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That Time Chelsea Clinton Called Peaceniks “Anti-American”

A few weeks ago, Chelsea Clinton, fresh off of a cover shoot for Variety after which she reminded everyone on Twitter that she’s not planning to run for public office, waded into politics in an attempt to clear up an embarrassing incident from her past.

In increments of 140 characters or less, the former first daughter defended her 21-year-old self who, along with a dozen other protesters carrying a large American flag, interrupted an anti-war demonstration organized by the Oxford Stop War Coalition shortly after the terror attacks on September 11, 2001. Twitter users had been quick to draw a parallel between the incident and a from her mother’s past in which a young Hillary Clinton, then student government president at Wellesley, tried to stop her peers from protesting the Vietnam War.

Well, the now-37-year-old, Chelsea Clinton, never one to be seen in a bad light, was having none of it. As such, she alleged that the demonstrators “anti-American,” suggesting that the event wasn’t a “real” anti-war protest.

“[I]t was more of an anti-American protest less than a month after 9/11,” Clinton’s original tweet (which has since been deleted) read. “I joined real anti-war protests in 2003.”

Of course, details of her involvement with the anti-war movement were left murky at best, and she later clarified that she did not participate in protests against the war her mother voted for as a New York State Senator.

Needless to say, not everyone on Twitter rallied around. In fact, one of the organizers of the event, Mr. Edmund Griffiths, reached out to ask for a retraction.

An Oxford student at the time, Griffiths said that the event, which he estimates had a maximum of anywhere between 500 and 550 people (including non-students), was It was more “a public meeting more than a protest—not so much about slogans and placards; more a panel of speakers aiming to provide some analysis and present the anti-war case.”

“The highest-profile speaker was Jeremy Corbyn, who is now the leader of the Labour Party but in those days was a backbench Labour member of parliament,” he explained, adding that “there were other speakers from the political left and from the peace movement.”

When asked about anti-American sentiments among the crowd, Griffiths initially dismissed the notion, calling such viewpoints “inane,” and “completely alien to our politics.” He did acknowledge that Clinton had written an article in Talk, the Oxford magazine, around the time discussing what she perceived as anti-American sentiment at the university.

“Obviously I regret it if so [if there were anti-American things said among the crowd],” he wrote, reiterating that the sole purpose of the event was to present the following points:

* the 9/11 attacks were an atrocious crime

* invading Afghanistan would do nothing to help the victims or their loved ones

*instead it would kill thousands more innocent people and make al-Qaeda etc stronger rather than weaker

*the “war on terror” was a danger to world peace and was playing into al-Qaeda’s hands,

Despite Griffiths’ request for a retraction, and the overwhelmingly negative responses she was receiving on Twitter, Clinton persisted in her initial claim, doubling, tripling, quadrupling, and quintupling down on the assertion that these were not your average peaceniks, but virulent anti-American disrupters. While, as mentioned, the original tweet was eventually deleted, these others were not.

Clinton’s apparent implication—that the validity of one’s opposition to war or criticism of the United States is somehow contingent upon external factors like timing—is a troubling one, reminiscent of the jingoism of FOX News and others in the wake of 9/11, which helped march the country into war in the first place, and gave the Bush administration a long leash in pursuing his agenda.

Anyone who was alive back then—especially those of us from New York—can recall the groundswell of emotion which immediately followed the attack on the Twin Towers and preceded the war in Afghanistan. That said, lessons should have been learned.

I was 12 at the time, but even at that age I understood the desire for revenge. My indignation, confusion, fear, and grief found an easy outlet in the chest-pounding nationalism espoused by our newly-elected President, George W. Bush, who promised to make heads roll.

I’ll never forget my parents grappling with similar emotions as they tried to convince their scared, anxiety-prone son that the world wasn’t such a broken place in spite of the horrors we’d all witnessed on CNN.

Of course, something else I won’t forget is my Facebook news feed the day it was announced that a young man I went to school with was killed in action in Ramadi, Iraq. While I did not know him personally, his death brought the wars (both Iraq and Afghanistan) to my hometown.

Lance Corporal Jordan C. Haerter died valiantly on April 22, 2008, saving the lives of 54 people (33 of his fellow Marines and 21 Iraqi police officers). He lost his life at the age of 19 in a conflict for which the motivations were murky at best.

It has been over 16 years since that fateful September morning in 2001, and rather than bring peace or stability to the region or greater security to the US, our ongoing war efforts have generated a massive body count, robbed our bravest young people of their futures, upset what was already a fragile balance of power—giving rise to the largest terrorist network in the world (The Islamic State)—and sent us spiraling into a state of perpetual paranoia where our leaders are under the firm belief that we require 24/7 surveillance to ensure order.

The Costs of War project, from Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, estimates that as of August, roughly 31,000 civilians had been killed and 41,000 injured since 2001 in Afghanistan alone. Additionally, as of October, there have been 2,386 U.S. military deaths, 1,173 civilian contractor deaths, and over 20,000 injured in the country.

This year, on the anniversary of Haerter’s death, The New York Times reported that Taliban soldiers carried out the single deadliest attack on an Afghan military base to date, in the 16-year-and-counting war. Before that, President Trump employed the largest non-nuclear bomb in a new offensive.

There is no end in sight to our commitments overseas. Every single day, more people will die.

If her tweets are any indication, Chelsea Clinton has not gleaned the same lessons from the conflicts that I have. Perhaps people in her echelon do not fight in the conflicts they support. Either way, she should spend less time with her fellow Manhattan elites, congratulating themselves on their benevolent charity work, and more time thinking about the rising death toll. That anyone would call those who history has most assuredly vindicated, “anti-American” reveals a profound disconnect with the rest of our war-weary country.

After repeated attempts to get a statement from Chelsea Clinton, I have not heard back.

Walker Bragman is a freelance writer whose work often appears in Paste Magazine.

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