Antiwar movement lacks unity, coherence

ABy Nick Busse attending a good protest is like taking a trip to the zoo – except smellier and hairier. But in the case of last Thursday’s antiwar demonstration here on campus, the animals’ bark is worse than their bite.

Having always held the conviction that college is and ought to be a teeming marketplace of ideas (and having four hours to kill between my classes), I decided to perform my civic duty by attending the much-advertised rally.

After a few minutes of observing the demonstrators congregating outside Coffman Union and hearing once again the utterly banal chants which have come to characterize protest movements (“The people, united, will never be defeated!”), I opted to skip the march in favor of the “speak-out” being held at the Tate Lab of Physics. (I’ve been to plenty of marches by now and I know the drill. I’m not sure how blocking traffic on Oak Street for 20 minutes serves to further one’s cause; it certainly doesn’t rally people to your side. In fact, I suspect that had the demonstrators not been flanked by two dozen cops they would’ve been viciously assailed by a mob of enraged commuters.)

To kick off the speak-out, a young woman affiliated with Students for Justice in Palestine and who looked about as Palestinian as Cameron Diaz introduced two representatives from the Welfare Rights Committee.

The first, a tiny brunette woman, had little to say about Iraq, but spent a solid 15 minutes screaming – literally – about state welfare policies. More specifically, she suggested, without a hint of irony, that “the Pawlenty Republican regime is trying to kill our families.” The second woman followed her companion’s magnum opus by launching into an utterly incoherent tirade against President George W. Bush and the “ruling classes” that lasted another 15 minutes and stunned the audience by failing to manifest a single complete sentence.

The audience, far from discouraged by the speakers’ unintelligibility, responded by clapping and whooping uncontrollably at every break in speech. Perhaps political rhetoric, in true postmodern fashion, has finally ascended to a stage where the coherence of the speaker’s message has become irrelevant. Or perhaps the radical left has merely inherited the constituency of people who used to show up for tapings of the Arsenio Hall Show.

In any case, the only speech that made any sense was a brief presentation on the Al-Amariyah air raid shelter, which U.S. warplanes accidentally bombed during the Gulf War while believing it was an Iraqi command and control center. Approximately 400 civilians were killed, and although though the Air Force has never denied it, it continues to be touted by activists as evidence the U.S. military directly and knowingly targeted civilians for the purpose of terrorizing the Iraqi people.

The speaker failed to mention several relevant facts: that Iraq has never satisfactorily proved that the building had no military significance (it has been proposed that the civilians were being used as a human shield), or that they originally exaggerated the death toll by three times the actual number, not to mention the stupidity of an above-ground air-raid shelter, or that there were only 34 shelters total for the four million residents of Baghdad.

Even now, I’m not entirely sure what the demonstration I witnessed was really about. On one hand, the antiwar movement seems to consider U.S. aggression toward Iraq to be a crime tantamount to Hitler’s persecution of the Jews. On the other, it’s apparently not so important that they feel an obligation to properly research the Al-Amariyah bombing and are perfectly willing to interrupt an antiwar rally to complain about a lack of welfare funds.

I spent the rest of the weekend pondering the rotten state of political dialogue in this country, and as the reports of a worldwide outbreak of anti-United States and antiwar demonstrations started rolling in, it suddenly occurred to me that what I had witnessed last Thursday was a microcosm of the larger “movement” taking place throughout Western Europe and North America.

That the vast majority of these protests take place in wealthy European nations, and, ergo, consist mostly of middle-class white people, seems to indicate the current wave of activism has less to do with the poor unfortunate people of Iraq than with the poor unfortunate peoples of Germany and France.

The French, who rolled over and played dead when the first Panzer tanks crossed the Belgian frontier, practically begged Adolf Eichmann to deport their Jews to the death camps, then spent the Cold War giving NATO the finger while simultaneously enjoying its protection, and not to mention sold Iraq half of its high-tech weaponry, are now taking the moral high ground against the country that rescued it from foreign subjugation twice in one century. Bite me.

Then we have the Russians, who at this very moment are busy turning Chechnya into the world’s biggest pile of dead bodies and rubble. Of course there’s always the Pope, who might be able to drum up some kind of legitimate antiwar support if he could just keep his priests’ hands off little boys. And as to the Germans accusing another country of belligerence – but we needn’t go there.

If these are the “allies” the antiwar movement is touting in its quest to make itself relevant, then the protesters have a lot of soul-searching to do. It is no accident that every letter to the editor opposing a war with Iraq inevitably contains the apologetic phrase, “I know Saddam Hussein is a terrible dictator who murdered tens of thousands of innocent people, but Ö”

But what? There’s an awful lot of outrage being expressed these days. But none of it is for the millions of people suffering under despotic Arab regimes that are so busy thinking up ways to drive the Zionists into the sea they can’t feed or house their own people. Do the organizers of Thursday’s protest really think their petty squabbles over welfare funding and Affirmative Action are on the same level as the Iraqi citizens who are routinely dragged off to detention centers, never to return?

Apparently so. In truth, the current antiwar movement has no firm ideological principles of its own. Rather, it consists of, as one columnist in the New Statesman recently deemed it, “nitpicking raised to the level of ideology” – millions of idealists with millions of ideals, not unified under the antiwar banner but, rather, using the antiwar banner as a pretense for unity.

Nick Busse is a University junior studying history and English. Send letters to the editor to [email protected]