Americans are beginning to ponder the rationale behind fighting a war in which the outcome is not only uncertain, but guaranteed to see many innocent lives taken. Many did not find solace in US President George W Bush’s statement to Congress in which he warned that “the course of this conflict is unknown, yet its outcome is certain.”
On Saturday and Sunday thousands took to the streets in Washington DC in peace marches and rallies that brought together a mélange of ordinary Americans, political activists, students, local human rights organisations and anarchists. They were protesting the coming war and heightened anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiments in the wake of the 11 September attacks on New York and Washington.
Banners and signs read “Don’t dishonor the dead by killing in their name” and “An eye for an eye makes the world blind”. The demonstrations were the biggest so far of many protest gatherings across the country that have increasingly reflected a concern over the ethics and morality of the coming war. Some speakers and protesters at the rallies questioned not only Bush’s management of the crisis but his legitimacy to govern.
“Both want war, both unelected” one poster read alongside pictures of Bush and Osama Bin Laden. As thousands marched toward Capital Hill on Saturday, many were chanting “No War in our name, Islam is not to blame”. Many speakers denounced the racial profiling of Arabs, Muslims and Asians that gained added legitimacy after the 11 September attacks. One African American speaker noted how “There was no racial profiling of white guys with crew cuts after the Oklahoma City bombing,” a reference to convicted bomber Timothy McVeigh.
Other speakers warned against the trampling over of the Bill of Rights and other civil liberties on the path to increased security. Policy analyst Phyllis Bennis explained increasing vocal outcry against the war as the result of the lack of any transition period between grief and war. “The people are beginning to resent not being given time to mourn,” she said. “We were rushed through the mourning into a war build-up” she said.
Coverage of the weekend rallies and other anti-war gatherings, vigils and student activism on campuses across the country have largely been ignored by the drum-beating mainstream media, or buried in obscure places inside newspapers. The participation of anarchists who advocate the destruction of the capitalist system was highlighted in media coverage in an effort to drown the legitimate concerns of the many more ordinary Americans. Similarly, TV footage gave prominence to the marginal incidents of violence involving the anarchists at the rally on Saturday.
Public opinion polls indicating that 90 per cent of Americans surveyed support the coming war have been extensively quoted by media voices in newspapers and on TV. Mary Lou Greenburg, a self- declared communist and feminist who came from New York to attend the DC peace demonstrations, acknowledged that the findings represent some sentiments among the public, but cautioned against sweeping generalisations. “The message of those polls is generally to tell the people what they should be thinking.”
Citing the writings of philosopher and linguist Noam Chomsky, Greenburg talked about the role of the corporate media in the US in “controlling the public mind” and mobilising community opinion in favour of vapid, empty concepts, like Americanism.
The national media watch group FAIR has criticised what it sees as the many media voices that have enlisted in the administration’s push towards war. FAIR founder Jeff Cohen noted that CBS anchor Dan Rather seemed “more soldier than reporter” on a popular late-night talk show when he endorsed the war drive.
Appallingly little attention has been devoted in the mainstream media to obtaining justice through international law and UN sanctioned processes. Many experts of international law insist that the Bush administration has yet to present evidence to substantiate its claim that this is an act of war — not a crime against humanity.
Francis Boyle, the renowned professor of international law at the University of Illinois College of Law, said: “Even if the Bush administration were to publicly provide clear and convincing evidence that Mr Bin Laden and his organisation were somehow behind the terrorist bombings in New York and Washington, the United States government would still have no valid justification or excuse for committing acts of war against Afghanistan. Both the United Nations Charter of 1945 and the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928 absolutely require the United States to exhaust all means for the peaceful resolution of this dispute. So far the Bush administration has not even begun this legally mandated process.”
Boyle, who helped resolve the dispute between the US, the UK and Libya over the handling of the Libyan suspects in the Lockerbie bombing case, believes that the 1971 Montreal Sabotage Convention, which was invoked in the Lockerbie crisis, is directly relevant in the current crisis. The same convention, he says, “provides a comprehensive framework for dealing with the current dispute between Afghanistan and the United States.”
Clearly, Professor Boyle’s views are not common. An appearance on the Fox News Channel with the right-wing pundit Bill O’Reilly on 13 September seems to have branded Boyle an undesirable guest. After the show, in which he argued for presentation of evidence, for authorisation from the Security Council and for adherence to the rule of law, Boyle has not been invited again to speak on any prime-time news programmes.
Pleas for nonviolence have largely been dismissed as pacifist claptrap. Among those cautioning against the war is the African American Reverend Graylan Hagler, pastor of the Plymouth congregation of the United Christ Church in DC. Reverend Hagler has led many pro- peace and interfaith meetings and has spoken out against what he calls “a US foreign policy organised around a need to dominate [rather] than to cooperate.” The reverend believes that the message he is getting from his parishioners is one calling for tolerance and peace. “This is not reflected in the media,” he says, adding, “The media has editorialised, ideologised and has conditioned the people into blind hysteria.”
The voices of dissent are growing by the day. It is not clear, however, to what extent they can impact the course of the war as American aircraft carriers continue to arrive in the Persian Gulf. As the anticipated war fails to discriminate between the alleged terrorists and the innocent, it will be even harder for those Americans I saw at the anti-war rallies to make sense of what they inscribed earlier on their signs: “I would like to be able to love my country and justice at the same time.”