Peace Movement is One Force to Deter War with Iraq
Between The Lines
the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release Nov. 26, 2002
U.S. Peace Movement is the One Force that Can Deter War with
Interview with Geov Parrish, a journalist with the Seattle Weekly conducted by Scott Harris
Listen in RealAudio: http://188.8.131.52/parrish112902.ram
With United Nations weapons inspectors now on the ground in Iraq, the world holds its collective breath to see how the Bush administration will react, given its stated goal of overthrowing the government of Saddam Hussein. Ambiguous language in the resolution re-establishing weapons inspections in Iraq -- unanimously approved by the 15-member Security Council -- could, in the view of the White House, provide cover for a future U.S. invasion. What would constitute such a "trigger," for war, however, is a still an unanswered question.
But, with administration officials busy making their war plans and key members of Congress predicting that a conflict is imminent, the outlook for a peaceful resolution of this confrontation is bleak. Undaunted by the odds, peace groups around the globe have staged impressive demonstrations, especially in Europe, against a future U.S. strike. In a show of strength that even surprised organizers, an estimated half a million people protested the Bush drive for war in Florence, Italy on Nov. 9. Here in the U.S., 100,000 opposed to a war with Baghdad marched in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 26 in a demonstration largely ignored by the corporate press.
Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Geov Parrish, a journalist with the Seattle Weekly, who considers the strengths and weaknesses of the new peace movement which has developed in the U.S. in recent months to oppose the White House drive for war with Iraq.
Geov Parrish: Well, the first strength of course is the weakness of the Bush administration's case for war. There are so many compelling reasons why the war is a bad idea and the rationales that they've put forward to it are -- to any person who investigates the situation throughout the world and in that part of the world -- are so transparently flimsy that it's a very strong case.
Beyond that, the people who are concerned about an invasion would support it if the U.S. had support of the international community, or if there will be relatively few U.S. casualties, both of which are fairly dubious. You take those numbers and combine them with the people who are outright opposed to a war, and perhaps that's two-thirds of the American population. That is a wide, wide cross-section. It transcends ideology, it transcends age, it transcends class, it transcends whether people are politically active or just sort of casual observers -- that's the strength.
We saw a little bit of that strength tapped into with the tremendous flood of phone calls, emails, faxes and what not, that came into Congress during the debate on the resolution. That was enough of a flood that you had over 100 Democrats who probably would not have voted against the resolution two weeks' previous, who voted against it. And that was without any kind of single organization ala the NRA (National Rifle Association) trying to orchestrate any kind of a campaign. It was very, very grassroots. That's the strength; that's also the weakness.
There's no particular organizational structure to the anti-war movement. There are certainly very few political champions, and the ones that there are out there are generally not very prominent. There are very few media champions of the anti-war movement at this point. There's not that much money available to anti-war groups. There's certainly not a lot of staff or a lot of people pumping out media information. So they're at a significant disadvantage in terms of turning those numbers into a change in public policy. You have an administration, in the Bush administration that now has allies controlling both houses of Congress and that frankly isn't terribly concerned about public opinion and figures that public opinion is something that it can shape as it needs to. That's the downside.
The difficulty with having a lack of overriding message or overriding organization to represent the anti-war movement with is that you have a wildly different number of messages out there. That's a reflection of the numbers of arguments there are against the war, but we live in a culture of propaganda and of advertising where repetition is what sinks in for people. When you're getting different messages all the time, whereas you're getting the administration consistently like a drum beat, putting out one single message to their stenographers in mainstream media in this country -- it’s a very, very difficult thing to fight.
Between The Lines: Geov Parrish, do you think it's important for this reborn peace movement to have a long-term strategy to challenge the U.S. quest for global domination? These are issues that in the post-9/11 environment a lot of people are ambivalent about because they don't want to see more violence visited upon this country. So there's a kind of reaction that says, "Yes, if the United States is going to dominate the world and prevent more terrorism that is a good thing, not a bad thing."
Geov Parrish: Yeah, although there is a difference between self-defense and naked aggression. That difference can be spelled out very clearly by peace advocates.
There absolutely needs to be a long-term strategy. One of the strongest arguments for marshaling a broad and deep and vigorous opposition to this particular war is even if you don't prevent it, you can shorten it. Even if you don't shorten it you can make people think twice about the next one and perhaps the one after that.
We’ve already (heard) from administration figures, and there are plenty of people among the Democrats who agree with them, that this is going to be the new "One Hundred Years War." This is going to be a war and there is going to be a suspension of constitutional freedoms that our grandchildren are going to be living with. That is an apocalyptic vision of the type that Osama bin Laden trades in. These are people that are that radical and these are the people that are really stealing the vision of what this country means, what this country wants to be. And a lot of people are deeply ambivalent about that vision. An anti-war movement and a peace movement can certainly speak to that ambivalence.
I think most people in this country do not want to think of the United States as an imperial power even if that's what we historically have been for the last number of years. We don't like to think of ourselves that way; we don't like to think of ourselves as being universally reviled. We want to be the bringers of democracy, freedom and all those other good things. And we could be, but we're not.
We need to be thinking a number of steps ahead, in the same way that the Pentagon and the Bush administration and the political strategists of both parties are also thinking a number of steps ahead. You can be sure that they're thinking through how to discredit and marginalize a peace movement if it becomes more politically powerful than it now is for example. You can be sure that they're thinking through how under various scenarios to continue selling things like very high-ticket prices weapons systems like Star Wars under any number of different military and domestic political scenarios in this country. They're thinking very, very carefully about how to hedge all their bets, make all of their arguments and how to wield power. We need to be thinking in that way too, and we need to be thinking not simply in terms of bearing witness, but in how to change the public policy.
Geov Parrish, a journalist with the Seattle Weekly, is a regular contributor to publications such as In These Times, Alternet and WorkingforChange.com. Read Geov Parrish's article "The Peace Movement Lives" online at www.alternet.org.
Scott Harris is executive producer of Between The Lines. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, nationally syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines (www.btlonline.org), for the week ending Nov. 29, 2002
PRINT INFORMATION: For reprint permission, please email email@example.com.
To subscribe to Between The Lines Q&A, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.