Who now remembers “people’s war,” that term for a great rippling of anti-imperial, anti-colonial armed upheavals throughout what was once called the Third World? Perhaps the term has disappeared, buried by history and by the disappointed hopes of people’s who got their independence after years of armed struggle but found themselves living under repressive regimes, desperately poor, and often with unresolved civil wars on their hands; but let me coin a new term, allied to it historically, that might fit our own desperate, inchoate moment: “people’s antiwar.” Call it what you will, it offers a rare glimmer of hope.
Just yesterday, Richard Perle, ultra-hawk and chairman of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board, again reiterated that “we” would go to war in Iraq without UN sanction, if need be. To read Perle’s comments click here
The other day I suggested a timetable for an Iraqi war in late February or early March and there’s no question that most members of this administration and those like Perle pushing hard to influence it, desperately want this to happen. Nor is there a question that from France to Saudi Arabia, Qatar to Pakistan, Saudi Arabia to China, most governments seemed in recent months to give up hope of stopping such a war and got ready, in essence, to bend a knee, look the other way, or take whatever deal was offered.
But here’s the fascinating thing. Our warhawks have had a far harder time than they ever imagined sending the troops in — and their schedule has kept slipping and slipping — and there are signs that it may get harder yet. In just the last few days, the Turkish government has been balking at the stationing of a US invasion force on its soil; the Saudis are whispering again about the need for UN resolutions; even the British representative at the UN, is suddenly mumbling about giving the inspectors “time,” and of course the UN inspectors have as yet evidently found nothing. Why are governments beginning to hesitate? Many explanations will be offered from the way the strike in Venezuela is already sending the price of oil skyward to Bush confusions over North Korea, but one force should not be underestimated: us. Not an American us — though a movement against war is growing here — but a global us, a vast movement of people’s antiwar.
Yesterday, amazingly two British railwaymen reportedly refused, according to the Guardian, to “move a freight train carrying ammunition believed to be destined for British forces being deployed in the Gulf. Railway managers canceled the Ministry of Defense service after the crewmen, described as ‘conscientious objectors’ by a supporter, said they opposed Tony Blair’s threat to attack Iraq.” To read this Guardian piece click here
And from England to Pakistan demonstrations are spreading. Everywhere in the world, it seems opposition to the war-that-hasn’t-begun — 65% of the French, 86% of the Turks, and so on, according to various polls — is growing and putting pressure on governments. Some of this activity is deeply self-interested; not everybody is demonstrating for the same reason; and not all of it is kindly or necessarily peaceable or pretty, but this unorganized global movement is significant. It may sound simpleminded, but it’s increasingly clear that the people of the world do not want this war. And several hundred years of “the people” in all their complicated reality tells us that this is something governments ignore at their long-term peril.
We can all speculate. People like me can offer timetables, and they may turn out to be so. But the future is unmade until we make it. Time and again in the last 300 years, against empires, against autocracies, against dictatorships of every sort, the “people” in endless manifestations, armed and unarmed, in ways ugly as well as moving, have made their weight felt. The bones of every imperial venture but ours are now bleaching under the “sun” that was supposed never to set on the British empire.
Our media offer accounts, however underplayed, of individual demonstrations around the world. But what they don’t report, what they don’t believe, is that “the people” are the weight of history. This isn’t romantic at all. It’s historical reality. If people’s war, after buried years, now gives way to people’s antiwar that would be something. Do I believe that war in Iraq is coming. Yes. Do I believe that it must come. No. Do I believe that every moment of hesitation by the Bush administration, every delay, makes it harder for them to act, yes, I do.
I include below a short piece by Alexander Cockburn, written for workingforchange.org, and picked up off the commondreams.org website, which makes this point in the context of the Vietnam antiwar experience. With it I also include a long, chilling piece, “Nixon’s Nuclear Ploy,” from the January/February Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, that adds to our sense of history. It’s a tale of how, to cow the Russians and North Vietnamese in 1969, President Nixon tried to portray himself as a “madman” by launching a worldwide heightened “nuclear alert” — in essence, threatening nuclear destruction to get a settlement to his liking of the Vietnam war. This “alert,” which had to be hidden from the American people and America’s allies (not to speak of most members of Nixon’s own administration), proved so secret it may not have been noticed by the Russians. If global destruction hadn’t been at stake, this would be ludicrous. The secrecy came, in part, because Nixon felt hemmed in by vast antiwar demonstrations looming on the horizon. Then, as now, there were, in essence, two secret histories at stake — the secret threatening acts of our government and a largely unacknowledged history of how the people brought their weight to bear to “contain” the government. Tom
“No to War!” Is Anyone Listening?
Longtime peace activist says today’s peace movement is stronger than that before Vietnam
By Alexander Cockburn
January 9, 2003
Who has not clambered onto a bus, headed off to a protest demonstration and stood amid sparse company in the rain, thinking, “What’s the use?” Who has not listened to some plucky orator rasping through a bullhorn, “Let our message go forth…” and thought privately, “Forth to whom? Who’s listening? Who cares?”
These days, there’s a spirited movement growing across the United States opposing a war against Iraq. There have been some big events, like the rallies in Washington, D.C., and San Francisco, attended by vast throngs. But there have also been rallies and vigils by the score in small towns.
Are they making a difference?
Of course they are, just like the demonstrations in Europe, the Middle East, Australia and elsewhere. U.S. ambassadors and CIA heads of station may deprecate and downplay the world protests in their reports, but they cannot dismiss them, any more than can the White House.
Nixon’s nuclear ploy
By William Burr & Jeffrey Kimball
The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists
Richard Nixon thought a secret, worldwide nuclear alert would remain unknown to the American public, and he was right. But his strategy-to threaten the Soviets into helping bring an end to the Vietnam war-was unsuccessful. They may not even have noticed.
In 1969 President Richard Nixon ordered a worldwide nuclear alert-one of the largest secret military operations in U.S. history. Only Nixon, his special adviser for national security affairs Henry Kissinger, Kissinger’s National Security Council aide Col. Alexander Haig, and White House chief of staff H. R. “Bob” Haldeman, knew that the underlying purpose of the alert, known as the “Joint Chiefs of Staff Readiness Test,” was to convince the Soviets that helping to end the war in Vietnam was in their best interests.