Do we have an antiwar movement? We’re getting there. We must be, because we’re catching flak from the anti-antiwar movement, Light Infantry Division, staffed by Marc Cooper, Todd Gitlin, David Corn and Christopher Hitchens.
Cooper, like Gitlin, has carved out a pleasant niche for himself, belaboring various left causes from a position purporting to represent robust common sense. It’s a posture endearing to op-ed editors, particularly if there’s an insinuation that somewhere, way back, the author had left credentials. It’s fair to raise the issue of credentials, since the prime line of attack by the light infantry is to belabor the credentials of the antiwar left as dumbos, cat’s-paws, dictator-lovers, cultists.
Back at the start of 2000 Cooper publicly prayed to God to make that same year “free of Mumia,” tactfully leaving the manner of this liberation undescribed. Inaccurate gibes at the Mumia defense followed. In the Los Angeles Times for September 29, Cooper prays once more, this time for “an effective, attractive and moral opposition” to the Administration’s rush to war. And how will this antiwar opposition be “effective, attractive and moral”? By condoning the US rationale for sanctions, and by accepting the terms of argument employed by George Bush for the use of military force.
Cooper derides Ramsey Clark for calling the sanctions “genocidal.” Would you march with Clark or Cooper? If you are hesitating, read Joy Gordon’s chilling description in the November Harper’s Magazine, of how the United States has been applying sanctions designed to kill children in Iraq, then make up your mind.
Far more than Cooper, Todd Gitlin has made a career out of issuing advisories about the “hard left” and the “Old Left.” Though Gitlin usually pretends that he’s trying to counsel the left toward improved conduct under the Gitlin Seal of Approval, I don’t think he has much interest in the left as anything other than a case study for his unctuous punditry.
In a recent Mother Jones Gitlin reports that at a rally outside the UN he spotted placards saying “No Sanctions, No Bombing.” Snappy, you say. Exactly the message a peace movement might want to get across. Gitlin disagrees. His preferred placard would be the most heavily footnoted text since Lynn White Jr.’s history of the stirrup. Like Cooper, Gitlin fears above all the stigma of “peacenik dupe,” which means that he wants the placard to make it clear that (a) Saddam bears responsibility for his country’s plight, and (b) the bombings of Iraq since 1991 by the US (tactfully described by Gitlin, echoing the Defense Department, as “no-fly-zone sorties”) are OK. Tough placard to design, and heavy, if you factor in the square footage required for Gitlin’s text.
David Corn’s most substantial piece of work to date is Blond Ghost, which could be described as a not unsympathetic account of Ted Shackley, a CIA supervisor of one bloodbath after another, most notably the Phoenix program in Vietnam. Corn has now taken to issuing cop-style intelligence reports, reminiscent of FBI field advisories to Hoover, on the Workers World Party, stigmatizing the WWP for its nefarious role in the Washington and Bay Area antiwar demonstrations.
No need to dwell any longer on Hitchens, at least as a credentialed left commentator, speaking in good activist faith. When Hitchens libels the left (in modes excellently pilloried by my colleague Katha Pollitt) he now does so as one who has forsworn any left credential, and is newborn as a neocon, dispensing to the Washington Post antileft prose whose frothing crudity eerily mimes that of his erstwhile butt, Norman Podhoretz.
So, having scouted out the anti-antiwar movement, now we can ask, what sort of an antiwar movement do we have?
Look back to the early 1960s. In 1962, a full eight years after President Eisenhower had decreed secretly that Ho Chi Minh could not be permitted to triumph in open elections, the left was just beginning to educate itself about Vietnam.
When President Kennedy was sending the first detachments of US troops to South Vietnam and setting the stage for the assassination of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem, there was scarcely the semblance of an antiwar movement. It wasn’t until 1966 and 1967 that the left, particularly the Socialist Workers Party, managed to stage the big antiwar rallies that broke forever the prowar consensus and set the stage for more radical actions. And by then that potent fuel for an antiwar movement, the draft, had prompted Stop the Draft Week.
By 1968 we had a worldwide anti-imperial movement; we had the May-June upheavals in Paris; we very definitely thought history was on our side. Not anymore.
Today? We have the premonition of a big antiwar movement. Like the SWP forty years ago, the Workers World Party did much of the organizing of the recent demonstrations, which doesn’t mean the 150,000 or so who marched in the Bay Area and in Washington are dupes of Karl Marx, Ramsey Clark or Saddam Hussein but merely that organizing big demonstrations takes a lot of dedication, energy and experience. I have a dream, said Martin Luther King Jr., and so he did, but the Communists in the South helped him put flesh on that dream as they did the dreams of Rosa Parks.
And if George Bush lets loose the dogs of war on the grounds that Saddam wouldn’t submit to a full personal cavity search, will we see a new age of protest? Certainly, if the war goes on long enough and Americans get killed in large numbers. A draft? No time soon. A calling up of the National Guard? More likely, and already there are tens of thousands of reservists on duty, many of them no doubt chafing at their condition.
These days there’s a new ingredient, a slab of the populist right that’s denouncing America’s imperial wars. That wasn’t happening in the 1960s. If the left can ever reach out to this right, which it’s almost constitutionally incapable of doing, we’ll have something.