On November 1, 1911 during a war between Italy and Turkey, an Italian pilot dropped a hand grenade from the cockpit of his plane. This was the initiation of the tactic of aerial bombing.
Almost 90 years later, the United States began its “smart bombing” of targets in Afghanistan. There were two problems. The smart bombs aren’t very smart, and certainly no smarter than their users. We have been given no information about how much smarter these bombs have become over the decade, when they were first used in Iraq. We do know that there have been an undocumented number of civilian casualties and the refusal of the Department of Defense to offer any estimates —except to acknowledge and voice regret for any “collateral damage.”
Marc Herold, an independent researcher and economics professor at the University of New Hampshire, estimated that from October 7 through December 12, 2001, 3,767 Afghan civilians were killed. Herold’s study was based on corroborated reports from the UN, witnesses, and various news media.. Although Herold’s report was extensively covered by the British newspapers, The Guardian and the Independent, it was basically ignored by the American press for months. Herold’s methodology did not include counts of persons who died later of bomb injuries, those who died because the bombing left them homeless without food or shelter, nor those who died in refugee camps. Of course it did not include those who will die at a slow rate because of the American use of depleted uranium weaponry. Nor did it include deaths as a consequence of unexploded bombs detonating at a later time. For example, Human Rights Watch estimated that in early February there were already 36,000 unexploded bombs on Afghani territory. (These figures are independent of the incredible estimates of 10 million land mines and other unexploded ordnance deposited by Russian troops and the CIA-armed Northern Alliance.)
The second—and the major problem—is that the real issues are political and that even if one of those bombs eliminated bin Laden, those political issues would still be with us—at home, in the Middle East, with the United Nations, and for that matter, the world. Terrorism is part of the current political landscape and terrorists, like paranoids, can have real enemies. Furthermore, the September 11th attack was not the first terrorist attack on Americans, not even the first attack on the World Trade Center. What was horrifying was the death toll of so many innocent people but also the exposure of our vulnerability. Americans for the first time at home are frightened. What was new is the character of the confused but vicious and vengeful response of the Bush administration. On the other hand, we need to recognize that this is almost the same script, if not almost the same cast of characters who bombed or deployed American troops over the past 20 years in Iran, Libya, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Lebanon, Honduras, Grenada, Bolivia, Virgin Islands, Philippines, Panama, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Kuwait, Somalia, Yugoslavia, Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia, Haiti, Zaire, and the Sudan. Clearly, the end of the war in Afghanistan will not stop the American war machine.
In these the first six months of the newly mobilized American military, “advisors” have been sent to the Philippines, Yemen, and Georgia. Mr. Bush has expanded his nationalistic, quasi-religious propaganda targeting an “axis of evil,” meaning—for the moment—Libya, North Korea, Iran, and Iraq. At the beginning of the year, however, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, Paul Wolfowitz had also included on his list Somalia and Indonesia. Over 400 years ago, the term “war-monger” was introduced into the English language. George W. Bush and associates have resurrected it . It is not surprising that the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists moved their doomsday clock closer to high noon. And no sooner had they done so, Bush announced a program for the development of “small” tactical nuclear weapons.
Popular conceptions of social causality are generally simplistic. Complex events are rendered unidimensional, often symbolized by the events of a day—the revolution ended on July 14th, independence was achieved on May 5th, the war started with the assassination of the archduke. So it is that today’s “war” began with the attack on the World Trade Center (WTC) and the Pentagon. But, of course, it began some time before and its causes are more complex. To fight the war appropriately, we need to articulate its causes and teach ourselves collectively how to respond to those causes.
Oil and Gas
There are no oil or gas deposits in Afghanistan. Yet these are central elements of this war. The largest producer of oil is Saudi Arabia. It also holds 25 percent of the world’s known oil reserves. The U.S. gets close to one-sixth of its oil from Saudi Arabia and in return for its guaranteed access to the oil has deployed American military forces to protect it and the government. As Michael Klare, professor of Peace Studies of Hampshire college, described the situation:
To protect the Saudi regime against its external enemies, the United States has steadily expanded its military presence in the region, eventually deploying thousands of troops in the kingdom. Similarly, to protect the royal family against its internal enemies, US personnel have become involved in its internal security apparatus. At the same time, the vast and highly conspicuous accumulation of wealth by the royal family has alienated it from the larger Saudi population and led to charges of corruption. In response, the regime has outlawed all forms of political debate in the kingdom (there is no parliament, no free speech, no political party, no right of assembly) and used its US- trained security forces to quash overt expressions of dissent. All these effects have generated covert opposition to the regime and occasional acts of violence—and it is from this underground milieu that Osama bin Laden has drawn his inspiration and many of his top lieutenants. (The Nation, November 5, 2001, p.12)
The Bush-Cheney response to 9-11 has consistently been directed by their concerns for protecting the oil and gas industry, their managers and shareholders. Bush, Cheney, national security advisor, Condoleeza Rice, and two cabinet members, David Evans and Stanley Abrahams, have all been tightly involved with American oil companies. Army Secretary Thomas E. White came to the cabinet from Enron Energy Services where he was vice chairman. During his first eight months in office White was in regular contact with Enron executives and failed to divest himself of Enron stock.
A large part of the Texas-based Bush family fortune comes from oil, and former President Bush is a consultant to The Carlyle Group, a private Washington-based global investment firm, where he reportedly specializes in Saudi Arabia. (Carlyle is a major exporter of military weapons to Saudi Arabia.) Run by a former CIA deputy director, Frank Carlucci, Carlyle is the eleventh largest defense contractor in the US. Another Carlyle advisor is former Secretary of State James Baker whose most recent public performance was as Bush 2’s chief spokeperson for the 2000 presidential campaign and as his lead attorney in the matter of the Florida vote tally. Mr. Baker also represents British Petroleum.(See Tim Shorrock, “Crony Capitalism Goes Global,” The Nation, April 1, 2002; pp.11- 16.)
Condoleeza Rice served on the board of Chevron and Vice-President Cheney was the director of Halliburton, an international service company for oil and gas explorations. Cheney’s role at Halliburton goes back to the early 1990s when he brokered an agreement between Chevron and the government of Kazakhstan. He actually sat on that country’s oil advisory board. In 1998, in a talk to oil executives, he identified the Caspian Sea region as worth 200 billion barrels of oil and gas. Cheyney had inflated the figure, and current estimates are for less than half that amount. That area is also estimated to contain 300 trillion feet of natural gas., November 10, 2001 and Ahmed Rashid, Taliban, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000.
With the establishment of an interim government in Afghanistan, Bush appointed Zalmay Khalilzad as special envoy. Khalilzad served in the Reagan and first Bush administrations, and after leaving government he served as an advisor to Unocal, a multinational oil company based in California. Khalilzad was in familiar company since the US-designate as interim head of Afghanistan was Harmid Karzai. He was also a former consultant to Unocal. The cast of characters of the interlocking directorates and overlapping social and political networks involving the major oil companies are beyond our scope here and read like a pantheon in a conspiracy theorist’s fantasy.
Oil and gas are at the center of the US ties to the Taliban and to the Islamic network of terrorists. There are multiple indicators. First, of course, was the support of the Taliban provided by the US since the 1980s. US intelligence and military helped train Taliban and al Qaeda volunteers—and supplied weapons. Under the cover of helping the Afghanis defeat the Russian troops, American policy makers and oil companies were engaged in negotiations with the Taliban and other indigenous groups to build pipelines across the country. Pepe Escobar, in a two-part article in Asia Times, comments:
The Taliban were never a target in the “war against terrorism.” They were just a scapegoat—rather, a horde of medieval warrior scapegoats who simply did not fulfill their contract to insert Afghanistan into Pipelineistan.
Bush and Cheney have adopted a strategy of building multiple pipelines moving from the Caspian Sea Basin in virtually all directions, and by the beginning of 2002 the first pipeline was officially opened. ChevronTexaco, ExxonMobil, Amoco, British Petroleum, Unocal and Enron are all heavy investors in pipeline arrangements covering all of the “Stans.” Revenues are projected at $5 trillion. (For more details of pipeline alternatives and their geopolitical complexities, see Pepe Escobar, “Pipelineistan,” Asia Times On Line, January 25 and 26, and Richard Tanter, “Pipeline Politics: Oil, Gas and the US Interest in Afghanistan, Z Magazine.) and Rashid, Taliban, cited above.)
The US is seeking to build pipelines which will bypass Russia and Iran. The Russians, of course, are sponsoring pipelines to move across Russia. The Chinese are looking to move the oil through China, and Iran, Turkey, and Pakistan are also major players in what Ahmed Rashid has called “The Great Game.” The Stans are not insignificant players although Turkmenistan appears to have the largest oil reserves. Not all the players and moves are obvious. For example Bridas, an Argentinian company has been in and out of the game and is now partnering with BP. The mammoth Bechtel Corporation has moved to avoid some of the territorial battles by building a pipeline under the Caspian Sea.
There is considerable evidence that the Bush administration as a consequence of their energy policy has protected, if not actively supported, elements of the Taliban-al Qaeda network. Among other indicators was the allowance of members of the bin Laden family to leave the US immediately after 9-11 with no investigation, and the long delay involved in freezing al Qaeda monies and assets in American banks other money-laundering enterprises. Mark Seldon, an editor and executive committee member of the British Labour Party, wrote in The Guardian (December 18, 2001):
John O’Neill, former head of the FBI’s counter-terrorism office in New York, left his job...complaining that his investigations into al Qaeda had been obstructed. He allegedly told the French authors [two intelligence analysts, Jean Charles Brisard and Guillaume Dasquié writing in their book, Bin Laden—The Forbidden Truth] that “the main obstacles to investigating Islamic terrorism were US corporate oil interests and the role played by Saudi Arabia”.
Oil and gas are only one part of the US foreign policy calculus. The US has remained fundamentally ambivalent to Russia and seriously concerned with its cache of nuclear missiles and other weaponry. Further, US policy is ideologically hostile to China today and quite fearful of its potential power in the future. Some analysts have come to see a megalomania in the foreign policy plans of the Bush administration that goes beyond older notions of interventions designed to stabilize a “balance of power” to a redefining of the limits of state sovereignty. What that means, according to Richard Haass, Director of Policy Planning for the State Department, is that if a government fails to give proper obeisance to the US, “it forfeits some of the normal advantages of sovereignty, including the right to be left alone inside your own territory....In the case of terrorism, this can lead to a right of preventive, or peremptory, self-defense.” (See Nicholas Lemann, “The Next World Order,” The New Yorker, April 1, 2002; pp. 42-48.)
Furthermore, American corporate investments in the global marketplace need military protection. So, the war has provided the Bush administration a facile manner to deal with both problems: Set up military installations to protect refineries and pipelines while flanking both Russia and China through a series of army and air bases in the bordering countries. There are now more than 50,000 military personnel in Central Asia in 26 bases of some magnitude extending across Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirate, Oman, and Uzbekistan. Presumably the nine bases in Afghanistan are temporary, but not so the US air base in Kyrgyzstan, just outside the capital city of Bishkek and only 300 miles from the Chinese border. It will house 3,000 people. In addition, the US is sending military “advisors” to the former Soviet Republic of Georgia. Bordered on the west by the Black Sea, Georgia is ideal for oil and gas shipment, and is obviously in close proximity to Russia. This gives the US a commanding presence in Central Asia. Of course, this has little consequence for the struggle against terrorism. Moreover, it can only function to destabilize working and diplomatic relationships with Russia and China.
Ethnoviolence and Ethnocentrism
The religious and ethnic basis of this struggle is also critical. It is a central issue. It is the individual duty of every Muslim, bin Laden wrote in 1998, “to kill the Americans and their allies—civilians and military...in any country in which it is possible.” (U.S. News & World Report, September 24, 2001, p.56) This is a holy war based on the American presence in Asia which has desecrated the sacred places of Islam. There is a “Christian Crusade against Islam....The world is split into two. Part of it is under the head of infidels...and the other half under the banner of Islam.” (Reuters, November 1, 2001)
The Attorney General, John Ashcroft, also cast the war in religious terms. God, too, was on our side, he told Christian broadcasters: there is “the way of God and the way of terrorists” (Washington Post, February 20, 2002). Freedom in the US, he said, was “our endowment from God,” and we “are called to the defense of His creation.”
Capitalism and the control of a vital energy resource, power and the control of people, and religious ethnocentrism—these are the major elements of his war, and ours. The attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon was an act of ethnoviolence, an act motivated by religious and cultural prejudice designed to do violence to its victims. It was a salvo in a holy war declared by an Islamic sect— a war against Americans, a war against Christians and Jews. Unlike wars of the past, its boundaries are cultural not geographical. The strategy of a terrorist war such as this is to gain power by inculcating fear and intolerance. Attacks on sacred symbols, such as seats of finance and the government, and on random and innocent bystanders are calculated to move the enemy to increasingly violent and authoritarian responses. The underlying theory of this war is that the U.S. government can be counted on to act like a rogue state internationally and as an authoritarian state internally. In doing so its unilateral and militaristic actions isolate it from other countries while aiding the recruitment of more Muslims incensed by those actions. Internally, the government faces the dual problem of containing public dissent while mobilizing the support of the business elites. The blueprint for these has already been sketched through the administration’s “economic stimulus package” and their “Patriot’s Act.” We will talk about these shortly.
One side effect of the events of September 11th has been the mobilization of the American ultra-Right Wing and the White, Christian undercurrent that is its bulwark. One of the first responses to the events was a massive outpouring of anti-Muslim ethnoviolence. Muslims ( and any persons perceived to be Muslims including Arab Americans, Indians, Sikhs, and others) became the targets of verbal and physical harassment, threats, and assaults. Mosques and community centers were bombed, shot at, and vandalized. Within the first month, over 400 incidents were publicly reported nationwide, including six murders. Extrapolating from the percentage of unreported ethnoviolent incidents targeting other groups, it is likely that about 3,500 anti-Muslim incidents occurred in September and October. This is not counting incidents of blatant discrimination, especially in workplaces.
While there are also no estimates of that form of discrimination known as “racial profiling,” the Department of Justice has committed the most offensive acts of racial profiling. Approximately 5,000 men throughout the country were asked to “volunteer” for interviews by the police about the September 11 attacks. Those selected were adult males under 31 who were in the U.S. on student visas and who visited or came from a country where al Qaeda terrorists had trained. Almost all were from Muslim nations.
Overlaying this were the anti-Jewish rhetoric and ethnoviolent events that followed September 11. While the Trade Center was still smouldering, a charge of an international Jewish conspiracy was spread across the Internet and printed in various forms in Middle Eastern newspapers. The most dramatic charge was that New York Jews had been informed of the pending attack by Mossad (the Israeli intelligence agency) so that they wouldn’t go to the WTC that day. “Evidence” for that charge was the further claim that no Jews had been killed in the explosion and building collapse. Subsequently, the text of the anthrax bearing letters called for “Death to the Jews. Death to the Americans. Praise Allah.”
From the establishment right, just three days after the attack, came the charge that pagans, abortionists, feminists, and homosexuals were partly to blame for what happened. The speaker, Rev. Jerry Falwell, was being interviewed by Pat Robertson on his religious TV program, The 700 Club. Robertson acquiesced with an apology, but later he issued a “correction” saying that America had insulted God and lost divine protection. At the end of February, Robertson commented in a Cable News Network interview that Islam was a violent religion and was out to destroy the US and Israel. Ann Coulter, contributing editor for the National Review On-Line, was more direct: “We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.”
The ultra-Right was not silent and saw the events to be a consequence of the Jewish takeover of the American government. William Pierce, leader of the National Alliance, one of the largest and most influential right-wing groups, put it all together:
This time...things didn’t go smoothly for the Jews and their U.S. bully boy....What happened this week is a direct consequence of the American people permitting the Jews to control their government and to use American strength to advance Jews’ interests....The people who flew those planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon did it because they had been pushed into a corner by the U.S. government acting on behalf of the Jews. (Southern Poverty Law Center Intelligence Report, #104, Winter, 2001)
The outpouring of anti-Muslim incidents, the reiteration of anti-Jewish conspiracies of control, and the essential ethnocentrism of most commentators is not coincidental to the ongoing terrorism and its jingoistic responses. Prejudice and ethnoviolence are sociological phenomena which function to maintain group separatism. They keep people apart, making cooperation and conflict resolution difficult. Whether deliberately manipulated or simply part of the social heritage of a society, prejudice and ethnoviolence are background for the control of people.
Resistance to the war came almost as fast as the administration’s market research that led to their rapid transformation of “Operation Infinite Justice” to “ Operation Enduring Freedom.” By November, the Pentagon hired an international public relations firm, at a fee of $100,000 a month, to pacify or otherwise convince Americans, if not the world, that the U.S. is well-intentioned while the other side is “evil.” Evil has become the catchword in the Bush administration propaganda.
The propaganda assaults on the American people have been unrelenting. Kathleen Christison, a former CIA political analyst, traced the central theme of the initial assault to the week after the WTC and to the neoconservatives within the Bush administration (The Washington Spectator, December 1, 2001). The disinformation is threefold: bin Laden and his acolytes represent a deviant and corrupt movement in Islam; these religious extremists are opposed to us because of who we are and what we stand for; that there is no need to examine our policies in the Middle East or Central Asia since these extremists are basically irrational if not evil.
Who are these evil doers? After six months of unrelenting propaganda, the administration has managed to purge that question from public concern. No evidence has been presented openly that links the 19 hijackers to a worldwide terrorist network or to a conspiracy directed from a cave in Afghanistan. We know only a little more today about the al Qaeda organization than we did six months ago. Further, President Bush’s insistence on a “military tribunal” for the prisoners of war is an additional way to circumvent due process and hide the information that would surface in a more public court.
The classic forms of state repression were all employed in these first six months: secret arrests and imprisonment without trial, unconstitutional legislation and authoritarian edicts, maintenance of state secrecy, intimidating critics, manipulating the mass communications media, promoting patriotism and promoting fear.
Within a few days following the devastation of 9-11, the administration began its assault on the Constitution. Labeled by one of its sponsors as “the first legislative strike against terrorists,” the Senate amended a pending appropriations bill with a section permitting the warrantless searches of computers. The following day Attorney General John Ashcroft began the call for a national wiretap warrant.
At least 1,200 to 2,000 people were arrested just after September 11. The Justice Department has refused to specify the number or to give an account of the charges. At least 327 people were still jailed in mid February, according to the Department. Some were being held on immigration violations, others for “possible” terrorist connections although the Attorney General has refused to make the charges public—or even to identify those being imprisoned.
On November 13, Mr. Ashcroft “invited” almost 5,000 young men to come to an interview with local or federal police. The profile for the invitation list specified men between 18 and 33 years of age who entered the US after January 2000 on nonimmigrant visas and who had lived in or visited countries where al Qaeda had a presence. Most of those summoned were from Middle eastern countries. Of the 2,261 men who were actually interviewed, 20 were arrested mainly for immigration violations. None were charged with terrorist activities.
In early November, the FBI and Immigration police contacted registrars and admissions officers in at least 220 colleges to collect information about students from Middle Eastern countries. The colleges were asked to report on the students’ majors, courses, grades, and residence. An undetermined number of students were directly questioned by federal agents.
By the end of the first six months, Ashcroft called for an additional 3,000 more recent arrivals to check in for an interview. Many city police departments have refused to assist the FBI in this mass screening. A presumably typical invitation was one sent out by the US Attorney’s Office in Detroit:
Your name has been brought to our attention because among other things you came to Michigan on a visa from a country where there are groups that support, advocate or finance international terrorism....We have no reason to believe that you are in any way associated with terrorist activities. Nevertheless, you may be helpful in our efforts. (Baltimore Sun, November 28, 2001, p. 23A)
The Justice Department, through the end of March, has refused to reveal the identities of those who were imprisoned or where they have been incarcerated. Furthermore, Ashcroft announced that department officials may listen to the conversations of lawyers with clients in federal custody. This includes inmates who have been detained but not charged. Moreover, this eavesdropping can be conducted without a court order. What is required is that the Attorney general certifies its necessity. The Justice Department, announcing this in the Federal Register (October 31), indicated their concern that inmates “may use communicating with attorneys or their agents to facilitate acts of terrorism.” The edict essentially dispossesses people of their Sixth Amendment right to have legal representation.
State secrecy is a form of repression. It limits the options available to the citizenry and, by doing so, subverts the democratic process. Secrecy appears pivotal to the current war policies of the Bush government starting with the 9-11 activation of a “shadow government.” Without informing the country, or at least, Congress, Bush established a “shadow government” sending an unknown complement of government officials to a hidden bunker following the 9-11 attack. (Many high-level government workers were literally shanghaied and kept in the bunker for more than a week before they were allowed to contact their families.)
Even some formulations of public policy have been hidden. National energy policy was likely formulated in six different meetings convened by Vice-President Cheney with energy company executives. Cheney has refused to reveal the identities of the participants or their agenda, although parts of this information was released by the end of March following at least four Freedom of Information Act lawsuits filed by public interest groups.
In a matter ostensibly removed from the war, Bush issued an executive order to prevent the release of the presidential papers of Ronald Reagan which, under law, was scheduled for release in January. This overrides a 1978 act which calls for the release of such documents in 12 years after the president leaves office. Bush claimed that making the documents public would hurt national security. The “national security” claim possibly refers to members of the Reagan administration whose illicit involvement in Central America and Iran would be exposed. These include Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, Mitch Daniels, Andrew Cord, Eliot Abrams, John Negroponte, Otto Reich, and the senior George Bush. All but bush senior are now in the executive office.
The government’s attempt to curtail press access to information has been part of every war, especially since Vietnam. The press has been granted only limited access to the state of terrorism and the war. Even public information has been closed off. InanOctober12 memo, the Attorney General directed agencies to withhold information requested under the Freedom of Information Act (presumably within legal limits), and many federal agencies even began to shut down or limit their websites. The President publically berated unnamed members of Congress for supposedly leaking classified information and authorized only a limited number of spokespeople to speak to the press about the war. Even satellite photos of Afghanistan which were produced by a private firm were bought out by the administration to keep them away from media scrutiny. The television networks were easily intimidated into not showing video messages by bin Laden on the grounds that he might be communicating hidden messages.
The establishment news media has been a willing collaborator in stemming the flow of information and in promoting patriotism and the war. Again, the White House set the pace by letting Americans know that dissent was un-American. White House press secretary Ari Fleischer asserted that critics “need to watch what they say, watch what they do.” In December, Mr. Ashcroft, speaking to the Senate Judiciary Committee, declared: “To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this—your tactics only aid terrorists.” By the end of February, the rhetoric of repression had expanded. Following Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle’s criticism of the administration’s war strategy, Trent Lott, the Senate Minority Leader, retorted: “How dare Senator Daschle criticize President Bush while we are fighting our war on terrorism.” From the House, Congressman Tom Davis said Daschle’s “divisive comments have the effect of giving aid and comfort to our enemies.”
Retired generals, State Department officials, and a herd of terrorism experts made their pro- war appearances on talk shows and newscasts led by equally hawkish newspeople. “Wherever he [George Bush] wants me to line up,” said senior CBS news anchor, Dan Rather, “just tell me where.” The Washington Post ran two columns by National Review editor Michael Kelly who attacked pacifists as “evil” and labeled the Left opposition as “liars, frauds, [and] hypocrites.” Rush Limbaugh accused critics of joining the axis of evil; and Robert Novak accused them of being communist dupes.
On the Cable News Network (CNN) both the chairman of the board and their head of “standards and practices” issued memoranda cautioning their correspondents that any reporting that could be construed as sympathetic to the Taliban, such as a reporting of civilian casualties, must be “balanced” by reports of how evil the Taliban really is. (Washington Post, October 31, 2001; p.C01)
The entertainment media (produced by the same people who bring us the news) responded in a like fashion. Among the most immoderate responses was the temporary removal of Comedy Central’s late night satirical news program, The Daily Show, because it frequently made fun of George W. Bush. The comic strip Boondocks, which mocked super-patriotism, was pulled from three major daily newspapers. The radio behemoth, Clear Channel Communications with 1,170 stations, sent out a list of 150 songs it advised its program managers to avoid. These subversive or otherwise problematic compositions included Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World,” Cat Stevens’ “Peace Train,” and “Imagine” by John Lennon. No doubt, only the major incidents of media self-censorship have been publicized. In Baltimore, for example, few people in the city and fewer elsewhere could be aware that the Baltimore Museum of Art removed “Terrorist,” a long-standing image by Christopher Wool that hung in its modern wing. The image was purely typographical consisting only of the stenciled word “terrorist’ spread over three lines.
The most difficult form of repressive media censorship to discern is always the stories that don’t get printed or shown. After all, how do you know something has happened if nobody reports it. On September 24th a national consortium of eight news organizations along with the National Opinion Research Center were going to report on their lengthy, million-dollar study of who really won the Florida Presidential election in November 2000. The findings were withheld. It was only two weeks after the terrorist attacks on the country and the ambiguities of declaring Al Gore the elected president seemed too much for the news media, if not the general public. In fact, the day before the report was scheduled for publication, the New York Times, a member of the consortium, asserted that the findings were “utterly irrelevant.” According to Harper’s Index, none of the consortium members ran a story on their decision to withhold the results.
In fact, Al Gore had won a majority by 540,000 votes. “This was an election,” the historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. wrote in the American Prospect (March 2002), “that elevated the popular- vote loser to the American presidency.” Of course, the issue was the counting of the ballots in Florida which was the determinant of the Electoral College votes. In the consortium’s review of all of the disputed ballots, using six different means of counting, Gore won on all counts. Yet, all of the major news media, declared Bush as the winner. The headline in the Baltimore Sun, for example, read “Bush prevails in check of untallied Fla. votes,” while the Wall Street Journal headlined on their front page, “In Election Review, Bush Wins Without Supreme Court.” The Associated Press, another consortium member, disguised the outcome in an obscuring and strangely legalistic lead:
A vote-by-vote review of untallied ballots in the 2000 Florida presidential election indicates that George W. Bush would have narrowly prevailed in the partial recounts sought by Al Gore, but Gore might have reversed the outcome—by the barest of margins—had he pursued and gained a complete statewide recount. Aside from the doublespeak, the use of the locution “might have” was in contradiction of the major finding, namely, that Gore won on all six accounting procedures used by the consortium.
Linda Pinkow, producer of the Cambridge (MA) based “No Censorship Radio,” raised the question, “If we are in a war to save democracy, how can the media justify ignoring this undemocratic election?” In part, the answer is that the ideals of a democracy involving “fair elections” and one- person-one-vote were too seriously threatened by the miscount, the faulty voting machines and, above all, by the manifest discrimination against minority, especially Black, voters. That is, this critical failure challenged the political process and the integrity of key actors in a manner, if unchecked, would deflate the legitimacy of the structure of political power in the US. This was simply too much for the public and the mainstream media to cope with. The rejection of democracy and the acceptance of violence may be the major paradox of American society.
Much as the success of repressive acts and legislation depend on a personal response—as Gustav Landauer, an early twentieth century anarchist put it “The State is in our mind”—so the success of state repression also depends on dominant values. In America where violence is a deplored but accepted mode of behavior, so it is that people have difficulty conceptualizing any but violent alternatives to resolving conflict. Within the week following the attacks on the WTC, 88 per cent of Americans indicated to Gallup pollsters that they supported military action in retaliation. Four out of five supported a ground invasion even if a draft is needed and the ground war lasts for several years.
President Bush’s approval ratings skyrocketed, and remained at record highs through the start of the new year. By mid-February, the polling firm, Zogby International, detected the first break in the polls. Its national survey found 74 per cent of the public rating Bush’s performance as excellent or good. By March, Gallup also observed a drop in his ratings, but by the end of the month, Bush’s rating bounced back—sixth highest since the ratings began in 1971.
During these first six months, approval of US military action in Afghanistan has remained at a constant high. Four of five Americans indicate their approving support. Further, approval of military force and expanding the use of force to other fronts, such as Iraq, also attains heavy public endorsement (Pew Research Center, January 9-13, 2002). That endorsement drops, however, when the pollsters qualify their questions with statements of high casualty rates for US troops or the US not having the support of its allies.
One of the most significant questions comes from a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll at the beginning of March. The researchers asked whether the unfavorable views that the Moslems have of the US are based on what the US has done or on misinformation about the US. Only 11 per cent could conceive of American foreign policy as an aggravating factor. Perhaps even more alarming are the findings from Zogby that three out of five Americans favor extending the war to Iraq, and one out five favor the use of strategic nuclear weapons.
USA Patriot Act
To be sure, attitudes like these are volatile and will continue to change as the war progresses. However, this baseline of a violent, military response is also a foundation on which the acceptance of domestic repression is easily built. Enter the “USA PATRIOT ACT.” With over 900 sections in 324 pages, the Act, according to one American Civil Liberties Union director, “gives the government new and unchecked powers that can be used against Americans who are not under criminal investigation, immigrants who are within our borders legally, and those whose activities are deemed by the attorney general to be threats to national security.” The Senate approved it 99 to 1, and the House vote was 356 to 66. The president signed it into law on October 26. The Act, officially titled “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001" has very little to do with terrorism. The speed with which this voluminous bill was passed makes it transparent that many of its provisions were waiting around for the “appropriate” time. The events of 9-11 provided an effective rationalization for increasing the powers of the CIA and the FBI to spy, wiretap, search homes and e-mails, and have access to educational records and credit reports. It enables the Attorney General to imprison aliens suspected of terrorism for six months without a trial or formal charges, and to renew the sentence indefinitely.
A new federal crime, “domestic terrorism,” was created. It was clearly aimed at liberal and left dissent to government policies. Under this section, acts which “appear to be intended...to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion” could be construed as terrorism. Acts of civil disobedience, militant demonstrations, and possibly just large peaceful rallies might well be defined as intimidating and, therefore, terrorist. The anti-war movement and profiled groups may be in for a long struggle through the courts. At stake are free speech and political association, protection against unreasonable search and seizure and against cruel and unusual punishment, due process, and the right to an open and speedy trial.
There is still another dimension to repression: fear. By the end of the first month, Mr. Ashcroft, for the second time, warned the country about possible terrorist attacks over the first week in November although, he said, he had no details about timing, method or targets. This was soon followed by an equally ominous warning by the Governor of California, acting on FBI information, that one of the large bridges in San Francisco, Los Angeles, or San Diego was going to be attacked that week. White powder and “mysterious” packages became fetishized and thoughtless or mean- spirited hoaxes have multiplied along with an underlying anxiety. Smallpox, cholera, nerve gases, and the vulnerability of nuclear power plants as well as the likelihood of a nuclear bomb have all become topics of official and public discussion. Given these horrifying scenarios, many people seem willing to trade off their civil liberties, believing that more authoritarian controls will result in greater protection for themselves and their children. Ironically, as John Stuart Mill pointed out almost 150 years ago, this is the pivotal constraint of a democracy: we are not free to give up our freedom.
Follow the Money
When Randolph Bourne wrote “War is the health of the state,” he did not mean, as so many misinterpreted, that the State prospers in time of war. To the contrary, he meant that the State, being parasitical, fed off the pathology of war. The total military spending of the US exceeds by $190 billion the combined spending of Russia, China, Iran, Syria, Iraq, North Korea, Libya, Cuba, and Sudan.
It is hard to estimate the costs of this war, although the Pentagon is admitting to spending $1 billion a month (as of November 11th). Within the first three months after September 11, Congress had authorized more than $50 billion in additional spending, supposedly for the war in Afghanistan and against al Qaeda. Almost all of the money, however, went to finance older military projects that had already been on the Pentagon’s shopping list. Heavy destroyers, nuclear attack submarines, and fighter planes, for example, are not weapon systems geared to fighting a war on terrorists organized in decentralized, underground cells. These were systems originally designed to counter the military forces of the Soviet Union.
The costs of the war are astonishing. There are already in this fiscal year almost three million military employees (active military personnel, special reserve, and Department of Defense civilian employees). At the hardware level, the carrier-based fighter jets costs $5,000 an hour to operate, with an average mission lasting six hours. The B-1 bombers cost twice as much to operate, but over $200 million to build. And a single Tomahawk Cruise missile cost almost $1 million for its one- time, deadly use. The Department of Defense, however, calculates the cost of war as those expenses which are beyond what the military would “normally” spend. For example, the U.S. normally keeps two aircraft carrier groups at sea but now has three carrier groups deployed. In the Pentagon’s methodology, only the cost of the third carrier is counted as a cost of this war. Of course such figures are almost solely in the control of the military, and line items can be shifted, redefined, or lost with ease. In their analysis of the fiscal 2003 budget, the War Resisters League observed that 20 percent of the budget goes to pay the costs of past military activities, such as veterans’ benefits, and that at least five percent of the current military budget is obscured by being counted elsewhere, such as the cost of nuclear weaponry partly hidden in the Department of Energy budget.
The Bush administration has submitted a budget to Congress calling for an increase in the military budget by $120 billion over the next five years. By 2007, the military budget will amount to over $469 billion. The administration was careful to provide subsidies to the major defense contractors. For example, Lockheed-Martin was awarded an initial contract of $19 billion to produce the Joint Strike Fighter aircraft. Each plane is expected to cost about $50 million, and the expected value of the full contract is $200 billion. Financially troubled Boeing was subsidized by having the Air Force lease 100 B-767s for ten years, while Congress approved a lease of four B- 737s for Congressional and related travel. The leased planes will cost about $370 billion — 30 percent more than an outright purchase.
The national budget is not a fixed amount. Congress can authorize operating on a deficit, and the Congressional Budget Office projects deficits, due to the war budget, of $106 billion for 2002 and $80 billion for the fiscal year 2003. Counting all costs, 46 percent of the federal budget today actually goes to the military.
There is a third front to this war, a class struggle. Of course, it began long before, but the Bush administration hiding behind the smoking buildings of the World Trade Center and the white powder of anthrax began a new and powerful offensive. In its simplest expression, a class war is a war between the powerful and the powerless.
To understand this, we need to recognize that the American economy has been deteriorating to the point of recession. Although the economy during the last five years of the century appeared to prosper, major economic indicators were, in fact, declining. In terms of wages, productivity, and the gross domestic product, the economy of the 1990s did worse than the 1980s. Further, the 1980s did worse than the 1970s. There are many other measures of decline such as falling profitability, corporate overinvestment, and the burst of the Internet bubble. Exports had greatly declined and imports reduced by an even larger amount. All of the main indexes of stock values—Dow Jones, NASDAQ, and Standard & Poors—have registered losses of trillions of dollars since 2000. None of these could be halted by the ten consecutive cuts in interest rates by the Federal Reserve Board. These economic indicators notwithstanding, the real issues from the standpoint of most people are jobs and income.
The distribution of wealth has shifted over the past 20 years: the very rich have become steadily richer. The poor have gotten a little poorer, and the middle class has begun to shrink. Even the well-being of the comfortable upper middle class (made comfortable in large part by dual wage earners and by working longer hours) has been threatened. Perhaps the most dramatic illustration of the economic disparities of the class structure can be discerned by looking at executive and worker incomes. The salaries of corporate executives rose by 571 percent between 1990 and 2000. Workers salaries rose by 37 percent. In this time period, living costs rose by 32 percent. Ben Franklin, editor of The Washington Spectator, cast the income differences this way:
If the salaries of working stiffs had grown at the same rate as those of the CEOs, the workers would have earned an average of $120,491 last year  instead of $24,611. If the $5.15 minimum wage had grown at the CEO rate, it would now be $25.50 an hour. (The Washington Spectator, October 1, 2001)
By the end of the first six months of the war, over 7 million Americans were unemployed, by official count. Approximately two-thirds of them are not eligible for unemployment compensation. Another 4 to 5 million have been working part-time because they were unable to find decent full- time jobs. Neither the terrorist attacks nor the war caused this, though they clearly inflame our economic crisis. Historically, military spending typically creates fewer jobs in the civilian sector and typically results in the cutback of spending on urban needs. Documentation for this counter- stereotypical finding goes back to the “peace conversion” movement begun in the late 1970s. A central finding of their research was that for every million dollars spent on the military and defense, fewer jobs were created than if that money had been allocated to civilian enterprise. Marion Anderson, writing in 1980, concluded: “Contrary to Pentagon claims, more jobs are generated with civilian production than with military. Moving $10 billion out of military procurement into industries which would help our national security by making us energy independent, will add 34,000 more jobs to the economy.” (Marion Anderson, Converting the Work Force: Where the Jobs Would Be. Lansing, MI: Employment Research Associates, 1980.) Recent research has gone further, demonstrating that around military sites, rates of unemployment may be greater. (See, for example, Jurgen Brauer and William G. Gissey, (eds), Economics of Conflict and Peace. UK: Ashgate, 1997, especially the article by Brauer on military expenditures and unemployment.)
The Bush administration has responded to this economic crisis in a manner that is at best incompetent and at worst, criminal. Joseph Stiglitz, this year’s Nobel Prize winner in economics concluded his op-ed essay in The Washington Post:
Without an effective stimulus, the U.S. economy will sink deeper into recession, and the rest of the world with it. An ineffective stimulus could be even worse: It would harm budgetary prospects, raising medium-and long-term interest rates. And when we see the false claims for what they are, confidence in our economy and in our economic management will deteriorate further.(Washington Post, November 11, 2001)
In response to the recession, and using the need to respond to the terrorist threat as camouflage, the Bush administration made a series of fiscal proposals centering about corporate and individual tax cuts.
On an individual level, the upper ten percent of taxpayers would get 75 percent of the cuts. The bottom 60 percent are scheduled to get only seven percent. The proposed changes in the corporate tax structure are even more extreme. There are three major provisions. One is the doubling of the rate of allowable depreciation. The estimated tax loss is $109 billion through 2004. Another is the repeal of the alternative minimum tax, a tax originally designed to correct the fact that many profitable corporations were hiding their profits and paying very little or nothing in taxes. This repeal would be accompanied by a refund of all alternative minimum taxes paid by these companies since the bill was first enacted. in 1986. This would cost the country $24-25 billion dollars. Major companies would receive extraordinary rebates: IBM, for example, will get $1.4 billion; General Motors, $833 million; General Electric, $671 million; Chevron Texaco, $572 million. In addition, a House bill will allow the big corporations to store their profits overseas as a tax shelter. It is hard to imagine how the shift of money overseas could constitute a stimulus to the domestic economy, but the bill is still under consideration.
Obviously, these cuts do little to stimulate the economy and will escalate future deficits. Although they will likely be modified, depending upon the outcome of the November 2002 elections, their motivation is transparently that of shifting wealth and the tax burden for government operations. The New York Times economic columnist, Paul Krugman, commented; “Why does the administration’s favored bill offer so little stimulus? Because that’s not its purpose: it’s really designed to lock in permanent tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, using the September 11 attacks as an excuse.” (New York Times, November 11, 2001)
After the budget was submitted, a secret nuclear policy review surfaced, although some parts still remain secret and the Bush administration has refused to speak about it. It is a radically new blueprint for the development and use of nuclear weaponry. There are five critical dimensions of this “Nuclear Posture Review” (NPR) which were made public, initially by the Los Angeles Times. First, it changed the military posture from the potential use of nuclear weapons only as a last resort to its acceptance as a first strike weapon. Second, while the NPR calls for reducing the number of existing nuclear weapons, it does not call for destroying them but rather taking them off a hair-trigger alert status. At the end of ten years, the US would still have up to 800 nuclear weapons on high-alert (http://www.backfromthebrink.org). This is the firepower equivalent of 10,000 Hiroshima bombs. Third, it calls for the development of tactical nuclear weapons to be used “against targets able to withstand nonnuclear attack.” This presumably refers to underground bunkers or sites where chemical and biological weapons may be stored, but clearly can be defined as the military chooses. Fourth, the NPR established a bizarre diplomatic stance by actually naming the countries about which nuclear scenarios would be developed initially. This not only included George W. Bush’s “axis of evil”—Iraq, Iran, and North Korea—but also Russia, China, Syria, and Libya. Finally, the NPR is part of the Pentagon’s planning for a new military structure that will consist of nuclear-armed Trident submarines, Minuteman land-based missiles, and B-52 and B-2 bombers giving the military a force of approximately 2,000 strategic warheads.
Military scientists at both Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos laboratories are now working on a new hydrogen bomb (San Jose Mercury News, March 25, 2002). The bombs at both sites, the B-83 at Livermore and the B-61 at Los Alamos, will have a variable yield capable of adjusting the explosive power of the bomb. The B-83 would be 100 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima which destroyed the entire city, killing approximately 150, 000 people.
Some final notes
In order to comprehend the values of the political elites, the observer often needs an event that shakes up the society. The attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon was just such an event. Ironically, these attacks on a major symbol of capitalism and the center of military power has enabled the Bush-Cheney administration to expand both. Here are some the values exposed by these events of the first six months since 9-11.
* War is an acceptable means for resolving conflict.
* International mechanisms such as the U.N., the World Court, and even international agreements are secondary to national self-interest.
* Peace can only be maintained by military power.
* There are no limits on the use of military
weaponry, even tactical nuclear weapons are acceptable.
* The need for natural and energy resources outweighs any environmental risks.
* The interests of national security take precedence over civil liberties in a time of war.
* New immigrants do not have the same civil rights as citizens.
* The accumulation of wealth needs to be protected by the government.
* The social class structure of American society is a natural order.
* The class basis of this order privileges white, Christian men of wealth.
Any attempt to change these values may be construed as subversive. Calling on people to act to change these values may be construed as an act of domestic terrorism.
Back to Summary
No Way to Peace
Peace is the Way
—The First Six Months of the War Against Terrorism—
strategy (strat í j ?), n. a plan, procedure, or series of maneuvers for promoting a desired end or result
Peace is a Process
An anti-war movement is not by itself a movement towards peace. Peace is not the absence of war. Peace is a process, not an event. It is a mode of organizing and a way of life. War is an event; it ends with a truce, a surrender, or a defeat. Protesting the war or such activities as the breach of disarmament treaties, the storage of nuclear and chemical weaponry, the use of depleted uranium artillery, sowing land mines, or other forms of militarism amounts to treating symptoms. It will help in reducing or preventing much suffering and physical damage, but it does not necessarily move us forward. In fact, the side effects of the “war against terrorism” have already weakened and will continue to weaken the fabric of American society long after the mythical last shot is fired. Ending the war may be a precondition for peace, but it is not sufficient. Worse yet, the end of the war will likely see the end of most anti-war coalitions around the country. (The New Left and the war in Vietnam is a good example of this. Only a few organizations survived the signing of the peace treaty.)
An antiwar movement is an activist and oppositional movement. Its motive force is reformist: to stop the war. While its tactics may include civil disobedience and, occasionally, direct action, antiwar coalitions are seldom directed at fundamental social changes. Large coalitions are often good at creating spectacles, rallies and demonstrations,andother transient forms of protest. They tend to be poor at recruiting since they have no organizational base. People come and go to its activities, sometimes staying on but more often becoming isolated or burning out. Generally, they are “staffed” by career activists who are paid by some larger organization to be politically involved, or by members of small revolutionary groups which may be coalition members, or otherwise by people whose socioeconomic status allows them the time to do movement work. They may be students, or declassed and marginal individuals, or persons supported by others. Their common threads are, of course, their revulsion to the war, their humanitarianism, and their discretionary time.
Antiwar coalitions have no theory of society or social change. Their “membership” is typically mired in a liberal capitalism and sometimes a vaguely democratic socialism. To the extent that they do articulate a theory of change it is a fuzzy meliorism, that is, a belief that the world is getting better with the help of good people acting together. The major mechanism for this betterment is considered to be electoral politics. A small set of activists choose other forms of expression such as civil disobedience, although their objective remains the same. That is, they seek to influence the legislative process.
The “mission statements” of coalitions are righteous, calling for an end to the war, aid to its victims, opposing political repression and ethnoviolence, and endorsing a vaguely articulated demand for social justice. Typically their demands are not only beyond their own power, but are often beyond the intellectual grasp or imagination of those in power.
Finally, coalitions tend to endorse nonviolence in their tactics of protest, though not necessarily as a philosophical tenet of their mission statement. Given the philosophical ambiguity of “violence” and “nonviolence,” as well as serious political disagreements about the meaning of “direct action” and “civil disobedience” and their relation to nonviolence, movement organizers often stretch for the lowest denominator in order to hold a coalition together. This obviously creates a basic tension in the organizing of protests.
The overarching problem of the peace movement —if not American politics—is the failure to move beyond what is to what could be. It is most of all a failure of imagination. But it is also indicative of an underlying fear of change, a fear that has now been exacerbated by the truly unexpected and complex events since 9-11. The Bush administration’s major propaganda campaign about “homeland security” has added considerably to peoples’ fears. Any strategy has to be molded to the present social context. The war in Afghanistan was a popular war, and most people, including many who have been generally appalled by war, saw this as unavoidable if not “just.” Its acceptance is built upon the more sordid dimensions of American national character: authoritarianism, individualism, anti-intellectualism, patriarchy, and ethnocentrism. It has led to a closed-mindedness and level of political ignorance which makes organizing extraordinarily difficult and which weakens the fabric of democracy.
To be sure, these obstacles have been present over a long time, but now there is a new catalyst. The anxieties and stress engendered by the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the anthrax-contaminated mail, and the demonization of al Qaeda strengthened by the US Attorney General’s repeated warnings of an imminent terrorist attack, have spurred Americans to search for security. They have done so in a worrisome way. In their search for reassurance and leadership, people have turned to the government and the President. The week before 9-11 Bush’s approval rating was 51%. Two weeks later it had soared to 90%. By the end of the year, 2001, support for the Afghani war and the approval ratings of the President remained at record highs, although “confidence in the government” declined slightly. By the summer, 2002, Bush’s ratings had slipped to 65% and Americans were beginning to express concern over the economic state of the union —corporate corruption scandals, layoffs, and increasing unemployment. The threatened preemptive war in Iraq elevated Bush’s ratings, although almost two out of five Americans indicated their preference for further diplomatic efforts a well as support from the U.N. (Gallup, September 18, 2002)
A look at public attitudes regarding civil liberties is instructive. The NPR/Kaiser/Kennedy School poll taken at the end of November, 2001 reported: “The vast majority of Americans are willing to forgo some civil liberties to fight terrorism and they trust the government to do the right thing in carrying out the fight. However, Americans also hold strong beliefs in principle about civil liberties. They want some checks on executive power, and they do not want to discriminate against any particular ethnic group.” (See the NPR website) Two weeks later the New York Times/CBS poll reported similar findings (nytimes.org). In both surveys, however, there were substantial numbers of people who were not fully supportive of Bush administration policies. Opposing numbers ran from one-fourth to one-third of the people surveyed, with considerable variation across questions. This proportion, probably not coincidentally, is roughly the same as the proportion as those who identify themselves as “ liberal.”
On the way to peace we have two simultaneous objectives. First, we need to increase the density of symbols of opposition. Through demonstrations and vigils, handouts and graffiti, through independent media centers and infoshops, fundraisers and socials, through wearing buttons and talking it up, by civil disobedience and direct action—through every means in redundance—we need to be able to display to people everywhere that there is a dedicated opposition to the present policies of war.
Second, we need to build a movement. If the same fifty to 100 people show up at every demonstration, if the local coalition isn’t increasing in size, then their actions are incomplete, maybe even counterproductive. (Actually, it would be more desireable if the local coalition stayed the same size, but gave birth to additional peace groups.) The productivity of a demonstration is in the day after. And any demonstration that hasn’t planned for follow-up activity risks being nothing more than a spectacle.
Building a movement means having an organization or network of groups that can accommodate, educate, nurture, and socialize new recruits. It means having an organizational structure that embodies a participatory democracy and a nonalienating process. (Much has been written about this. See, for example, Brian Martin’s “Activists and Difficult People,” Social Anarchism, 2001, No. 30 and my own “Anarchism and Formal Organization” as well as the essays by Tom Knoche, Caroline Estes, and David Wieck all in Howard J. Ehrlich, ed., Reinventing Anarchy, Again, AK Press, 1996.)
The strategy for achieving these objectives derives from a social anarchist theory. It consists of five parts; and while its articulation may make it sound definitive and canonical, it is only a sketch.
Delegitimize authority. The glue that holds society together is one part predictability —the belief that people and the world in its everyday operation are understandable and more or less repetitive. Another part is the belief system that rationalizes the operation of the state as being just. The sense that justice will prevail, that this is a just society, is critical to the suppression of revolutionary ideas. Bureaucracy is the organizational form for masking injustice; the mass media of education and entertainment are the primary forms for the idealization of the society as just; and the spectacle of caring leaders and the deserving rich puts a human face on breeches of the predictable and the just. Institutional religion soothes the victims of injustice and deflects their needs through ritual and the pursuit of an afterlife. These are our targets, that is, the authorities and representatives of these institutions of pacification. Their mission, in this war on terrorism, is to convince the public that the war is just, that the sacrifice of civil liberties is part of that pursuit of justice, and that we can trust them to do what is in our best interest. Our mission is to deflate their authority by convincing the public that they are neither honest, nor necessarily competent, and that their motivations are directed to the accumulation of wealth for the wealthy and power for the powerful. In all of our activities, we need to emphasize social injustice and the role of “legitimate” authorities in attempting to persuade us that the privileges of class and the power of elites are natural events.
Oppose capitalism. The alternatives to capitalism are not entirely clear, but the need for such is clear, and the call for changing the political economy has to be built into the peace movement. Capitalism is defined by the private ownership and control of the means of production, a market structure to control that production, a system for the making of profits and for the distribution of those profits to the owners. As a political economic system, it requires the concentration of power to protect itself and its markets. It requires, too, the constant expansion of its markets and its profits. Capitalism protects itself through the cooptation of alternatives and through violence.
The battle against the Taliban and al Qaeda and the expansion of the war against terrorism, are in no small part a struggle for control of the oil and gas reserves around the Caspian Sea basin. Oil is manifestly central in the pending war against Iraq. This battle for resources also entails a battle for the maintenance and expansion of US bases in Central Asia and the Middle East in order to protect the flow of oil and, certainly, to maintain military dominance. It is also a war, like all wars, that enriches the military and defense contractors as well as those who profit from the weapons trade. An anticapitalist program for the peace movement is also an anti-militarist program. It would include: ending the arms trade, halting the new Star Wars program, agreeing to the elimination of nuclear weapons and chemical-biological weapons, the end to land mine production, and a halt to the design and manufacture of fighter planes, bombers, and warships. Not the least an anticapitalist program would require the economic conversion of war industries to the production of more socially useful goods. Military spending creates fewer jobs than does civilian sector spending and impedes the development of liberatory technology.
Finally, the anticapitalist peace movement must have a clear economic program. This would include the building of alternative institutions such as food coops, infoshops, local exchange and trading systems, co-housing and communal housing arrangements. A peace movement must also be a movement for worker-community ownership and control. This is clearly a central direction for a noncapitalist economics.
- March on Washington, D. C.
In calling for an anticapitalist opposition, peace activists clash with those building mass antiwar coalitions. Although many antiwar activists are themselves in opposition to a political economy of capitalism, they argue that such a demand would be inappropriate in an antiwar coalition. Mass coalitions, they argue, are comprised of multitudinous interests but opposition to “the system” is not salient. The argument is substantially correct. For most people, signing petitions, mobilizing the vote, lobbying, even participating in legal demonstrations is not conditioned on an opposition to the political economy. For them, capitalism is a given and its validity is not in question. Even those antiwar activists who may question its validity often dismiss the call for economic alternatives as utopian.
Recognizing this, peace workers have few choices—at least when it comes to contributing to mass demonstrations and other displays of opposition. We need to participate, assuming that the representations made by the antiwar organizers are not antithetical to ours. But our mission remains that of building a consciousness of the violence and exploitation built into capitalism and to put forward that message even within antiwar organizations. At the same time, and most importantly, we continue in our own movement building.
Greening the Movement. The peace movement needs to be Green. The resistance to illegitimate authority and the opposition to capitalism should be organized in an environmentalist context.The war is devastating to farmland and waterways, and the ozone layer is being seriously threatened by the enormously harmful emissions of jet fighter planes. Under the cover of the war, the Bush administration has launched a major assault against the environmental movement, domestically and internationally. Their goals are to enhance the short-term profits of the oil, gas, coal, and lumbering industries, while shielding them from increased costs of the protection of air and water resources and the protection of animal and wilderness habitats.
The U.S. Climate Action Report 2002, which seemed to have escaped White House censorship, is directly relevant to the peace movement. Writing in The Nation (July 8, 2002), Mark Hertsgaard commented:
The report’s biggest surprise was its admission that human activities, especially the burning of oil and other fossil fuels, are the primary cause of climate change....But the White house has resisted this conclusion. After all, if burning fossil fuels is to blame for global warming, it makes sense to burn less of them. To a lifelong oilman like Bush, who continues to rely on his former industry colleagues for campaign contributions as well as senior staff, such a view is heresy.
It would also make sense not to be building pipelines across Afghanistan and the Stans, nor to be deploying military to protect them.
The peace movement needs to confront its identity with a social ecology and articulate a clear message regarding alternative energy, conservation, re-use recycling, and the stewardship of the environment. To avoid cooptation, it has to do so, by explicitly articulating the relationship of an ecologically conscious program with the destructive consequences of capitalism.
Neutralize violence. Americans are in denial about violence; the antiwar and the anti-globalization movements are ambivalent about it. Violence is an integral part of American culture. Violent crimes exist at a high level, and people are injured more severely today during crimes than in an earlier time. Violent behaviors are starting at an earlier age, and homicide is now the leading cause of death among adolescents. Family violence is the leading cause of injury to women, and the physical punishment of children within the family is pervasive. Violence is a mainstay of mainstream television. Random, retaliatory, and recreational violence have become major occurrences. Ethnoviolence victimizes one out four minorities annually. Being at war not only increases the prevalence of violence in the society, but this war has added a xenophobia directed at persons of presumed middle-eastern appearance.
As we look at the level of approval of the war in Afghanistan and the willingness of four out five Americans to send troops to Iraq (Gallup poll, November 26-27), we need to gaze in our cultural mirror. This is a violent society, and the density of symbols of violence and the commonplace of violent acts simply triggers the willingness to wage war.
The peace movement needs to be nonviolent in its tactics today. “Nonviolent action,” as Brian Martin says in the opening of his extraordinary book, “is the most promising method for moving beyond capitalism to a more humane social and economic system” (Brian Martin, Nonviolence versus Capitalism. London: War Resisters International, 2001. Nonviolence certainly prefigures our own sketch of a good society and it maximizes our potential for recruiting people to our movement. Nonviolent activism does not guarantee safety from the violence of police and military, nor does it come with a guarantee of success. On the other hand, violence carries a stronger likelihood of failure today, and is inconsistent with our goals.
David Cortwright, writing on the power of nonviolence in The Nation, February 18, 2002, comments:
The choice of nonviolence should not be left to chance. It must be integrated into every element of the global justice movement. It should be publically proclaimed as the movement’s guiding principle and method. The legitimate search for assertive and disruptive methods can and should proceed, but this must not be confused with vandalism and violence. The most radical and effective forms of social action are those that heighten the contrast between the just demands of the global justice movement and the brutal actions of the police. Only by preserving nonviolent discipline can the movement occupy and hold the moral high ground and win political support for necessary social change.
Counter Disinformation. The majority of Americans cannot answer basic questions about the political economic system of the US. Moreover, they have been socialized not ask political questions and, when they do, to ask the wrong questions. Extraordinary numbers believe in the existence of supernatural beings from gods to ghosts, and in the power of the stars to determine their lives. They have little awareness of world geography or of the oppressive consequences of the major transnational capitalist institutions such as the World Bank. The identity of the IMF, NAFTA, or the G-7 are an alphabetic jumble. At a personal level, most fail to recognize the cumulative privileges accorded those who are white, male, and Christian.
It is on a solid base of ignorance and false information that the political elites can broadcast “disinformation.” Disinformation, as the media analyst Neil Postman put it, is fragmented, misleading, irrelevant, and often shallow information “that creates the illusion of knowing something but which in fact leads away from knowing.” If you listen closely to the press conferences of Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, you will hear a master of disinformation. Both he and the President frequently create the illusion of meaning. So the Secretary told assembled reporters and the country that bin Laden was either alive or dead, in Afghanistan or somewhere else. The following day, Bush at his press conference announced in all seriousness that bin Laden “is on the run, if he’s running at all” (December 27, 2001). Despite these absurd tautologies, none of the journalists commented or questioned the speakers.
We need to counter disinformation in two ways. One is to educate ourselves. A peace movement has to have a program of internal education. Of course its major function is to help its membership in learning such things as the history of nonviolence, theories of revolution, or the pitfalls of workers’ control. But it has another significant function. It can counter any elitist tendencies that might develop as consequence of the difference in knowledge and experience that might prevail in the group.
Educational outreach has to encompass all forms and media. Movement educators have to be aware that the social context of teaching and learning is critical, that not everyone knows how to be a student, and that there are class and cultural differences in learning styles. However we do it and in whatever context, countering disinformation is difficult work.
Reinvent Anarchy. It is at first necessary to suspend popular stereotypes and newsmedia warnings which conflate the philosophy and practice of anarchism with violence and chaos. Anarchist ideas have likely been around whenever people have protested against injustice and oppression. In fact the historian Peter Marshall, traces the appearance of organized anarchist ideas to the Taoists of sixth century China. (See his Demanding the Impossible. London: Fontana Press, 1993.) The guiding principles of contemporary anarchist philosophy include the rejection of all forms of domination and the acceptance of both human autonomy and the idea of community. It supportss the ultimate replacement of the nation-state with a network of voluntary associations as well as providing egalitarian options for the more authoritarian institutions of modern society. As in any political movement, there are those anarchists who are retreatists, but most anarchists are urbanites favoring decentralized, ecologically balanced small-scale, self-governing communities utilizing liberatory (as opposed to centralizing) technologies.
The anarchist moment exists within antiwar coalitions particularly with regard to decision-making and group process. There are five components of that process: diffusing the concentration of power within the group; maximizing individual participation; decision-making by consensus or other hierarchical process; deflating elitism—sexism, racism, ageism and all other forms of authoritarianism; and a program of education.
Anarchists share much in common with Marxists and Liberals with regard to a critique of this war and the institutions of society. One serious point of departure, and that which is central to a peace movement and absent from the antiwar movements, is the utopianism in anarchist thought. The antiwar movement calls for an end to the barbarism; the anarchist movement calls for the beginning of a new society.
Building a movement requires, particularly, that there be attainable goals. The peace movement needs to have a sketch of a peaceable society. Without it, it is just an oppositional movement with no necessary life beyond its points of opposition. A sketch is a sketch. We cannot at this time connect the dots, but we must have a sense of direction. We need to ask ourselves what a good society would look like. What would it take to move from here to there?
There is, of course, a next step—a leap. And here we separate many, certainly the utopians from the “realists.” It is a step from sketch to performance. Is what we are doing now leading us to a good society? Do we have the courage and the imagination to act as if we were engaged in an “experiment in the future?” These are the questions which will guide us on the way to peace.
There are many in the antiwar movement longing for short term victories. In fact, most community organizing manuals coach organizers to set their sights on short-term, winnable goals. Unfortunately, at the level of national policies there are not many such objectives. The result is often a focus on protest as the goal. This transformation of means to ends is inherently self-destructive.
In radical antiwar circles, A. J. Muste’s aphorism “There is no way to peace, peace is the way” stands almost as a Zen Koan. (It exists in different guises in many philosophical statements, and is the inspiration for the title of this paper.) While it may appear also to confuse means and ends, it is more profound. Its central meaning is simple: the means to change must prefigure the changes themselves. Without a conscious effort at building a movement, exposing the toxicity of authoritarianism, capitalism, and violence, and generating the patterns of a good society, we will simply recapitulate the past having learned nothing from history.
Howard J. Ehrlich
The Prejudice Institute
2743 Maryland Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21218
Email: Howard J. Ehrlich