Lawrence McGuire, a North Carolinian now teaching in Montpellier, France, organized a meeting of antiwar Americans and various interested French parties there at which I spoke last fall. Since then, we’ve been discussing off and on the strange fact that while two-thirds of Americans oppose the war in Iraq and want the troops to come home, the antiwar movement is pretty much dead. McGuire had raised the matter of direct solidarity with Iraqis fighting the US presence in Iraq. In other words, support their troops:
"I was reading a recent piece by Phyllis Bennis…. She talked about the ‘US military casualties’ and the ‘Iraqi civilian victims’ and it struck me that the grand taboo of the antiwar movement is to show the slightest empathy for the resistance fighters in Iraq. They are never mentioned as people for whom we should show concern, much less admiration.
"But of course, if you are going to sympathize with the US soldiers, who are fighting a war of aggression, then surely you should also sympathize with the soldiers who are fighting for their homeland. Perhaps not until the antiwar movement starts to some degree recognizing that they should include ‘the Iraqi resistance fighters’ in their pantheon of victims (in addition to US soldiers and Iraqi civilians) will there be the necessary critical mass to have a real movement."
Now, there are many evident reasons why the direct solidarity with resistance fighters visible in the Vietnam antiwar struggle and the Central American anti-intervention movement has not been visible in the movement opposing the Iraq War. The "war on terror" means–and was designed to mean–that any group in the United States with detectable ties to or relations with Iraqi resistance movements would be in line for savage legal reprisals under the terms of the Patriot Act. Another important factor: The contours of the Iraqi resistance are murky and in some aspects unappetizing to secular progressives in the West, or so they virtuously claim. But such cavils were familiar in the 1960s and ’80s too, as huge chunks of the solidarity movement found endless reasons to distance themselves from the Vietnamese NLF or the Nicaraguan FSLN. That said, ignorance about the Iraqi resistance is somewhat forgivable. This time there has been no Wilfrid Burchett reporting from behind the lines, and that has had consequences of the kind McGuire sketches out above.
The personal aspect of international political solidarity is not just the stuff of nostalgic anecdote. In the late 1980s the Central American resistance was constantly among us here in the United States in physical form. While Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo worked the Hollywood liberal circuit, the sanctuary movement sheltered militants and sympathizers in churches across the country and defied federal efforts to seize them. Labor organizers from El Salvador traveled across North America from local to friendly local. I can remember being at a picnic of a union local striking a door factory in Springfield, Oregon, southeast of Eugene, where a man from a radical labor coalition in El Salvador got a cordial reception from the strikers and their families as they swapped stories of their respective battles.