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US Peace Movement Can Deter War against Iraq

The peace movement can gain the offensive by countering those urging the country to an imperialist course that will only bring resentment and bitter fruits.
U.S. Peace Movement is the One Force
that Can Deter War with Iraq

Interview with Geov Parrish,
a journalist with the Seattle Weekly
conducted by Scott Harris

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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

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