I find it heartening to recall that there were anti-war voices in America in 2002, before the war in Iraq. The reason is that many (not all) of the “anti-war” arguments I hear these days are related to the ways the war has affected America and Americans: the cost in American lives, dead and permanently injured; the cost in financial terms to America and the impact on the economy; the loss of American honour and reputation in the world; the dangers associated with the drain on the American military, now stretched to the breaking point in terms of personnel.
I am committed to the moral arguments: the immorality and illegality of the war in Iraq; the crimes against humanity committed by the Bush and his administration in the form of the rendition and torture of so many, the illegal detention of prisoners of war in inhumane conditions, the apparently thoughtless and hidden costs to the Iraqi people in terms of culture, economy, infrastructure, sectarianism, violence towards women … I could go on, of course.
These anti-war principles are important. If Americans have turned against the war only because of the (relatively) small pain it has caused them, then they can be turned back ’round by “success”. That is entirely unacceptable if one believes the war cannot be justified in the first place. And so I am glad to remember the words of one anti-war activist whose voice could be heard long before the Iraqi occupation had begun to disturb most Americans, Adrienne Rich. I know those voices were there and I’m glad to listen again:
To be “antiwar” is not a simple position. It means disentangling the strands that connect the weapons industry with the lack of will for diplomacy and coherent foreign policy. It means understanding what the militarization of a society costs, economically and socially and in terms of civil liberties, the propaganda of violence as both heroism and efficient solution. It means probing the official versions to reveal how and why we are being driven toward aggression. To be “antiwar” is to be for public debate and knowledge, the foundations of democratic polity.
Is George W. Bush generally reviled because he took America to war in Iraq? Or is he unpopular because he mismanaged the war and drove the American economy into recession? The answer matters.
The ability of ordinary Americans to hear and participate in public debate and to have full access to the kinds of information necessary for intelligent decisionmaking has been seriously compromised. The foundations of “democratic polity” are crumbling. I hope that America finds her voice before too much time passes, and people with it. Looking back, listening to near and far-historical voices, can be an educaton in itself.