundant, but the analysis is out there in most parts of this country. Most people – including us benighted Amerikans – are either consciously or objectively anti-imperialist. We lack a concrete plan for solving the problem that is imperialism. It is time to develop and promote such a plan. The good news is that we (we in the narrow sense of the few Ragamuffins who are maintaining this thread) seem to be in agreement that program is the next step.

David repeats our (mostly his) draft program in an earlier posting this evening. What’s the word, folks? Planning or just complaining?

Paul Spencer

Paul — sorry — I was not clear in my earlier post — the poor rural Texans I was living among on 9/11 and for two years in either direction are probably just about as “anti-imperialistic” as the average Oregonian east of the mountains, but they don’t know the word, are real skeptical of anyone’s theories, and aren’t about to upset the already precarious applecart of survival without a damn good-looking alternative.

It’s the same thinking that keeps abused women with their no-good, low-down husbands, “for the sake of the children.” “Politician” is generally viewed as a suspect profession, but everybody knows “you can’t fight city hall.”

Something to keep in mind when crafting our program, I think, is that we should try to offer a vision of something better, in concrete, conceivable ways. What will be the immediate effects of each plank if implemented? How will people’s lives improve? How will they maybe not improve over the short term but then improve a lot? It can’t be about abstractions of what is morally correct, although it should incorporate an ethical perspective; it has to offer a thinkably better future.

Mariann Wizard

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