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An Endless Highway of Death

Photograph Source DVIDSHUB | CC BY 2.0

In early August 1990, Iraqi troops marched into Kuwait.  By August 25thof that month, George Bush the Elder had convinced many western nations and the UN Security Council to use military force.  The situation went downhill from there. Without going over the entire situation in too great detail, let is be said that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had moved his troops into Kuwait over a dispute about oil drilling and money owed Iraq by Kuwait.  He had mobilized those troops with the understanding that the United States would not oppose the move.  Hussein claimed that his understanding came from a meeting with US envoy April Glaspie regarding the debt owed to Iraq by Kuwait.  As it turned out, this conversation would be dismissed by the warmakers in DC and the Iraqi mobilization would be used as a primary rationale for the next decade of war on the people of Iraq.

At the time I lived in Olympia, Washington in the USA.  After the initial moves towards war were made by the Elder Bush’s White House, a few friends and I brought up the subject in our monthly meeting of an antiwar group in town.  Although the group was focused on the situation in Central America, we figured it was a good place to bring up the subject.  Yet, we were quite surprised when some members of the group attempted to halt any discussion of protesting these war moves.  When we asked for their reasons, we were even more surprised. Hussein, we were told, was a dictator and, if we opposed US moves toward war, we would be seen as supporting his dictatorship.  After a half hour spent discussing the meaning of antiwar, our small but determined contingent left the meeting.  We were going to hold an informational picket with or without the group’s endorsement.

By the time we gathered at Olympia’s Percival Landing the following week, the group had lent its endorsement.  I’m not sure what changed the minds of the majority, but it was noted that two of the most vocal opponents to our protest had abstained from the vote taken after we left the previous week’s meeting.  As we stood with our signs at the landing—which is located at the southern tip of Puget Sound and is visible by hundreds of motorists every daylit hour—we were joined by twenty or so other citizens who agreed with our stance.  The local Gannet-owned daily showed up with a reporter and photographer.  To its credit, the next day’s story was an objective presentation of why we were against the ongoing military buildup in the Middle East and the almost certain attack.  Within days of the protest and subsequent newspaper article, an adhoc group opposing the coming war on the Iraqi people had been formed in Olympia. Calling itself the Olympia Anti-Intervention Committee, it was composed of more than forty individuals representing a fairly broad spectrum of the left-liberal antiwar movement.  There were members from the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the Catholic left, anarchists, progressive Democrats, veterans and numerous individuals representing a variety of leftist inclinations.

Meanwhile, the White House, the Pentagon and the US Congress were lining up the funds, calling up reservists, and shipping men and equipment to compliant and client states in the Middle East.  Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Israel could barely contain their glee as more and more US ships appeared on the horizon and more C-5A transport planes offloaded troops and the growing US arsenal.  Israel’s glee was somewhat dampened however when it was told to keep in the background.  After all, back then the supportive Arab nations were less likely to write checks for the Pentagon if they felt the Israelis were too intimately involved in the upcoming attack.  Tel Aviv tempered its national ego and cooperated, opening the way for the unfolding and yet-to-end catastrophe in the region.  Nowadays, those same Arab nations work together with Israel in the US-led effort to reshape the Middle East.

The national antiwar movement was growing as quickly as our group in Olympia was.  There were two main trends in the movement.  One trend, led by the more Marxist-Leninist Coalition to Stop U.S. Intervention in the Middle East opposed the US sanctions against Iraq. The other trend, which was more liberal in nature, called itself the National Campaign for Peace in the Middle East and supported the sanctions.  This was a crucial difference between the two organizations. In addition, the Coalition to Stop U.S. Intervention in the Middle East wished to tie the question of Palestine and the Israeli occupation to the issue of US war in the Middle East. The National Campaign for Peace in the Middle East did not.  Despite their differences on the national level and the fact that both trends were represented in our local group, we managed to maintain unity.  In addition, our literature leaned more towards the anti-sanctions/pro-Palestinian group than the latter.  I believe this trend was true in most local organizations. However, the differences would become greater in the national organizations, especially among the two national committees.  When the second invasion of Iraq took place in 2003, this divergence would ultimately set the stage for a greater division in the antiwar movement; a division that would help elect Barack Obama president in 2008.  Obama’s election as a peace candidate who was not a peace candidate would spell the end of the antiwar movement as we knew it.  There has been no reemergence of that movement in any substantial way since then.  This is despite an ongoing war by the US and client forces against foes across the planet.

By October 20th, 1990 the antiwar forces were numerous enough to make a splash in news media around the world. Our protest in Olympia was well attended, as were numerous other protests around the United States and elsewhere.  These included two major protests—one on each coast of the United States. As it turned out, the war establishment in Washington had already decided to go to war and was in the process of garnering support from ambivalent politicians and allies. The machinery of war continued its death march of machines and troops to hastily constructed bases in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.  US military bases in Europe and elsewhere ramped up their shipments of equipment and men to the region while simultaneously preparing their hospitals for casualties. As it turned out, there would be very few of the latter on the US side of things.  The Iraqis would suffer horrendous numbers of fatalities and injuries. None would capture the pointless massacres that were this particular war better than those that were inflicted by US airplanes and copters on vanquished Iraqi troops retreating back to Baghdad after their total collapse in battle.  Indeed, US military officers called this slaughter the “highway of death.”

Within weeks of that defeat.  US troops would be feted in orgiastic celebrations of victory across the United States.  The beginning of another round of imperial conceit and braggadocio had begun.  The US military was back at the head of the all-American trinity of power, profit and pomposity.  Democrats and Republicans, preachers, teachers and bankers; all would once again put the Pentagon above reproach and generals would be like gods.  Those of us who rejected this martial religion would be rendered virtually silent for years.  When George Bush the Elder’s son would invade Iraq again in 2003, the opposition to the attack was even greater and more universal.  It didn’t matter.  In the years since, the people of this nation have made their peace with a state of permanent war.

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Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem.  He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

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