Support Their Troops?

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 all Americans oppose the war in Iraq and want the troops to come home, the antiwar movement is pretty much dead. McGuire raises 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 recently. 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, than 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 obvious 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 US with detectable ties 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 have been murky and in some aspects unappetizing to secular progressive coalitions in the West, or so they virtuously claim.

But such cavils were familiar in the Sixties and Eighties too as huge chunks of the solidarity movement found endless reasons to distance themselves from the Vietnamese NLF or the Nicaraguan FMLN. That said, ignorance about the Iraqi resistance is somewhat forgiveable. 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 Oretega 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.

The other day I found in a box of old papers in my garage a directory to “sister cities”-towns in the United States that had paired with beleagured towns in Nicaragua, regularly exchanging delegations. The directory was as thick as a medium-sized telephone book. There were hundreds of such pairings and many were the individual pairing they led to. People’s Express, the “backpackers’ airline,” as it used to be called, would shuttle demure sisters in the struggle from Vermont or the Pacific Northwest to Miami, for onward passage to Managua and a rendezvous with some valiant son of Sandino or oppressed Nica sister liberated by North American inversion from the oppressions of Latin patriarchy.

Today there is no draft, a prime factor in stocking the Vietnam antiwar movement. This absence of the draft is certainly a major factor in the weakness of the antiwar movement. But though there was no draft in the Reagan years, there was certainly was that very lively political culture of anti-intervention in the 1980s.

It looked as though just such a vibrant left antiwar movement was flaring into life in 2003. But many of its troops have either veered into 9/11 kookdom, or whining about global warming or nourished an often unspoken resolve to vest all hopes in a Democratic presidency after 2008. The bulk of the antiwar movement has become subservient to the Democratic Party and to the agenda of its prime candidates for the presidency in 2008, with Hillary Clinton in the lead.

To describe the antiwar movement in its effective form is really to mention a few good efforts-the anti-recruitment campaigns, the tours by those who have lost children in Iraq-or three or four brave souls-Cindy Sheehan, who single-handedly reanimated the antiwar movement last year and now vows to run against house speaker Nancy Pelosi unless the latter stops blocking impeachment proceedings, or the radical Catholic Kathy Kelly, or Medea Benjamin and her “Code Pink” activists occupying Hilary Clinton’s office and ambushing her for youtube.

A simple question: Has the end of America’s war on Iraq been brought closer by the recapture of the US Congress by the Democrats in November 2006? The answer is that when it comes to the actual war, which has led to the bloody disintegration of Iraqi society, the deaths of up to 5,000 Iraqis a month, the death and mutilation of US soldiers every day, nothing at all has happened since the Democrats rode to victory in November courtesy of popular revulsion in America against the war. I don’t think there is much of an independent Left in America today, if there was, then Lawrence McGuire’s statement about the lack of solidarity with the Iraqi resistance wouldn’t be so obviously on the mark.

The American people are largely against the war, to the huge embarassment and distress of the Republican and Democratic leadership. So does it matter that there’s not much of an antiwar movement? Very much so. It’s how the left down the years has learned its internationalist ABC.

“We Remember Thee, Oh Sian”
Love Song of the Bohemian Grove

The secret government of the planet–perennial topic of conspiracist speculation–assembles this weekend for the summer session of the Bohemian Grove — three weeks of heavy-hitter revelry in a well-guarded 2200-acre grove of mighty redwoods on the Russian river, sixty miles north of San Francisco. Here, in mid-July, a well-placed infernal device at the opening masque on Sunday night would certainly put a serious dent in the high brass of the Republican Party, czars of Fortune’s World 500, most of California’s business elite, a passel of European politicians and a Third World leader or two. Henry Kissinger would most likely be among the fallen. The trashy Christian Evangelists, and Mrs Clinton, all unwelcome at the Bohemian Grove, a men only affair, would inherit the earth.

The conspiracists who track World Government as its assignations perambulate through the calendar from Bilderberg through Ditchley to Davos, claim the Bohemian Grove rendez-vous is the ne plus ultra of these secret sessions because it involves hideous rituals, possibly including human sacrifice (admittedly the default occupation of bankers) of whom there are many to be found at the Grove, drinking gin fizzes–a prime lubricant of Boho rituals.

The climax of this weekend will be the traditional masque, representing the Banish-ment of Care. Robed tycoons move with stately gait (gin fizz consumption starts early in the day) through the trees amid Wagnerian music and a supportive squadron of caped riders. The prosperous cortege carries a bier supporting the effigy of Care, probably this year a papier mache creation of worthless derivative contracts and sub-prime real estate loan paper. They launch the effigy into a vast bonfire (inside every tycoon is still a little boy roasting marshmallows) and Care is finally cremated. In its place they light the flame of eternal friendship and three weeks of Boho-dom are underway.

Thus stem the conspiracist allegations of beastly ceremonial and human sacrifice, though in fact the core Boho rituals were worked up nearly a century ago by a real estate plunger who took to poetry and finally banished Care in conclusive fashion by poisoning himself with strychnine on the Club’s premises in 1926.

In its late 19th century origins the Bohemian Grove was a journalists’ hang-out in San Francisco, patronized by Jack London, Bret Harte and Mark Twain. As so often in the annals of club-dom the riff-raff sought prosperous underwriters for their carouses and brought in businessmen who took the club over in short order and finally relocated it on the Russian River, well beyond the lurch-and-totter capabilities of the lowly hacks and scriveners.

“World government” these days means some well-guarded rendez-vous where you catch sight of a Rockefeller or a Bechtel peeing against a redwood, or Henry Kissinger lecturing some European prime minister. The Bohemian Grove offers such attractions and this being most distinctly a Republican affair, Republican candidates for the presidency thirst to be invited. Nixon got the nod here for his 1968 candidacy which put him in the White House. George Bush Sr shares his “camp” — Hillbillies — with William F. Buckley Jr. There are some 120 of these permanent frat houses–some of them luxuriously appointed — stretching along River Road and Morse Stephens canyon. Former Secretary of State and seasoned World Government member James Baker is in Woof camp. Ronald Reagan used to share Owl’s Nest with Eddie Albert. There’s another one called Ye Merrie Yowls.

Club humor tends to the heavy-handed and such heavy-handedness climaxes at the end of each July with the Club play and satirical review, both of them productions planned up to five years in advance, which occupy the passionate anticipation of Boho tycoons. Visit a captain of commerce or industry in San Francisco in his corporate hq in San Francisco and you will most likely find him practicing his juggling act or ordering adjustments to his drag assemblage with grotesque bust bodice, designed to have World Governors rolling in the aisles. Acquisition of membership comes by birthright or sedulous lobbying and the usual black-balling obtains.

There’s a no-shop talk rule, honored in the ceaseless breach. “They talk business here all the time,” a waiter once confided. “The younger members brown-nose shamelessly, making contacts.” The waiting lists for membership are so long it takes years for the novitiate to be admitted.

Lobbying is pathetically fierce. A friend of mine, big in Reagan time, has been on the doorstep for 15 years. He says he likes it that way. He’s spared the hefty sign-up fee of around $10,000 and annual membership dues and only has to pony up when he’s invited, which is every two or three years.

In the hectic seventies feminists made a fuss about the men-only rule and the lads riposted plaintively that they could surrender the American male’s prime expression of intimacy with Nature’s realm, peeing against a tree, preferably Sequoia sempervirens. (This is mostly a senior crowd and yearning references to “swollen members” are copious.) The male staff, living on the fringes of the Grove has naturally evolved into a gay community. Hookers from afar afield as Las Vegas heed the Grove’s July call and await their clients in nearby motels.

The lead-up to this year’s revels have been enlivened by the search for a

former Miss Wales, whose pin-up, taken at the acme of career as Beauty Queen and Bond Girl (“From a View to a Kill”) was pinned on an outside wall of one of the camps, in an area called “Skiddoo”, much admired by successive cohorts of World Governors, who would fill in the conversational gaps between gin fizz consumption and lakeside talks on the commercial possibilities inherent in global warming by wondering what Miss Wales–aka Sian Adey-Jones–was up to these days. They wanted to find her, honor her with a dinner which under the Men Only rule, she would be unable to attend. From Sian they wanted a greeting and a new pic. Confided one, “The poster has become rather famous throughout the club because of the artistic photography and the beauty of the subject.


Sian tells the Mail: “I’m flattered to be in the hearts and minds of such important people but my modelling career is in the past now. And, since they are so secretive, how do I know if this will be a nice gentlemen’s dinner or men leaping around doing weird and distasteful things in a forest?”

The search launched for Miss Adey-Jones by the publicity-shy Boho-mgnates soon ended up on the front page of the Daily Mail, whose investigators determined that Sian is living on Ibiza, married to an Italian, mother of two and still fetching enough to raise a wistful whistle in Skiddoo.


“Maybe Try It Without the Crown”

Talking of Bastille Day, this little story I saw in The First Post about Annie Liebowitz makes me laugh. I worked with Annie once back in the late 1970s, doing a story on Ted Kennedy, making his doomed challenge to Carter in the 1979 primary season. She was polite enough to Ted, but back then she wasn’t the star she is now. I had problems of my own. After a terrible session with candidate John Anderson, who mumbled inaudibly into my tape recorder, I got a fancy mike the size of a cue-tip head from a store on Madison Avenue specializing in electronic devices for undercover cops and private investigators. On Kennedy’s campaign plane, I pinned it to the senator’s lapel and he launched into the usual banalities. Later, replaying the tape, all I could hear was the woosh of air going in and out of his lungs and the gurgle of his gastric juices.

CELEBRITY PHOTOGRAPHER Annie Leibovitz is used to getting her own way with her subjects, but she met her match with the Queen of England.

A new fly-on-the-wall documentary about the Queen will show her flouncing out of a Buckingham Palace photoshoot with Leibovitz, who was taking official pictures to mark the Royal visit to the US in May.

“Maybe try it without the crown?” suggested Leibovitz. “Less dressy, because the garter robe is so extraordinary?”

“Less dressy?” retorted her Majesty. “What do you think this is?” And with that, she turned on her heel and left. The Queen was then heard telling a lady-in-waiting: “I’ve done enough dressing like this, thank you very much.” She is also reported to have told friends she found the photographer ‘bossy’.

A Year with the Queen will be screened in September.

It seems the footage about the Queen flouncing out was faked, and the BBC has apologized.

Footnote: I did a longer piece about the Bohemian Grove a few years ago which can be found in our archive at

The first item appears in shorter form in the print edition of The Nation that went to press last Wednesday.





Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined!, A Colossal Wreck and An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents are available from CounterPunch.