Mar 102013

War for Oil & Empire and an Introduction to the U.S. Peace Movement: A U.S. Perspective by Dr. Joseph Gerson


The Cordoba Dialogue on Peace and Human Rights in Europe and Asia

Cordoba, Spain

November 25 & 26, 2002

It is a privilege to participate in this dialog. I want to thank the conference organizers for their generosity in including the American Friends Service Committee among those invited as we confront the Bush Administration’s catastrophic drive to massively escalate the war against Iraq.

It may be helpful for you to know that the American Friends Service Committee is a Quaker-based peace, justice, reconciliation and development organization, with staff and programs across the United States and in a number of countries. The organization was founded during the First World War and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize shortly after World War II, in large measure for its relief and reconstruction work in Europe and Asia. In 1951, the AFSC was among the first private agencies asked to assist Palestinian refugees, and in 1970, the wake of the Six Day war, it was the first major U.S. organization to articulate the historic rights of the Palestinian and Israeli peoples to the land of Israel-Palestine, and to urge a two-state solution based on the self-determination, security, and mutual recognition of each of these nations. Some of us have played leading roles in the U.S. in naming, describing, and opposing U.S. neo-colonialism, hegemony, and military interventions – including threats to initiate nuclear war – in Southwest Asia. And for most of the past decade, AFSC has worked to end devastating economic sanctions regime that has taken such a terrible toll on the Iraqi people. With our Campaign of Conscience, we have sent water purification and other sanctioned essential materials, without government licensees, in order to relieve the suffering and to challenge the sanctions regime.

Since the September 11, 2001 attacks, AFSC has played a leading role in calling for legal and diplomatic responses to non-state terrorism, and in building opposition to the invasion of Afghanistan, and to the Bush Administration’s global military “crusade” of overt and covert warfare in as many as 60-80 nations.

I thought it might be helpful to summarize the U.S. peace and anti-war movement’s understandings of the Bush Administration’s global project, the range of debate within the U.S. over the threatened and quite possibly imminent invasion of Iraq, and to describe some of the initiatives, dynamics, and needs of the U.S. peace and anti-war movements.

The Bush Administration’s project:

The Bush Administration’s ambition and arrogance are remarkable, but not unprecedented. Just over a decade ago, when many of them served in the first Bush Administration, they were clear that the U.S. sought to create a “New World Order” in which “What we say goes.” As Dick Cheney, our functional Prime Minister and CEO , put it several months before the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the primary organizing dynamic at work in the world today is the creation of “the arrangement [for] the twenty-first century” in which “the United States will continue to be the dominant political, economic, and military power in the world”[1]

As the Pakistani physicist Zia Mian described it in a conference that we organized in October, ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­

The Bush Administration sees the U.S. as the victor of the Cold War, as well as the inheritor of the British and French colonial empires in Southwest Asia. The turmoil and messiness of their oil-rich domains disturbs their managerial minds, and they believe that they can rewind “history back to 1945, before the rise of the Soviet Union as a superpower, when the U.S. was master of all it surveyed.” But, as Zia reminds us, the 20th century saw not only the Cold War, but also the Third World’s struggle for freedom, and it is clear that “People now will not tolerate the United States behaving like the British and the French conquering countries and creating new colonies…that period of history is past! The Vietnamese should have taught everybody this.”[2]

There is, of course, more continuity than change in the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld project. Early on, they named their muses: Admiral Mahan, Henry Cabot Lodge, Presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt, the men who, more than a century ago, envisioned the U.S. replacing Britain was the world’s dominant power and who laid the military foundations of the United States overseas empire.

Noam Chomsky tells us that the uniqueness of the September 11 attacks was that the violence was finally turned against the hegemon. Muto Ichiyo, an engaged Japanese scholar points to a second major change: a fundamental internal shift at the apex of the world’s hierarchy of power as the U.S. moves more completely towards unilateralism, preemptive attack, and contempt for international law.

The indiscriminate and devastating 9-11 terrorist attacks have provided the Bush Administration with the political cover needed to, as Colin Powell, put it, “set the reset button” on U.S. foreign and military policies. With the 9-11 attacks opening the way, the U.S. has proclaimed its new preemptive military doctrine; increased its military budget by approximately $100 billion to $400 billion – the combined total of the world’s next twenty-five greatest military spenders; expanded discredited alliances, created new alliances, disciplined client states; published its frightening Nuclear Posture Review which specifically targets three Middle East countries as well as four other nations; withdrawn from the ABM Treaty; sabotaged the Kyoto Treaty and the Biological Weapons Convention; enlarged its global network of foreign military bases – especially in oil and gas-rich Central and Southwest Asia, furthered its long-term strategic goal of encircling China, seriously subverted constitutionally guaranteed civil liberties in the United States, and largely abandoned or subverted international law. As Condoleeza Rice explained, the Bush Administration sees this period is analogous 1945- 47, when Washington (with Stalin’s help,) created the Cold War (Dis)order.

Not since the so-called “Spanish-American War” in 1898, have U.S. leaders and the mainstream media spoken so freely about the U.S. and its global sphere as an empire. Even the N.Y. Times reminds us that not since the Roman empire has a single nation enjoyed such superiority. But Rome was limited to one region of the world, while Washington’s empire is global, and penetrates and subverts other cultures more deeply and radically.[3]

The Bush Administration’s “National Security Strategy” is clear that this government worships at the alter of military power. They aspire to developing overwhelming and unrivaled military power indefinitely into the future. Essential to this vision are first-strike nuclear capabilities, monopolization of the militarization of space, deadly demonstration wars that communicate Washington’s will to use its intimidating arsenals so that, as Paul Wolfowitz says, other nations will fear us.

Even as the Bush Administration breaks new ground by articulating its doctrines of preemptive war, limited sovereignty for other nations, and first-strike nuclear warfighting, there is considerable continuity with the Clinton Administration: the doctrine of counter-proliferation now being exercised in relation to Iraq (but not Israel, Pakistan, India or North Korea,) the priority given to preventing the emergence of regional as well as global rivals (which dates back to the Bush I strategic doctrine authored by Paul Wolfowitz,) containment of China, and the centrality of a World Trade/”Free” Trade order dominated by the U.S. and its allies of the post-industrial North.

The “arrangement for the 21st century also includes, as we see in Central and Southwest Asia, reconsolidation of U.S. domination the world’s energy supplies, especially oil – the jugular vein of global capitalism. As Noam Chomsky put it years ago, “Axiom One” of U.S. foreign and military policy has been to ensure that neither its enemies nor its allies gain significant independent access to the world’s largest oil reserves, and that “All other issues will be subordinated to this concern.”[4] I am sure that you understand this well.

Middle East oil was “The Prize” of the First World War. The oil embargo against Japan was the precipitating cause of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and to preserve is dominance over Southwest Asian and North African oil reserves, the U.S. has threatened to initiate nuclear war on at least eight occasions, toppled and subverted numerous Southwest Asian and African governments. During the 1991 Gulf War, the U.S. deployed an estimated 700 nuclear weapons around Iraq, and the President, the Vice President, the Secretary of State Baker, and the British Prime Minister all communicated nuclear threats to Iraq. Less well known is that Brigadier General Glossom, who was the general responsible for identifying targets in Iraq and the weapons to be used against them, recommended the use of tactical nuclear weapons against Iraq’s suspected biological warfare infrastructure.[5] In Afghanistan, the Clinton government helped to bring the Taliban to power in order to secure a pipeline that would bring Central Asian oil to market without passing through Russia or Iran. And, not surprisingly, Mohammed Karzai’s first foreign trip after being installed in power was to Turkestan, to reopen negotiations for the construction of that pipeline.

Rationales For War:

The rationales for “regime change” war against Iraq are so full of flaws and contradictions that the Bush Administration has found it necessary to launch a massive propaganda campaign to mobilize popular support for the war, but the truth is that this campaign has been only partially successful.

We are told that Iraq refuses to implement United Nations Security Council resolutions — much as Israel has repeatedly done. We are reminded that the Iraqi government is a major human rights violator — much like U.S. allies in Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the Musharaff regime, the new Central Asian “republics,” Russia, China, and a host of other U.S. client states. The Iraqi government’s use of weapons of mass destruction against its own people, which is truly awful, is not entirely unique. The U.S. government exposed millions of its citizens to radioactive fallout, and chemical and biological weapons tests have been conducted using both soldiers and civilians as their guinea pigs.[6] We are told that Iraq has used weapons of mass destruction against another nation as if the U.S. were not complicit in their use against Iranians and as if Hiroshima, Nagasaki and the war against Vietnam never happened. We are warned that Iraq threatens the Nuclear Non-Proliferation regime, which is a matter of grave concern, as is the fact that the U.S. and other nuclear powers have completely disregarded their Article VI commitments to eliminate their nuclear arsenals, and as if the Israeli, Indian, Pakistani, and (reportedly) North Korean nuclear arsenals did not exist.

Even as the CIA informs the President and the world that Iraq poses no imminent threat to the United States, Washington is preparing for “the most momentous use of force by the United States since the Vietnam war.” As in 1991 and the recent Afghan war, it is likely to include the threat of first-strike nuclear attacks. To what end: to ensure that Iraq never again seriously rivals U.S. regional hegemony; to regain ultimate control over Iraq’s oil reserves, thus gaining an alternative to and lever over Saudi oil wealth while limiting French and Russian influence over Iraqi oil reserves; and to use the Iraqi example to reconquer and reorganize Southwest Asia.

Meanwhile, most U.S. Americans are blissfully oblivious to the Bush Administration’s assault on constitutionally guaranteed civil liberties. For the first time in U.S. history people are being people secretly arrested and imprisoned. In the aftermath of 9-11, surveillance has become widespread and widely accepted, with former Reagan National Security Advisor John Poindexter of Iran-Contra fame now heading Total Information Administration, designed to monitor the world’s cyber communications. I am sorry to have to report that many Arab-Americans, and to a lesser degree South Asian-Americans, live with considerable anxiety as they face daily doses of discrimination, and in rare cases abuse and violence. And, although it is being used on a very limited basis, a presidential order now makes 20 million immigrants vulnerable to secret military tribunals, where evidence can be withheld from the defendant who, in the most extreme cases, will face the threat of execution, with no right of appeal.

Elite Divisions:

Much has changed since the first disorienting and challenging months that followed the September 11 attacks. Today, the most popular movement slogan is “No War For Oil!”, but its foundations lie in the movement’s initial responses to the September 11 attacks and the Bush Administration’s declaration of “World War III.” As we sought to break the silence and fear, we organized vigils and meetings in cities and towns across the country to communicate four fundamental points: 1) our grief at the loss of human life, 2) the need to bring those responsible for the terrorist attacks to justice by legal and diplomat means — that war is not the answer, 3) the importance of protecting endangered communities in the United States (i.e. Arab- South Asian-, and Muslim-Americans) and our constitutionally guaranteed civil liberties, and 4) the necessity of addressing the root causes of the September 11 attacks which lie to a considerable extent in decades of U.S. Southwest Asian and North African hegemony. There is one additional point that I want to stress: Terrorism is a gift to militarists in the U.S. and in Israel. If there is another major terrorist attack against U.S. civilians, it will reinforce militarists at all levels of U.S. society and will cripple the U.S. peace movement.

Representative Barbara Lee cast the lone vote opposing the resolution granting Congressional authorization for war against Afghanistan, and under a barrage of death threats, she was soon under twenty-four hour per day police protection. Yet, the pressures from the growing peace movement, the failures of the war in Afghanistan, and growing doubts about Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Rice unilateralism, have shattered unity within the U.S. elite began to crack late last winter. It began with fifteen members of Congress remembering that the United States is supposed to be a constitutional democracy. They publicly addressed a letter to the President with the message that he had no legal authorization to extend his war beyond Afghanistan. In April, midst savage Israeli assaults against Palestinians, the divided and combined forces of the U.S. peace movement surprised ourselves by mobilizing more than 100,000 people to travel to Washington to protest Bush’s wars and to call for an end to the Israeli occupation. It was truly amazing to see so many PLO flags being passionately waved in the U.S. capital in what became, among other things, the largest pro-Palestinian demonstration in U.S. history.

The debate within the U.S. elite that opened this past summer over the Bush Administration’s drive for unilateral and preemptive war against Iraq is primarily about means not ends. Nonetheless, the schism opened space in which popular opposition to the war could grow. The challenges posed by former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, former Secretary of State James Baker, militarist Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, and patrician Democratic war veteran Senator John Kerry were not about whether the U.S. should attack Iraq, but whether it should do unilaterally or multilaterally under the protective cover of a U.N. mandate.

In response to the enormous pressures that resulted from these challenges, the Bush Administration moved quite explicitly to exploit the September 11 anniversary to “market” its threatened war against Iraq.[7] The President’s campaign was successful in stampeding a Congressional majority to authorize a preemptive and potentially unilateral war. With Congressional approval in hand, the President further intimidated the U.N. Security Council, winning its approval to threaten Iraq with “serious consequences” if the Iraqi government failed to open entire nation to intrusive inspections. The White House campaign had one other dimension, distracting the U.S. electorate from focusing on its growing economic insecurity and staggering corruption at the commanding heights of the U.S. economy. Fallout from the campaign included growing fears within the U.S. military about the war it was being prepared to fight; as well as explosive growth of a nation-wide community-based peace movement. Last month we lost the vote in Congress, but compared to Barbara Lee’s lone vote against war of a year ago – we turned a quarter of the Congressional vote against Bush’s war, which was considerably better than we had anticipated.

As a long-time peace activist, I have been surprised by opposition to, and deep concerns about, Bush’s war policy within the U.S. military. Not unlike the decision to use atomic bombs against Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it is radical civilian militarists, not the officer corps, that is behind the drive to war. Michael Klare, who lectured at the Naval War College this past summer, reported three major concerns expressed by officers: 1) that the U.S. would win the war against Iraq, but that the heavy civilian death toll in house to house fighting would lead to catastrophic chaos throughout the Arab and Islamic worlds; 2) that the U.S. would win the war, but that the Iraqi government would launch several scud missiles into Israel, that Israel would retaliate massively, and there would be catastrophic chaos through out the Arab and Islamic worlds; and 3) that the U.S. would win the war, that there would be still greater repression throughout the Arab and Islamic worlds, but not catastrophic chaos, and the U.S. would face an endless military occupation of Iraq – a far more complex and dangerous situation than the post-war occupation of Afghanistan. The current estimates are than between 50,000 and 100,000 U.S. troops will be required for an endless occupation. The recent bombings in Yemen and Bali and the reemergence of Osama Bin Laden posing as the defender of the Palestinian and Iraqi nations, has also amplified the military’s doubts.

In the United States, the choices we face are strikingly clear. Alternative paths are readily apparent, if not the Establishment’s first choice. As I begin to name them, I should stress that, like our culture, the U.S. peace and anti-war movement has many strands, differing values and ideologies, and hardly speaks with a single voice.

With its choice of war rather than legal and diplomatic means to respond to the 9-11 attacks, the Bush Administration has opted to impose an “arrangement for the 21st century” that looks rather like the failed Israeli model of conquest, occupation, repression, and deepening cycles of violence. As the Israeli and U.S. people are learning, this exacts an enormous toll, not only on the people at the other end of the colonizer’s missiles and terrorists’ bombs, but on other innocents as the culture is corrupted with militarism, and as fundamental human needs (food, housing, medical care, and education) are sacrificed to fatten military budgets and to cover the exorbitant costs of killing and long-term military occupation.

The alternative path was modeled by people like Issam Sartwai, Said Hammami, Mattityahuu Peled, and Lova Eliav, the courageous men who initiated the Israeli-PLO dialog in the 1970s, and by Olaf Palme, Georgi Arbatov, and Mikhail Gorbachev who built the intellectual foundations for the end of the Cold War with the concept of Common Security. This is the truth that I cannot be secure if you are insecure, that one nation cannot be truly secure if others are not. This ancient truth and conceptual pillar does not require that we worship the same deity or that we completely share the same values. Instead it means mutual tolerance and mutual respect which characterized the “Ornament of Civilization” modeled here in Cordoba ten centuries ago, Common Security can serve us well today and as we contemplate the future.

The political and cultural achievements of the Caliphate here in Cordoba are little known in the U.S., but the name Martin Luther King Jr., whose birthday we will soon celebrate in a national holiday is. In the midst of the Vietnam War, this greatest of U.S. leaders spoke of a “World House”, in which each nation has a secure home, coexisting and engaging creatively with others. In national demonstrations, community based events, and signature advertisements across the United States in the coming weeks, we will be drawing heavily on King’s vision and courage to teach and to inspire our leaders and neighbors. But vision also requires substance. How do we begin to heal and to overcome the very real suffering and pain, the legitimate rage, caused by decades of dominance. You will have different and better suggestions, but let me share with you what I tell audiences in the U.S.

First, much as Germans were led, and in many cases forced, to do in the aftermath of World War II (my model being philosopher Karl Jaspers lectures On The Question of German Guilt), and as we did less formally and completely in the wake of the Vietnam War, we need to face what our nation has wrought on the world, what our government and society have inflicted on others, to see this in truly human terms and , one hopes, as has largely happened with the South African Truth Commission, to be deeply moved and transformed. There are many ways to begin this process, including organizing international and popular tribunals. One model we have experimented with was our national “No More Victims” speaking tour on the September 11 anniversary. We brought together family members of September 11 victims who are clear that their grief should not be used as a cry for war, an Afghan-American who traveled twice to her homeland in the wake of the U.S. bombing, a Filipina from Mindinao, two Iraqi exiles, and an atomic bomb survivor from Hiroshima. (Unfortunately, the Palestinian and Israeli speakers we invited to participate proved unable to join us.) Their testimonies overwhelmed and transformed their audiences and played powerful roles in helping to build local and national demonstrations throughout the Fall.

Second, even as U.S. dominance over Southwest and Central Asian oil is more deeply rooted in U.S. global hegemony than in U.S. energy needs, developing an energy policy commited to conservation and non-fossil, non-nuclear sustainable fuels is essential. In the short-term, it reduces U.S. dependency on corrupt and dictatorial regimes – including those dependent on U.S. Full Spectrum Dominance, and it provides a way out of what U.S. Americans understand will be the catastrophes of global warming. This approach means finally building a mass transit system comparable to those in Europe and Japan, and it means jobs beyond the reach and profits margins of the Military Industrial Complex. Jimmy Carter charted the way two decades ago, when his Administration rewrote the tax laws to encourage conversion from use of oil and gas to greater use of solar and wind power.

Third, there is that nasty question of U.S. military bases in Arabia which Osama Bin Laden and others have raised. Similar questions have long been raised in countries as diverse as Britain and Japan, the Philippines and Pakistan, Equador and Korea. In addition to roles in imposing Pax Americana, they have devastating and enduring human and environmental impacts: rape, the terror of airplane accidents and low altitude exercises, accidents during military exercises, crime, and environmental degradation. The U.S. peace movement and the international community have a powerful political tradition to draw upon in working for the withdrawal of these bases: the United States Declaration of Independence. There people can read that the “abuses and usurpations” caused by King George III keeping “Standing Armies” among us in “times of peace” were so burdensome that they were thought to warrant revolutionary war – killing people. I don’t believe that war was the answer then, just as it is not now. Most U.S. Americans have no knowledge of the global network of U.S. foreign military bases, the pain they cause, or what the Declaration of Independence has to say on the subject. It is quite a moving experience to watch U.S. audiences as they begin to learn about these bases. They “get it” when they are asked to imagine Chinese or Iraqi military bases in Washington, D.C. and what they would men in terms of national sovereignty, political power and national self-respect. And they become empathetic when reference is made to the Declaration of Independence.

Fourth, U.S. financial, military, diplomatic, and political support for the Israeli occupation and colonization of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights and East Jerusalem is an abomination. I say this as a Jew and as a U.S.-American. The occupation is an abomination, and supporting it is not in the true interests of the United States, Israel, or of Jews. Even with Zionist manipulation of the meanings of the European Judeocide and the reality of continuing dangers of anti-Semitism, most U.S. Americans – and a growing number of U.S. Jews – understand this and are horrified by what the Israeli state and settlers are doing with U.S. support.

Much as the AFSC wrote in its 1970 study Search for Peace [8], many in the U.S. believe that the way forward can only be recognition of and respect for both Israeli and Palestinian historic claims to the land of Israel-Palestine, through mutual recognition, and (at least until diplomatic and political solutions can heal the enormous and very real pains and fears on both sides of the conflict) a two-state solution. That assures self-determination and security for each nation. Additionally, many of us are clear that basic morality and realpolitik security concerns require that the U.S. end its financial, military, and diplomatic support for the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights and East Jerusalem. While we have far to go to change votes in Congress and White House policy, we demand that not another penny, not another bullet, not another vote be given in support of the Israeli occupation.

Fifth, as we approach a potentially cataclysmic war against Iraq, struggling for the end of economic sanctions seems almost archaic. Few in the U.S. understand that these sanctions have become weapons of mass destruction. Among the most persuasive and powerful voices building opposition to the war against Iraq are people associated with Voices in the Wilderness, AFSC’s Campaign of Conscience, and others who have traveled to Iraq to deliver essential and proscribed goods like water purification equipment. These activists, some of whom are preparing to return to Iraq to serve as human shields and to witness the threatened war, have seen and can describe the terrible toll the U.S. has already exacted from the Iraqi people. Like this historian Howard Zinn, they teach that when a superpower goes to war against a tyrant, it is the people of the tyrant’s nation who are the primary victims.

Finally, there are nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons proliferation. These are abominations. From the human tolls of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to the United Nations General Assembly’s first resolution, through the NPT Treaty and the World Court’s advisory decision, it has been clear that no nation should posses or threaten the use of nuclear weapons. Fed on lies, such a Truman’s claim that the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved the lives of million U.S. soldiers and Bush the Lesser’s more recent whopper to the effect that Iraq is developing means of launching nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction against the United States, few U.S. Americans understand that U.S. policy is driving nuclear weapons proliferation.

It is an ancient truth that people will not long tolerate injustice and oppression by others, and the last fifty-seven years teach us nations will not tolerate being dominated and blackmailed by others’ nuclear threats. They will seek to rectify the imbalance of power one way or another. Some choose “asymmetrical” warfare; some opt for terrorism – the weapon of the week, and, as we see from the history of nuclear weapons proliferation, still others seek to join the “nuclear club.” Beginning with the Soviet Union and France, and continuing through India, Pakistan, and quite probably North Korea, it is all too clear that it is the threat of nuclear attack drives proliferation. The alternative, as repeated U.N. resolutions, the NPT, the World Court decision, and the testimonies of nuclear weapons survivors tell us is the complete elimination of all nuclear weapons.

Today, organizing for nuclear weapons abolition is not at the forefront of the U.S. peace and anti-war movement, as it has been in the past. Nonetheless, a number of us are doing what we can to prevent the use or threatened use of nuclear or depleted uranium weapons against Iraq, to oppose the development and testing of new U.S. nuclear weapons, and to lay the ground work for true non-proliferation, beginning with the apex of the hierarchy of nuclear terrorism – the U.S. government

The Post 9-11 U.S. Peace Movement

U.S. Americans, even many in the peace and anti-war movements, tend to share a chauvinist world view that holds that what we in the U.S. do is the ultimate determinant of war and peace. There are certainly elements of truth in this, but as we think back to the Vietnam War and to the nuclear weapons freeze movement of the 1980s, it is clear actions taken in and by other nations and international solidarity are essential. The voice of Swedish Prime Minister Olaf Palme, demonstrations and protests across Europe and in Japan, and Vietnamese revolutionaries’ thoughtful and strategic engagements with the U.S. peace movement placed serious limits on the Johnson and Nixon Administrations’ efforts to escalate the war and reinforced and encouraged our movement. Similarly, when the Reagan Administration brought the world to the brink of nuclear cataclysm with its Pershing II and Cruise Euromissiles, the international networks we created and the demonstrations that we held on both sides of the Atlantic built a movement that forced Reagan’s reckless Cold Warriors to negotiate a halt in the nuclear arms race.

Last month, with Anthony Simpson’s help, we opened a New England-wide peace conference with video clips from the enormous demonstration held in London two weeks earlier. You could feel, palpably, how deeply the hundreds of activists and organizers in our audience were moved and inspired by what they saw, and that tape is now being shown in community meetings across the United States.

To help build the essential bonds of mutuality and solidarity, I want to share with you a less than authoritative description of the current U.S. peace and anti-war movement helpful. Because change takes place on multiple inter-related levels, I have organized my thinking along six dimensions that are anything but mutually exclusive.

Political: It is difficult to speak in terms of “leadership” of the U.S. movement. It has many trends, more organizations (many of them community based on only recently created.) At this stage of the Bush Administration’s global crusade, the movement’s alliances and coalitions of the U.S. movement against war in Iraq are still quite fluid. Last April’s demonstration that brought an estimated 100,000 people to Washington was organized by a coalition of coalitions and integrated four separate rallies and marches: one initiated by student groups and supported by traditional peace organizations, another initiated by the ANSWER coalition which is ultimately controlled by the Workers World party, a third was organized by Palestinians and their allies, and the fourth was a long-scheduled demonstration by anti-globalizaton activists who initially planned to travel to Washington to protest the I.M.F. and World Bank meetings there. The 100,000+ October 26 demonstration was organized by ANSWER. To compensate for what has been ANSWER’s go it alone strategy, a new national and more democratic formation called United for Peace has been organized. It includes more than fifty traditional peace organizations, sectors of the political left (Green Party, the Committee of Correspondence for Socialism, the Revolutionary Communist Party, and others) students, African-American groups (including Black Voices for Peace and Transafrica,) Arab-American and Arab-related groups (American-Anti Discrimination Committee, EPIC, and others,) religious leaders and organizations (United Methodists, Shalom Network and others), and regional anti-war coalitions. United for Peace has called for community-based actions across the United States on December 10 – International Human Rights Day, national events in Washington – in association with Black Voices for Peace – during the January 18-20 Martin Luther King Day weekend, a national demonstration in New York on February 15 or 16 – partially in response to demonstrations being planned here in Europe, nation-wide activities on International Womens’ Day March 8, and a national demonstration in Atlanta on April 4, the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination, in support of peace movement in the southern United States. ANSWER, building on its October 26 success, and has called for a national demonstration in Washington on January 18, to be followed by a national peace conference.

Organizing and action in the political realm has not been limited to mass mobilizations. Traditional peace and progressive organizations, at times spurred on by new groups with impressive understandings of how to use the Internet as an organizing tool, deluged members of Congress with phone calls, faxes and e-mails urging them to oppose the war powers resolution. Even supporters of the Administration’s war admitted that constituent correspondence ran anywhere between 70 – 90% against the war.

Social/Cultural: In the place where social/cultural currents impact on the political realm, much has changed over the past year, especially in the last six months. A small but important organization is September 11 Families for Peaceful Tommorrows has emerged from the wreckage of 9-11. These are people who lost loved ones in the September 11 attacks, and who have participated in countless vigils, peace marches, conferences, television and radio interviews with the simple and clear message that their grief is not a cry for war. Several Peaceful Tomorrows members traveled to Afghanistan in the wake of the U.S. bombings there, bringing material assistance and meeting with their counterparts: people who had lost loved ones as a result of U.S. bombings. Families for Peaceful Tomorrows members are courageous and inspiring people whose witness has added important legitimacy to the wider movement that is challenging Bush Administration militarism.

African-Americans are consistently the most progressive and peace oriented of U.S. Americans. Michael Simmons can certainly speak with deeper knowledge and authenticity on this than I can. While there are certainly exceptions such as Condoleeza Rice, Colin Powell and others, having suffered oppression for centuries and with the recent experience of the freedom struggle of the 1950s and 60s, African-Americans tend to be more sensitive to injustices than many of their more privileged and insulated compatriots. So, it is not surprising that Black Congresswoman Barbara Lee cast the first vote against Bush’s war, that the Black Congressional Caucus voted overwhelmingly against the war powers act this October , that Black Voices for Peace has become a leading force in the U.S. movement, and that the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) has taken a strong stand against Bush’s war.

While a number of Arab- and Latin-Americans have spoken out or assumed leadership roles in the anti-war movement, threats implicit in the Patriot Act and fears of deportation have limited their abilities to exercise the freedoms of speech, assembly and petition. The color line and racial profiling are hardly things of the past.

Last year, after the first spasm of post 9-11 teach-ins, U.S. campuses were surprisingly quiet. This has changed, hopefully irreversibly, since the Bush Administration began marketing its preemptive war against Iraq. One of the challenges facing students and the movement as a whole, is how we will maintain and build our momentum in the wake of the United Nations vote, during the hopefully quiet period of U.N. inspections. One way will be the steady and at times unconventional leadership and actions of deeply committed women. Women do the lion’s share of educating and organizing for peace and justice in most U.S. communities. In a creative and dedicated action, women who “are the mothers and wives and sisters of those who will be killed for oil” have begun a four-month, 24-hour a day vigil outside the White House to protest the threatened war against Iraq. Their slogan is “Bush says code red; we say Code Pink!”

Religion: What about communities of faith? My limitations are such that I would not pretend to be able to provide an accurate overview of what is happening within the U.S. Islamic community. Clearly tens of thousands have journeyed to Washington for the national demonstrations and some have participated in local demonstrations where imams and other religious leaders have been among the speakers. The first stop on our “No More Victims” speaking tour was the Islamic Education Center at Villanova University, where we were very well received.

Individual Protestant denominations have issued strong statements condemning terrorism and war, with the Methodists – whose numbers include both President Bush and Vice President Cheney – being particularly outspoken against the dangers of an escalated war against Iraq. Bob Edgar, of the National Council of Churches, has become one of the leading figures in the U.S. peace movement, and the press tells us that the U.S. Catholic bishops are working on a statement which will be highly critical of the threatened war – probably along the lines of Just War theory.

Two important models have been developed in religious communities. In Connecticut, a new state-wide peace organization of religious leaders has been created. They announced their existence and opposition to the war in May, when more than sixty clergy members marched to the state capital in full religious regalia, and they are now calling for civil disobedience in the case of war against Iraq. In my community, members of a Protestant church invited fellow parishioners to join them in a study group on the war, which led to the church adopting a resolution calling for security through diplomatic and legal means, not war, Members of the congregation then brought their resolution to the annual state-wide conference of the United Church of Christ, where it was adopted and now serves as an inspiration for others. While the Established Jewish community and leadership are, today, more of the problem than the solution, a disproportionate number of independent Jews are playing leading roles in the peace movement, and some have formed new groupings which are raising their voices in support of Palestinian rights and to warn of a possible expulsion of Palestinians under the cover of war against Iraq.

How influential can communities of faith be in the U.S.? Just before he cast his vote against the war powers resolution, Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island phoned the leader of the R.I. Council of Churches, who is active with the in the Rhode Island Peace Mission, to see if he could vote against the President’s war without risking his political career. Reed was told that he was covered, and cast his vote accordingly.

One consistent and powerful dimension of the religious forces in the U.S. peace movement has been opposition to the economic sanctions against Iraq. Organizations like Voices in the Wilderness, the American Friends Service Committee, and the Fellowship of Reconciliation, have all sent people and material assistance to the people of Iraq as expressions of human solidarity and to challenge the sanctions regime.

Intellectual: As I described earlier, the college campuses have begun to come alive in the last several months with teach-ins, vigils, and the creative turmoil that comes when students become involved in political protest beyond the campus walls. Anti-war petitions, statements, and signature advertisements are being circulated among faculty members. Yet, as C. Wright Mills and Noam Chomsky described decades ago, with exceptions that prove the rule, most leading intellectuals serve as Washington’s “new mandarin” class. The academic debate is largely over how best to preserve U.S. hegemony, not over whether the U.S. should be a Republic or an Empire. Similarly the debate in the media has be over unilateralism or multilateralism and whether the Bush Administration should seek sanction for its war in the United Nations or not. With rare exceptions like Pacifica Radio, The Nation and “War Times,” the press has become, as former White House Correspondent Helen Thomas put it, “supine.” To fill this vacuum, growing numbers of U.S. Americans are turning increasingly to alternate sources of news on the Internet, the Web (see Znet,,, and among others) and to the foreign press. I have been struck by the ways this parallels the experiences of people in the former Soviet Union’s domains who took much greater risks to get their news and to learn what was happening in the wider world.

The Military: The military, by definition, follows orders. Until there are serious numbers of U.S. casualties, we are unlikely to have the troops joining the peace movement as they did during the Vietnam war. That said, in communities across the United States the peace movement is bolstered by Veterans for Peace, men and women who are often deeply scarred by what they have seen and done in war, and who are motivated like few others to ensure that it never happens again. They join and speak at our demonstrations, write letters to the press, ask challenging questions in public forums, and speak to young people in schools.

There is a current of dissent within the military. In one case a Marine has attended peace meetings and reported that while Marines cannot openly join demonstrations, many of fellow Marines are hoping that the peace movement will prove successful. In other, more neutral settings, some mid-level officers have expressed serious qualms about the morality of going to war when the public discourse is only about how many of “them”, i.e. Iraqis, will be killed and there is no expectation of serious U.S. casualties. That places them in the role of mass executioners, which a significant number find unpalatable. Others, who joined the military to defend the United States, find it repugnant to be sent to war against a nation that even the CIA tells us poses no imminent threat to the U.S. And, as more reservists are being called up for military service in anticipation of the war, growing numbers are seeking counseling to learn how they can quit the military. I should repeated that I am not talking about massive military resistance, but these are trends that contrast considerably from popular expectations.

Economy: Let me conclude this survey by saying that it is always humbling to travel to Europe or Japan, where organized labor has traditionally played major roles in their nations’ movements. This is not the case in my country where the largest force of organized labor has been called the AFL-CIA. That said, even as the post 9-11 war has led to renewed hard hat nationalism and an obscene flaunting of the U.S. flag by many workers, a far greater number of union locals and state-wide confederations have adopted statements opposing Bush’s war than has been the case in the past. In the case of the SIEU, the national union has not formally taken a position on the war, but its secretariat has sent anti-war materials to the union’s local branches across the country.

To conclude, I want to recall the launch conference for the New European Peace and Human Rights Network last January, where I quoted from an open letter to the world written by Jeremy Brecher, a leading opponent of corporate globalization and peace activist. In that letter Brecher explained that the Bush Administration “is blundering into a global conflagration. There is” he wrote, “currently no force within the U.S. likely to stop it. It is up to the rest of the world, and especially America’s friends and allies – both governments and their citizens – to constrain its rush to disaster'”I am sorry to have to report that even as the vitality and power of our movement is far greater than it was ten months ago, this remains the case. The challenge before us all is to use the time that our movements and forces have won to prevent a catastrophic escalation of the war, to deepen the dialog between the West and the Islamic world, and to turn the United States and the Global North toward the path of Common Security.

Thank you.

Joseph Gerson is Director of Programs and Director of the Peace and Economic Security Program of the American Friends Service Committee in New England.

Contact Information:

AFSC, 2161 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, Mass. 02140 USA

Phone: 617-661-6130,

Fax: 617-354-2832


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On the nuclear front, the recent three-page U.S.-Russia agreement was more of a propaganda exercise than a disarmament initiative. Neither country committed itself to destroy a single nuclear warhead. And, with its abrogation of the ABM Treaty, with the Nuclear Policy Review (NPR,) and with the planned fusion of the military’s strategic (nuclear) and space commands, we see a U.S. recommitment to nuclear terrorism and first-strike nuclear warfighting. The Bush Administration has also embraced what has become the pattern in recent routine U.S. warfighting. As it prepares to go to war, Washington threatens nuclear attack to ensure that the governments it is targeting are not tempted to defend themselves with weapons of mass destruction. . Just as Bush the elder threatened nuclear attack before the 1991 Desert Storm War, this Bush Administration communicated nuclear threats to Al Queda and the Taliban, and it has announced its doctrine of preemptive and first strike nuclear warfare as is prepares for a “regime change” war against Iraq.

The new doctrine threatens first-strike preemptive nuclear attacks, even against non-nuclear nations. In addition to explicitly identifying Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Syria, Libya, China and Russia as its most likely nuclear targets, the Bush Government is reinforcing the “Full Spectrum Dominance” doctrine with a “New Triad” of nuclear and conventional weapons, with so-called missile defenses, and with a technologically more sophisticated nuclear weapons infrastructure. It has also been clear that nuclear weapons will remain the cornerstone of U.S. military power for the next fifty years. And, even as the Pentagon moves to honor the START II treaty and the recent agreement with Russia, it is actually planning to retain the ability to deploy as many as 15,000 nuclear warheads.

[1] Nicholas Lemann, “The Quiet Man”, The New Yorker, May 2, 2001.

[2] Zia Mian, Paths to a Just and Secure Future: Resisting Washington’s Endless War, Simmons College, Boston, Ma., October 12

[3] Emily Eakin, “All Roads Lead to D.C., New York Times March 31, 2002

[4] Noam Chomsky, Tthe Drift Towards War and the Alternatives” in Peggy Duff, ed. War or Peace in the Middle East? London: Spokesman Books, 1978, p 27

[5] .Joseph Gerson, With Hiroshima Eyes: Atomic War, Nuclear Extortion and Moral Imagination, Philadelphia, New Society Publishers, 1991 pp. 127-168.

[6] James Glanz, “Almost All in U.S. Have Been Exposed to Fallout, Study Finds”, New York Times, March 1, 2002 (Thom Shanker with William J. Broad, “Sailors Sprayed With Nerve Gas in Cold War Test, Pentagon Says, New York Times, May 24, 2002

[7] Elisabeth Bumiller, “Bush Aides Set Strategy to Sell Policy on Iraq, New York Times, September 7, 2002

[8] Search for Peace in the Middle East, New York: Hill and Wang, 1970



The date posted here is due to our website rebuild, it does not reflect the original date this article was posted. This article was originally posted in Yonip in 2002




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