August 21, 2002
Arts and Entertainment
A moral case against war
'DISSENT IS NOT un-American." This matter-of-fact phrase, encouragingly stenciled onto a banner above City Lights Bookstore, has rarely sounded so pathetic. Unfortunately, the truth is that not only is a grotesque war in the offing with almost no voices raised against it, but also the very act of dissent, our most basic democratic prerogative, is officially on the endangered species list.
That's why dissent from the Bush administration's criminal intentions with respect to Iraq recently called for in these pages (see Editorial, 8/7/02) needs amplifying before it's too late.
But we should be clear about the case we make against war.
After all, decent people find the indiscriminate bombing of others for crass political ends not just a bad idea, but also deeply abhorrent. What these corporate types in Washington are proposing to do in our name, with our money, makes each and every one of us a party to mass murder. That, surely, is the salient point. And that simple truth cuts through all the equivocating among political "realists."
More than merely looking the beast in the face, resisting militarism means being resolutely honest and unapologetic about our moral convictions. Certainly, those of us who would like to resist the current trend toward a more dangerous and unjust world should use all available information to make reasoned arguments against the foolishness of waging war. Reason has to be brought to bear on this insanity. But no antiwar movement can have much force or meaning without strong principles at its core. We shouldn't let the language of realpolitik leave us weak and compromised.
Nor should we take at face value the administration's dubious claim that it believes Iraq poses an immediate and overwhelming threat to the United States, especially as almost no other government, including those in the neighborhood of Iraq, seems to believe this is true. Taking for granted that Saddam Hussein poses a general threat that needs to be dealt with (intelligently, one has to add these days), the government's willingness to make foreign policy out of violating international laws that prohibit unjustified "preemptive" attacks only makes it more likely that other countries will find some basis for seeing themselves in imminent danger from the United States. That just means more for all of us to worry about from now on.
In fact, it has become obvious that the duplicitous White House and its devotees, who can't or won't produce a single shred of evidence to support their claim of imminent threat, have more pressing motives than self-defense. It takes very little effort to imagine what they might be. Control of the world's second-largest oil reserves pops to mind. So does the profitability of war for a conscienceless arms industry, which we all know is like family to this administration (that is, when it isn't family). Then there's the war economy's promise of concomitant cuts in the social spending so inimical to the right. And who could overlook the fact, made more obvious after Sept. 11, that war is very good for getting your way politically if you happen to be president?
In calling for an antiwar movement in this country to check this dangerous and ugly aggression, we should be careful to develop, without apology or embarrassment, a public moral tone that draws on the core values of all decent people and tolerates no cavalier killing by our elected officials. That is the best hope for reigning in an enormous, ever expanding war machine before it finishes us all off.
Bay Guardian contributing writer Robert Avila is completing a doctoral thesis at UC Berkeley on opposition to war in the United States.