Not a day
too soon the antiwar movement has begun a desperately needed discussion.
As a movement
we are great at activism, deficient when it comes to real organizing,
and damn near devoid of long range, strategic thinking and discussion.
So congratulations to former Marine Corps Major, Scott Ritter,
for writing The
Art Of War For The Antiwar Movement, provoking us to stop
and think for a minute, and to Cindy Sheehan, Max Obuszewski and
others for responding. Here are a few more thoughts I hope will
add to our collective wisdom.
needn't fear appeals for more discipline, nor references to strategic
geniuses of any stripe - military or pacifist. Dismissing useful
methods because of their source is like spurning modern P.R. techniques
to promote peace because Procter and Gamble Corp. uses them to
sell toothpaste and deodorant.
One of the
intellects Ritter mentions is Sun Tzu, whose Art Of War should
not be dismissed because of its title. It contains such gems as:
to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the
acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme
is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare."
without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without
strategy is the noise before defeat."
is particularly relevant to today's antiwar movement. If anybody
out there knows what our strategy is, please report to the public
address system at once. On the other hand, tactics, like our activism,
we do 'round the clock, and re-do, and do more next time, and
try again, and... all of which is to say, dear colleagues, that
this may indeed keep us busy but A) it is not organizing, and
B) even organizing is not effective without a coherent strategy.
In an email
to peace activists around the country, Max Obuszewski, of the
National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance, refutes Ritter's
comment that the antiwar movement "is not just losing, but
is in fact on the verge of complete collapse," by citing
more than 600 actions around the country last month, commemorating
three years of war.
responded to Ritter that "The anti-war movement is not on
the 'verge of collapse' because we are not organized, or because
we don't take a warrior's view of attacking the neocons and the
war machine... but because the two-thirds of Americans who philosophically
agree that the war is wrong... will not get off of their collective,
complacent, and comfortable behinds to demonstrate their
dissent with our government."
to hear there were over 600 actions around the country marking
the third anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, (even though Max's
use of the word "commemorating" says a lot about how
we view our role in this struggle). And who among us has not felt
Cindy's frustration with a system that successfully keeps millions
of our fellow citizens sitting on their complacent butts, even
when they tell pollsters they are against this criminal war?
if the antiwar movement organizes 1,200 actions "commemorating"
the fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq next year, that
is not enough. Neither is it enough if we succeed in getting millions
of our fellow citizens off their backsides to do something.
that's easy enough for you to say, Mr. Smartypants," I can
see already in my inbox, and you'd be right - it certainly is
easier said than done. Because what we really need to do is:
and embolden our tactics. For example, why are we content to have
500,000 people march in the streets of Washington on a Saturday
(last September 24), but wait until everyone's gone home the next
Monday for a polite, orchestrated civil disobedience action? If
only 10 per cent of that half-million wanted to sit down on Pennsylvania
Avenue and stay for as long as it takes to dislodge the criminals,
shouldn't that be part of our plans?
our long term goals. For example, ask ourselves if we're content
to be an antiwar movement - meaning that our opponents define
our existence and purpose. When the agents of empire decide it's
time to march the nation off to war once again, the antiwar movement
reassembles activists from a hundred different fronts, throws
itself into the fray, and works against the government's well-oiled
killing machine until we are exhausted. Do we ever ask ourselves,
as Scott Ritter does, if we want to be more than "a walk-on
squad of high school football players... taking on the NFL Super
Bowl Champions," or, as I painfully observed recently in
Washington, a brief parade of colorful banners and heartfelt slogans
passing an empty White House?
A) the source of our opponents' power and B) how to neutralize
it so the narrow elite is not always turning our own government
against us; so we can redirect U.S. policy to serve the many.
As for bolder
tactics, the leadership of many antiwar groups will respond 1)
we can't risk upping the ante because grandparents from Duluth
(my apologies, Duluthians) will not participate in civil disobedience,
and 2) tradition dictates we cooperate with the police in our
own arrests. Regarding #1, I lay odds that people in this movement
have more gumption than its leaders. As to #2, I admit I'm not
an adequate student of civil disobedience theory, but I can tell
when our actions are not commensurate with the misery our government
is causing, and they are not.
As for long
term goals, we can work our way towards them by not just demanding
"troops out now," but bases out now; paying billions
for repairing the physical damage we've caused and not funneled
through U.S. corporations; no saddling Iraqis with odious debt
left over from Saddam Hussein's reign; getting the clutches of
empire off the rest of the globe.
goal, of course, requires we determine the source of our opponents'
power and how to neutralize it. I would hardly be the first to
suggest that our opponents - those agents of empire in corporations
and government - create political power by concentrating economic
power, and that the time-tested mechanism for doing so is the
corporation. I do, however, suggest there is a more helpful approach
to analyzing the problem and determining what to do about it than
what we typically do - which, with all respect, rarely goes beyond
trying to elect more Democrats, or writing your Congressperson,
or petitioning for impeachment, or even protesting and getting
To get a
flavor for what I'm talking about, consider the modern environmental
movement or the most recent inspiration, the greatly energized
immigrant rights movement.
have become experts at fighting on corporate terrain (regulatory
hearings) to reduce the crap in our air and water by a few parts
per million, or maybe even stopping a toxic waste dump or a nuclear
power plant, one at a time, until we are exhausted. We call that
success. But the corporate form continues to gain legal rights
and economic and political power, because long ago we surrendered
the fight over democratic control of energy and transportation
companies, settling instead for regulating them around the edges
- a most Faustian bargain. If we want to control energy and transportation
policies; if we want to address the root causes of pollution;
if we want to treat the disease and not just the symptom we have
to reengage the struggle of who's in charge, not just petition
for a little less poison.
the immigrant rights movement, regardless of its current energy
and numbers, must reduce the political power of corporations profiting
from today's immigration policies, not just change a few clauses
in immigration legislation or elect a few promising politicians.
How are we
to redirect sufficient time and energy to this more fundamental
work, knowing that the individual fires we fight will rage out
of control any moment? By learning how to simultaneously fight
fires and do fire prevention; by taking this historic opportunity
to evolve the antiwar movement into a democracy movement.
be easy, but it will be necessary if we want to do more than postpone
the next war or end the suffering of the current war a few weeks
sooner; if we want to actually build peace. We need the discipline
to understand that reacting against injustice is fighting fires;
that fire prevention requires relearning our histories to find
out how and where power is vested; how peoples' movements dealt
with these same problems generations ago; why we have to strip
corporations of rights they've usurped so we can exercise democracy's
power to make fundamental change; how to change our organizing
to focus on fundamental goals.
prophetically writes that "America is pre-programmed for
war, and unless the anti-war movement dramatically changes the
manner in which it conducts its struggle, America will become
a nation of war, for war, and defined by war, and as such a nation
that will ultimately be consumed by war."
In more painfully
personal terms, Cindy Sheehan writes, "Looking back on my
life up until Casey was killed in Iraq, on 04/04/04, I have tried
to analyze over and over again what went wrong. I knew that our
leaders were bought and paid for employees of the war machine,
and yet, when Casey came of age, he put on the uniform and marched
off to another senseless war to bring his employers that rich
reward of money and power. The warning for American mothers and
fathers is this: the war machine will get your children, if not
now, then your grandchildren. It is a hard and steep price to
pay for the certain knowledge that the people in power think of
us, not as their employers and electorate whom they swear to serve,
but as their tools to be used as cannon fodder whenever the impulse
If we want
Scott and Cindy's words to be more than an intellectually stimulating,
forgettable bit in our inbox, we have to learn how to transform
the antiwar movement into a democracy movement. Our reward will
be that we can finally move beyond opposing one war after another
to build the kind of peaceful, just world we deserve... and the
planet is waiting for us to create.
Note: Mike Ferner
works these ideas with the Program
on Corporations, Law and Democracy and anyone who cares to
respond. He is a freelance writer and a member of Veterans
For Peace. Mike
Ferner traveled to Iraq with Voices for Creative Nonviolence just
prior to the U.S. invasion and again a year later. His book, Inside
the Red Zone: A Veteran For Peace Reports from Iraq (Praeger),
is due out in August.
Click here for other articles by Mike Ferner:
Speaker Of House Not Responsible For War Funding
Seven Arrested At White House Protest Against Iraq War
There Are Lives In The Balance
Getting Jailed For Peace