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When we look back at the great state crimes of the last century — German militarism, Soviet authoritarianism, American imperialism — we comfort ourselves by descrying in each case dissident movements that bore the stifled conscience of humanity. But in the current circumstances, haven’t the critics of what we’re told is the first phase of the “War on Terrorism” been proven wrong? Hasn’t the success of the US attack on Afghanistan silenced all objections to it? Won’t the anti-war movement now go away?
Well, no — to all three questions. Opponents of the war will not go away, even as the media salivate over which country will be the next beneficiary of America’s cleansing blood-letting. Somalia? Iraq? The Philippines? Iran? Terrorists are everywhere, it seems: there is opposition around the globe to the US and the business culture it spreads. The media is avid to ferret them out, hanging on every word from Pentagon press releases, but they don’t seem to be able to see anti-war actions and demonstrations, at home or abroad.
There has of course been success of a sort in the Afghan phase of the new crusade: Professor Marc Herold of the University of New Hampshire, who has been compiling the data from a variety of international sources, says that by the second week of December the American military had killed at least as many civilians in Afghanistan as died in New York on September 11. We now have as much innocent blood on our hands as Osama bin Laden may have on his.
“But,” the defenders of the war cry, “the critics of the war claimed that the bombing would cause a famine that would kill millions of people! And, ha ha, that hasn’t happened! The ordinary sort of famine in a drought-stricken and impoverished country is just going to be somewhat worse than usual, as the result of American actions — so the pacifists were wrong!” But what the critics of the war condemned was the undoubted willingness of the Rumsfelds and Bushes to have millions of Afghans starve, if that’s what was required to control Afghanistan. They’d already taken steps in that direction.
Domestically, the anti-war movement has had to oppose the administration’s invasion of civil liberties. The excesses of Ashcroft’s Department of Justice (as ill-named these days as Rumsfeld’s Department of Defense) bear comparison to the “Red scares” that followed both World Wars. Called the Palmer Raids (from President Wilson’s Attorney General) after World War I and McCarthyism (from the dipso junior senator from Wisconsin) after World War II, both were major government programs, including Republican and Democrat administrations, that should not be shrunk down to the names of two buffoons. They were “rectification campaigns,” the real enemies of which were not the suspected radicals and terrorists whom they were ostensibly directed against, but the general populace of the US, amongst whom dangerous ideas of social reform and the restraint of corporations had gotten loose before, during, and after the war years.
The war party in Washington is quite conscious that they are conducting a public relations campaign directed to the American people. As they were trumpeting the War on Terrorism, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld was asked what victory would consist of; he replied that victory would consist of convincing the American people that it would be a long war. In mid-November the vice-president, emerging from his secret cave, said that “after the Afghanistan campaign is over, America could use military action in a second wave of attacks directed against states which harbor terrorists … up to 50 states could be targeted for a range of action, from financial and diplomatic to military…”
September 11 has given license to an orgy of killing by the US, a common enough activity predicted by the Irish socialist James Connolly, whom the British executed in 1916. “One great source of the strength of the ruling class,” he wrote, “has ever been their willingness to kill in defense of their power and privileges. Let their power be once attacked either by foreign foes or by domestic revolutionaries, and at once we see the rulers prepared to kill and kill and kill. The readiness of the ruling class to order killing, the small value the ruling class has ever set upon human life, is in marked contrast to the reluctance of all revolutionaries to shed blood.”
Their willingness to shed blood on September 11 calls into question the revolutionary nature of the (CIA-founded) terror networks. But in the bloody history of Western imperialism, September 11 meant that “now, for the first time, the guns have been pointed in the opposite direction,” as Noam Chomsky has said. The crimes of that day are being more than equaled by US crimes now in progress — to say nothing of the long train of abuses stretching back literally centuries. The only way that they can be lessened is for a vigorous and honest US anti-war movement to call the country’s vicious and vapid leaders to a halt — as it has before.
Carl Estabrook teaches at the University of Illinois and is the host of News From Neptune, a weekly radio show on politics and the media. He writes a regular column for CounterPunch.