Drums of Peace, Voices of Sanity

21 Mar 2003

Paul R. Potts

I attended a peace rally in downtown Ann Arbor last night. It’s very difficult to estimate the size of the crowd from within the midst of it, but my wife guessed that about two thousand turned out. It was a noisy, but from what I saw, completely benign and non-combative crowd. I saw no incidents or arguments and no clashes with police (although of course I could have missed something). There were news helicopters overhead and reporters and camera crews on the street (although without a TV, I didn’t get the chance to see how the protest was covered). There was a wide range of ages, classes, and nationalities. I saw many friends I haven’t seen for a long time. I want to say publicly that was proud to pound a drum for peace, proud to march with my wife and eight-year-old son, and proud to be one of them.

As we start to shock and awe, or at least to terrorize and horrify, it’s worth noting that a few of our pussilanimous elected representatives are saying brave and truthful things: see Rep. Pete Stark here. Most, though, are still dragging out the tired party line that once the troops are on the ground, it’s time to abandon protest and throw our full support behind whatever our administration chooses to do with them.

It’s an argument I find strange in many ways, a knot of tightly conflated issues. To me, it ignores notions about expression of dissent that this country were allegedly founded on, the Christian notion of separation of the sinner from the sin, and a fundamental concern for the welfare of human beings. Rep. George Miller says “It’s our young people who will be in jeopardy. They are the ones who are on the firing line. Now that the decision has been made to go to war, they are entitled to our full support.”

But by this argument, in my view, we should reserve our greatest contempt for those who made the decision to put them in harm’s way to fight an unjustifiable and illegal war. Does the president “support our troops?”

Natasha Walter writes here “this pragmatic desire for a quick victory rather than a bloody, drawn-out struggle doesn’t mean that it is necessary to idealise these men who are fighting this unjust war. In fact, it is vital that we do not now start to blur reality by idealising them.” Although we should always endeavor to love the sinner and hate the sin, I have little doubt that many are drawn to participate in the military for less than benign reasons. There are those in the military who look forward to a chance to inflict violence. Those who have been through the experience, however, are not so quick to recommend it. Even those “just following orders” must ultimately justify and reconcile themselves to what they do in wartime. Frequently, the long-term result is a profound disillusionment. Stephen Banko III writes about his wartime experience here and David Boe takes on Charlie Daniels here.

Let’s also remember that the notion of a “coalition of the willing” is rather less than one might hope. In fact, it is a fabrication, nearly entirely spin. Even the New York Times wrote “the administration released a list of 43 nations it said were willing to be identified publicly as coalition members. Many of them had little to offer the war effort but moral support. While the list included Afghanistan, Eritrea, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Rwanda and Uganda, only Britain and Australia have contributed sizable forces.” The Marshall Islands? Even Canada does not necessarily support our actions. In Montreal, sports fans booed the playing of the national anthem!

And, apparently, the Dow has been increasing for the eighth day running. Nothing like a way to get the economy moving.

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