February 27, 2003-- As I write this, it looks like war.
This, in spite of the obvious lack of enthusiasm in the country for war. The polls that register "approve" or "disapprove" can only count numbers, they cannot test the depth of feeling. And there are many signs that the support for war is shallow and shaky and ambivalent.. That's why the numbers showing approval for war have been steadily going down.
This administration will not likely be stopped, though it knows its support is thin. In fact, that is undoubtedly why it is in such a hurry; it wants to go to war before the support declines even further.
The assumption is that once the soldiers are in combat, the American people will unite behind the war. The television screens will be dominated by images showing "smart bombs" exploding, and the Secretary of Defense will assure the American people that civilian casualties are being kept to a minimum. (We're in the age of megadeaths, and any number of casualties less than a million is no cause for concern).
This is the way it has been. Unity behind the president in time of war. But it may not be that way again.
The anti-war movement will not likely surrender to the martial atmosphere. The hundreds of thousands who marched in Washington and San Francisco and New York and Boston - and in villages, towns, cities all over the country from Georgia to Montana - will not meekly withdraw. Unlike the shallow support for the war, the opposition to the war is deep, cannot be easily dislodged or frightened into silence.
Indeed, the anti-war feelings are bound to become more intense. To the demand "Support Our GIs", the movement will be able to reply: "Yes, we support our GIs, we want them to live, we want them to be brought home. The government is not supporting them. It is sending them to die, or to be wounded, or to be poisoned by our own depleted uranium shells".
No, our casualties will not be numerous, but every single one will be a waste of an important human life. We will insist that this government be held responsible for every death, every dismemberment, every case of sickness, every case of psychic trauma caused by the shock of war.
And though the media will be blocked from access to the dead and wounded of Iraq, though the human tragedy unfolding in Iraq will be told in numbers, in abstractions, and not in the stories of real human beings, real children, real mothers and fathers - the movement will find a way to tell that story. And when it does, the American people, who can be cold to death on "the other side", but who also wake up when "the other side" is suddenly seen as a man, a woman, a child - just like us - will respond.
This is not a fantasy, not a vain hope. It happened in the Vietnam years. For a long time, what was being done to the peasants of Vietnam was concealed by statistics, the "body count", without bodies being shown, without faces being shown, without pain, fear, anguish shown. But then the stories began to come through - the story of the My Lai massacre, the stories told by returning GIs of atrocities they had participated in.
And the pictures appeared - the little girl struck by napalm running down the road, her skin shredding, the mothers holding their babies to them in the trenches as GIs poured rounds of bullets from automatic rifles into their bodies.
When those stories began to come out, when the photos were seen, the American people could not fail to be moved. The war "against Communism" was seen as a war against poor peasants in a tiny country half the world away.
At some point in this coming war, and no one can say when, the lies coming from the administration - "the death of this family was an accident", "we apologize for the dismemberment of this child", "this was an intelligence mistake", "a radar misfunction" - will begin to come apart.
How soon that will happen depends not only on the millions now - whether actively or silently - in the anti-war movement, but also on the emergence of whistle blowers inside the Establishment who begin to talk, of journalists who become tired of being manipulated by the government, and begin to write to truth. And of dissident soldiers sick of a war that is not a war but a massacre-how else describe the mayhem caused by the most powerful military machine on earth raining thousands of bombs on a fifth-rate military power already reduced to poverty by two wars and ten years of economic sanctions?
The anti-war movement has the responsibility of encouraging defections from the war machine. It does this simply by its existence, by its example, by its persistence, by its voices reaching out over the walls of government control and speaking to the consciences of people.
Those voices have already become a chorus, joined by Americans in all walks of life, of all ages, in every part of the country.
There is a basic weakness in governments, however massive their armies, however wealthy they are, however they control the information given to the public, because their power depends on the obedience of citizens, of soldiers, of civil servants, of journalists and writers and teachers and artists. When these people begin to suspect they have been deceived, and withdraw their support, the government loses its legitimacy, and its power.
We have seen this happen in recent decades, all around the globe. Leaders who were apparently all-powerful, surrounded by their generals, suddenly faced the anger of an aroused people, the hundreds of thousands in the streets and the reluctance of the soldiers to fire, and those leaders soon rushed to the airport, carrying their suitcases of money with them.
The process of undermining the legitimacy of this government has begun. There has been a worm eating at the innards of its complacency all along - the knowledge of the American public, buried, but in a very shallow grave, easy to disinter, that this government came to power by a political coup, not by popular will.
The movement should not let this be forgotten.
The first steps to de-legitimize this government are being taken, in small but significant ways. The wife of the President must call off a gathering of poets in the White House because the poets have rebelled, because they see the march to war as a violation of the most sacred values of poets through the ages.
The generals who led the Gulf War of 1991 speak out against this impending war as foolish, unnecessary, dangerous. The C.I.A. contradicts the president by saying Saddam Hussein is not likely to use his weapons unless he is attacked.
All across the country - not just the great metropolitan centers, like Chicago, but places like Boesman, Montana, Des Moines, Iowa, San Luis Obispo, California, Nederland, Colorado, Tacoma, Washington, York, Pennsylvania, Santa Fe, New Mexico, Gary, Indiana, Carrboro, North Carolina - fifty-seven cities and counties in all - have passed resolutions against the war, responding to their citizens.
The actions will multiply, once the war has begun. The stakes will be higher. People will be dying every day. The responsibility of the peace movement will be huge-to speak to what people may feel but are hesitant to say. To say that this is a war for oil, for business. Bring back the Vietnam-era poster: "War Is Good For Business - Invest your Son". (In this morning's Boston Globe, a headline: "Extra $15 Billion for Military Would Profit New England Firms")
Yes, no blood for Oil, no blood for Bush, no blood for Rumsfeld or Cheney or Powell. No blood for political ambition, for grandiose designs of empire.
No action should be seen as too small, no non-violent action should be seen as too large. The calls now for the impeachment of George Bush should multiply. The constitutional requirement "high crimes and misdemeanors" certainly applies to sending our young halfway around the world to kill and be killed in a war of aggression against a people who have not attacked us.
Those poets troubled Laura Bush because by bringing the war into her ceremony they were doing something "inappropriate". That should be the key; people will continue to do "inappropriate" things, because that brings attention - the rejection of propriety, the refusal to be "professional" (which usually means not breaking out of the box in which your business or your profession insists you stay in).
The absurdity of this war is so starkly clear that people who have never been involved in an anti-war demonstration have been showing up in huge numbers at recent rallies. Anyone who has been to one of them can testify to the numbers of young people present, obviously doing this for the first time.
Arguments for the war are paper thin and fall apart at first touch. Weapons of mass destruction? Iraq may develop one nuclear bomb (though the UN inspectors find no sign of development) - but Israel has 200 nuclear weapons and the US has 20,000 and six other countries have undisclosed numbers. Saddam Hussein a tyrant? Undoubtedly, like many others in the world? A threat to the world? Then how come the rest of the world, much closer to Iraq, does not want war? Defending ourselves? The most incredible statement of all. Fighting terrorism? No connection found between Sept. 11 and Iraq.
I believe it is the obvious emptiness of the administration position that is responsible for the unprecedentedly quick growth of the anti-war movement. And for the emergence of new voices, unheard before, speaking "inappropriately" outside their professional boundaries. 1500 historians have signed an anti-war petition. Businessmen, clergy, have put full page ads in newspapers. All refusing to stick to their "profession" and instead professing that they are human beings first.
I think of Sean Penn traveling to Baghdad, in spite of mutterings about patriotism. Or Jessica Lange, speaking at a movie festival in Spain: "I despise George Bush and his administration." The actress Renee Zellweger spoke to a reporter for the Boston Globe, about "how public opinion is manipulated by what we're told. You see it all the time, especially now....The good will of the American people is being manipulated. It gives me the chills...I'm so going to go to jail this year!"
Rap artists have been speaking out on war, on injustice. The rapper Mr. Lif says: "I think people have been on vacation and it's time to wake up. We need to look at our economic, social and foreign policies and not be duped into believing the spin that comes from the government and the media."
In the cartoon, "The Boondocks", which reaches 20 million readers every day, the cartoonist Aaron Magruder has his character, a black youngster named Huey Freeman, say the following: "In this time of war against Osama bin Laden and the oppressive Taliban regime, we are thankful that OUR leader isn't the spoiled son of a powerful politician from a wealthy oil family who is supported by religious fundamentalists, operates through clandestine organizations, has no respect for the democratic electoral process, bombs innocents, and uses war to deny people their civil liberties. Amen."
The voices will multiply. The actions, from silent vigils to acts of civil disobedience (three nuns are facing long jail terms for pouring their blood on missile silos in Colorado), will multiply.
If Bush starts a war, he will be responsible for the lives lost, the children crippled, the terrorizing of millions of ordinary people, the American GIs not returning to their families. And all of us will be responsible for bringing that to a halt.
Men who have no respect for human life or for freedom or justice have taken over this beautiful country of ours. It will be up to the American people to take it back.
Dr. Howard Zinn is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Boston University. This article first appeared in the Progressive and was also published on Thursday, February 27, 2003 by CommonDreams.org.
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