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William Rivers Pitt: The Ethic of Total Opposition

The Ethic of Total Opposition

By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Friday 03 December 2004


Through these fields of destruction
Baptisms of fire
I've watched all your suffering
As the battles raged higher
And though they did hurt me so bad
In the fear and alarm
You did not desert me
My brothers in arms

- Dire Straits, 'Brothers in Arms'

I was sitting at the bar the other day with Hannah, talking politics over a mug. I commented that morale among those in the progressive movement had cratered since the Presidential election, that the energy and hopefulness which had marked the long slog towards the vote had been replaced by a dimming of expectations, a hunch-shouldered feeling of despair. Hannah wasn't surprised. "I'm a cynic these days," she said. "I don't count on people much anymore."

The feeling is understandable. We've seen hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets in the Ukraine to force a showdown over a questionable election. Yet here in America, after a national election with some 30,000 reported cases of irregularities, there is this odd silence. When a former satellite of the Soviet Union shames the greatest democracy in the history of the world on something as elemental as the right to vote, things are badly out of joint.

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We've seen 137 American soldiers die in the month of November during the ongoing occupation of Iraq, the deadliest month to date for American forces in this war, combined with God only knows how many civilians killed. Some 200,000 people were forced to flee Fallujah after Bush decided to celebrate the November election by razing much of that city to the ground in a military assault that accomplished exactly nothing. Again, we are greeted with this odd silence.

We've seen the FBI and local police forces investigate political and religious entities, such as the Quakers and the Campaign for Labor Rights along with several peace and environmental activist groups, on the grounds that these organizations might be terrorism-related. These groups have been interviewed, investigated and subjected to searches by a variety of terrorism task forces. It goes without saying that the groups under scrutiny are not friendly to Bush administration polices at home and abroad. The Constitutional guarantee of free speech and free association is falling by the boards, and again, we are greeted with this odd silence.

This is but a small slice of what has already happened, and cannot begin to encapsulate what may lie in wait in the coming weeks, months and years. If the silence that surrounds everything continues, perhaps Hannah's cynicism is justified.

But then again, I met Brian Willson.

The name might not be immediately familiar to you. Willson is a member of the group Veterans for Peace, an organization comprised of military veterans from every war America has fought since World War II. The mission statement on their web page states, "Our collective experience tells us wars are easy to start and hard to stop and that those hurt are often the innocent. Thus, other means of problem solving are necessary." Veterans for Peace has been active in every demonstration against the Iraq war that I have been to in the last two years.

I met Brian Willson last summer during the VFP convention in San Francisco. Willson is a Vietnam veteran who walks on two prosthetic limbs that reach from his knees to the ground. He did not lose his legs in the war. Willson has been a peace activist for decades, and in 1987 was participating in an action to stop Naval trains from delivering cargoes of weapons to Central America. His methods were direct; he and his fellow activists would lay their bodies across the tracks and stop the trains. They had done this several times before, and each time, the trains had stopped. One day, however, the train kept going. Willson lost both legs below the knee and had a large hole blasted into his skull.

I think of everything I have sacrificed in the last four years in order to do whatever small amount I could to stop the Iraq invasion and to offset the damage being done by Bush and his people. I gave up a beloved teaching job to wage this battle full time. I have seen friends marry, have children and move away while pursuing lives so calmly ordinary as to leave me wondering which way is up. I have let my health slide in order to concentrate on the tasks at hand. I have traveled over 100,000 miles trying to convince people that we are barreling headlong into a hard brick wall.

But I have not buried a beloved family member who was killed in Iraq while serving in our armed forces. I have not buried a family member who lived in Iraq and was killed for being in the wrong place when the cluster bombs or the napalm struck. I have not seen my job outsourced and been left to wonder how to feed my family. I have not watched my retirement fund get stolen by latter-day corporate robber barons. I did not get my legs cut from my body trying to stop a train filled with weapons from reaching its deadly destination.

If Brian Willson can wake each day, strap his metal legs to his body, and keep marching for what he believes in, who am I to despair? Considering the damage done to so many people these last four years, I've gotten off light. Cynicism is not an option.

There are a number of areas where a concerted effort can yield important fruit. The all-important 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is under conservative assault, but can be successfully defended with the proper amount of attention and action. The nomination of Alberto Gonzales, author of the Abu Ghraib torture justifications, to the post of Attorney General is considered to be a done deal in the pundit realm. That nomination can be stopped with the proper amount of attention and action, and if not, Gonzales's ability to magnify his strange views on American law can be checked through message delivery to the American people. This list goes on and on.

There is an inauguration in Washington DC this January, or so I am told. Progressive Democrats of America is planning a summit to forge a course for the coming years. Probably you should be there. I'll be there.

Perhaps it will all come to nothing. Certainly, with Congress and the White House under the sway of people whose moral compass points ever downwards, with the highest court ripe for the molding by these people, with a national news media that avoids hard truth the way a cat avoids water, it is difficult to imagine the break of dawn coming anytime soon. We are down to the ethic of total opposition, and as lonely as that estate may be, it is what we have, and we owe it to those who have suffered beyond our comprehension to continue as we began.

I refuse to concede defeat in any way, shape or form. Yet I must consider the possibility that all efforts will come to naught. In doing so, I am reminded of a scene in 'The Lion in Winter.' Geoffrey, John and Richard await their executioners, and Richard demands that they face their doom with strength. Geoffrey scoffs, "You fool. As if it matters how a man falls."

Richard's reply: "When the fall is all that's left, it matters."


William Rivers Pitt is the senior editor and lead writer for truthout. He is a New York Times and international bestselling author of two books - 'War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know' and 'The Greatest Sedition is Silence.'

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