War Opponents Support
But Not the Mission
January 20, 2004
To the Editor of THE BERKSHIRE EAGLE:
Three cheers for Andrew Shaw [Letters, Jan. 11] for following his beliefs and conscience in the matter of serving in the U.S. military in Iraq, and in supporting the troops the way that he does. All we can ask of a person is that he or she make a good effort to inform his or her conscience, and then follow the path to which it points. While it is true that human reason and conscience are not perfect, they are the very best guides to correct behavior that we have.
In the same vein, Mr. Shaw doesn’t need to tell opponents of the war how to support the troops in Iraq. He should just allow other people the same right to gather information and follow their consciences that he has. How do most opponents of the war support the troops? In part, we do it by advocating and working for their return home, just as Mr. Shaw said. But there is more to our support than that. We also pray, along with people of all opinions, that our troops suffer no physical or other harm during their service. And some opponents of the war have done much more. For example, a recent TV program showed members of Veterans for Peace consoling grieving members of families that had lost loved ones in the war.
Mr. Shaw cannot speak for all the soldiers when he says that they “believe in this mission, and they also believe in their commander-in-chief.” A few months ago Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld defended the punishing of service men and women for speaking out in favor of a quick end to the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Rumsfeld declared that service men and women were not free to criticize the policies of the government. Many people thought Rumsfeld was going further, and suggesting that members of families of military personnel also muzzle themselves and not criticize governmental policies. Mr. Shaw ought to be wondering why members of the government think it necessary for U.S. military men and women, and their families, to be muzzled.
Besides not recognizing all the ways opponents of the war support the troops, there is another problem with Mr. Shaw’s letter. He implies it is a matter of choice for opponents of the Iraq War as to how they can support the troops. But it is not a matter of choice. We support the troops the only ways we can. If Mr. Shaw thought, as many of us do, that the war is one of unwarranted U.S. aggression, and that it is based upon deliberate lies about weapons of mass destruction and Iraqi links to al-Qaida, then he too would most likely find it hard or impossible to root for the Bush policies to succeed. We fear Bush’s feeling of success, and his being praised and rewarded for his illegal, immoral, unwise, and lie-based preemptive strike against a non-threat. We worry about such “success” leading to additional wars, with more death, suffering, and destruction. We don’t want the U.S. to be alienated from most of the world community. That would make the curbing of international terrorism, a purported goal of the present war, even harder to achieve.
Of course supporters of the war would like the war to proceed unopposed. But to expect that is just unrealistic, given the lies about weapons of mass destruction, an al-Qaida connection, and an imminent threat. Also, this is America, where alternative opinions are generally allowed. In truth, opposition of U.S. citizens to wars undertaken by their government is not at all unusual. Here are just a couple of famous examples. Abraham Lincoln was vocal in opposing the Mexican War [1846-48] through which the U.S. stole one-half of Mexico. He repeatedly embarrassed President Polk through “spot resolutions” that challenged Polk to show Lincoln the very spot on U.S. territory where Mexicans had started the war by attacking U.S. citizens. Was Abraham Lincoln unpatriotic, or a traitor? His is one of the birthdays we will celebrate next month. In another example, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4, 1967, gave an important speech at New York City’s Riverside Church in which he presented [what are now recognized as] ten arguments against the Vietnam War [1964-1973]. During that speech, Rev. Dr. King bravely said that the greatest purveyor of violence in the world at that time was his own [U.S.] government. Was Rev. Dr. King a traitor? We will all celebrate his life in a few days.
Abraham Lincoln and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were not one whit less patriotic than those who supported the wars which they opposed. Likewise, the opponents of the Iraq War are not one whit less patriotic than are its supporters. Real patriots speak out to oppose, rather than act as cheerleaders for, what they think – mistakenly or not - are illegal, immoral, and unwise actions of their government. Only if opponents of the Iraq War did not speak out against the war they see as illegal and immoral could they reasonably be called unpatriotic. Mark Twain was right when he said patriotism is “supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.”
If Mr. Shaw thinks all Americans have an obligation to support present U.S. policies in Iraq, including the war, does he also feel that we should feel pride over all the U.S. military adventures of the past? If so, Mr. Shaw should consider that the opinion of most historians and ethicists today is that people who opposed U.S. uses of force in the past were often right in doing so. Even just intuitively that should not be too surprising considering the staggering overall record of U.S. uses of force. Since 1776, the U.S. has engaged in dozens of wars, and hundreds of foreign interventions. It has used military force in more than a hundred countries and foreign territories, many of them on multiple occasions. It has bombed at least twenty-six countries in the period just since World War II. In the record of the last two hundred twenty-five years, no other country even comes close to the U.S. in propensity to use force to enforce its will upon others, not even England, a major world empire for over one hundred of those years.
But we don’t have to rely just on intuition. The facts are often very clear. Many U.S. wars were for no other purpose than to steal land, justified by a self-satisfying and strange belief in “manifest destiny.” Why didn’t the Almighty manifest the destiny of North America to those we were killing? Tecumseh, the Shawnee Chief, put the situation this way to a gathering of Native American leaders and warriors about 1811, “Where today are the Pequot? Where the Narraganset, the Mohican, the Pokanoket, and many other once powerful tribes of our people? They have vanished before the avarice and oppression of the white man, as snow before a summer sun.” No-one knows any better than Native Americans how little human lives have counted to America’s leaders. When Teddy Roosevelt was asked to comment on the infamous quote [1870s] of General Phil Sheridan, “The only good Indian is a dead Indian,” Roosevelt said: “I wouldn’t go so far as to say ‘The only good Indian is a dead Indian,’ but I believe it is true in nine cases out of ten, and I wouldn’t look too closely into the case of the tenth." That’s the same Teddy Roosevelt who said in 1897, I should welcome almost any war, for I think this country needs one.”
Many historians see the Philippine War [1899-1902] as another in which opponents of the war were right. Do you remember the reason for that war? It was to Christianize Filipinos. Here’s how President McKinley explained it to a group of ministers: “I walked the floor of the White House night after night until midnight, and I am not ashamed to tell you, gentlemen, that I went down on my knees and prayed Almighty God for guidance more than one night. And one night it came to me this way…that there was nothing left for us to do but to take them all, and to educate Filipinos and uplift them and civilize them and Christianize them, as our own fellowmen for whom Christ also died.” As Max Boot points out in his important [very pro-war] book, The Savage Wars of Peace, “most Filipinos at the time were already Christian, Catholic to be precise.”
Finally, Mr. Shaw made the remark that “Isolationism has never in history been a successful foreign policy.” That is true for capitalist, expansionist, and imperialist countries, because of the ways they define “success,” but it might be too broad a statement for all countries. In any case, it is irrelevant to the Iraq situation because the critics of the Iraq War are not advocating an isolationist foreign policy for the U.S. What we advocate is that the U.S. support international law, rather than undermine and violate it. The Iraq War violated, among other laws, the Charter of the United Nations which prohibits wars unless they are defensive or have the approval of the U.N. Security Council.
Rather than evaluating isolationism which no-one is recommending, Mr. Shaw should thoroughly study of all of America’s wars, and its astounding record of interventionism. He should pay special attention to both the stated and real reasons for the wars and foreign interventions. Are we to be proud of more than ninety years of gunboat diplomacy in Asia? Why was there a need to begin a good neighbor policy as late as the mid-1930s when the idea had been talked about for years? Why weren’t we always good neighbors? And why didn’t the good neighbor policy last? When the patterns of deception, aggression, and imperialism become clear to him, perhaps Mr. Shaw will have new respect for those who refuse to blindly and quietly follow the president, and who insist that our government not go to war without a sufficient cause. And he may then more easily understand why polls taken just before the Iraq War showed that the vast majority of people around the world were more worried about President Bush than they were about Saddam Hussein.
January 11, 2004