2003-01-23 / This Week's Attitude

New Protests Ask, "War, What Is It Good For?"

This Week
By Neil S. Friedman

New Protests Ask, "War, What Is It Good For?"

This Week’s


By Neil S. Friedman

I experienced a few chills — literally and figuratively — when I saw the images on television from Saturday’s antiwar rallies and marches in the nation’s capital and other cities around the world. Literally because of the Siberian Express-induced deep freeze that has entered its second straight week in our area. Figuratively due to nostalgic yearnings for my Vietnam War-protest days.

I admire the hundreds of thousands (estimates ranged from as low as 100,000, at least twice as many who marched last October in balmier conditions, to as high as 500,000) who traveled to Washington, DC, last weekend. It isn’t often you see such demonstrations in midwinter, especially when the weather outside is frightening. (Some historians cite the Russian Revolution as "the only true revolution" because it took place during a typically bitter Russian winter. However, let’s not forget the hardy troops who crossed the nearly frozen Delaware River with George Washington during a harsh 18th century winter while fighting the British for this country’s freedom. You gotta tip your hat, earmuffs, scarves and gloves to those earnest rebels, too.)

What made Saturday’s demonstration unique in the annals of protest was that it occurred before any full-scale war commenced. (It intentionally coincided with the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., who preached nonviolence and civil disobedience such as this.) It was, you must admit, a precise pacifist preemptive strike. Not a bad idea.

Let’s just hope the organizers’ intention to "shatter the myth of consensus" gets through to those who make the decisions that result in young Americans getting shipped home in body bags.

Other antiwar events, coordinated by an umbrella group called ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), were held in San Francisco, Las Vegas and Tampa, as well as in London, Paris, Oslo, Tokyo, Hong Kong and other cities abroad.

It was pointed out in a few media reports that many who marched in DC were not part of any organized groups. They were just average citizens who decided to participate because they are frustrated and skeptical about the government’s public strategy concerning Iraq.

The latest polls indicate that more than 50 percent of the nation does not want to go to war — yet.

President Bush, his foreign policy advisors and a few allies have been beating the drums of war for months, trying to elicit unambiguous sanction from the United Nations Security Council to move against Saddam Hussein.

This week, Mr. Bush, who obviously lacks the basic patience of an experienced diplomat, said, "…alternatives to war were nearly exhausted." Thankfully, wiser minds have thus far prevailed, delaying the path to war largely due to insufficient evidence supporting the need for imminent aggression.

The president would be extremely foolish, not to mention especially belligerent, if he decides to become the first U.S. leader to initiate a war without unqualified public support, in addition to backing from allies and world leaders.

Americans certainly don’t want the Bush Administration to capitulate to the lunatic antics of the Iraqi leader, but neither should it stop seeking peaceful solutions before triggering a military strike. While Iraq has evidently violated full disclosure assurances, the empty warheads recently discovered posed no threat or danger and are hardly the "concrete proof" that is essential before any UN resolution of war is ratified.

As thousands converged on Washington from communities all over the country, including an estimated 60 bus loads from the New York metropolitan area, soldiers engaged in tearful good-byes to families, sweethearts and friends before being shipped to the Middle East. About 250,000 American soldiers, sailors and Marines will have been deployed to the region with a month.

Those scenes were awfully reminiscent of ones, including my own, that took place at induction centers nationwide more than three decades ago as America’s youth went off to another unpopular war in another part of the world.

Additional antiwar protests are scheduled for mid-February. It’ll be interesting to see if the turnout then is any larger.

Guess that’ll mostly depend on our government’s actions between now and then. These recent protests are meant to stop a war before it begins —unless someone can satisfactorily answer the lyrical question, "War. Was is it good for?" So far, in this particular instance, the answer remains, "Absolutely nothin’."

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