If not war, then what?

The wide draw of the antiwar movement, speeded by the internet, has left a long and mixed list of alternatives

Watch CNN and you can't miss the footage: Protesters - sometimes without a stitch of clothing - using their bodies to spell out "NO WAR" or to create a peace sign on the lawn. You roll your eyes and prepare to dismiss these latest activists.

But then, in church the next day, your minister offers a carefully reasoned sermon about why a US attack on Iraq is morally wanting. No gimmicks, just a clergy member and a congregation searching for the high ground - and coming down on the side of nonviolence - at a time of confusion and fear.

It's easy to wonder if the antiwar movement is ridiculous or sublime. If it's peopled by the anti-Bush left, or thoughtful Americans of all political stripes. If it is strident or reasoned.

The reality is, it's all of the above - and every- thing in between. In adopting a "big tent" philosophy, organizers have welcomed all comers, all shows of support. And their efforts have resulted in the fastest-growing antiwar movement in US history, allowing them to draw crowds the size of which only showed up in the Vietnam era after years of conflict. Its factions include clergy and anarchists, college students and veteran '60s protesters, internationalists and Hollywood celebrities - all united, at least for now, under the No War With Iraq banner.

"A lot of folks are saying, 'You know, isn't it time to find other, perhaps more constructive or creative ways to deal with problems between people? Do we always have to rely on military, and therefore violent, solutions?' " says Leslie Cagan, a veteran organizer and cochair of United for Peace and Justice, a four-month-old coalition.

It's often easier for people to agree on what they don't want - in this case an invasion of Iraq - than it is to reach a consensus on a trickier issue: If not war, then what? Still, interviews with prominent antiwar thinkers and activists indicate a sincere wrestling within the movement over what the nonwar solutions to the Iraq conflict might be.

"How we respond to this threat will shape the kind of people we're going to be. And that's the moral question. How do you not become something terrible in your response to something terrible?" asks Jim Wallis, cofounder of Sojourners, a Christian ministry that focuses on justice and peace.

He and others in the religious community have looked beyond the current chorus of more inspections and containment to offer other alternatives.

Their six-point "Religious Initiative," made public last Friday, includes removing Saddam Hussein from power by establishing an international tribunal and indicting him, letting the world know he has no future. It also suggests enforcing coercive disarmament, including intensified, military-backed inspections and better monitoring of the arms embargo. And it makes demands on foreign policy, asking for a "road map to peace" in the Middle East, one that would make Palestine and Israel separate states, and send the message that a moral and political link exists between the troubles there, the war on terror campaign, and the Iraq situation. (The entire initiative is at sojo.net.)

Such ideas are the result of overwhelming opposition from churches around the US and the world. The religious community reached a consensus much faster on Iraq than it did during the Vietnam era, able to offer the current movement a moral conscience much sooner. With the exception of the Southern Baptists, who generally support President Bush, church leaders from Pope John Paul II to the National Council of Churches in the US have called a war with Iraq "unjust."

"That's never, in my experience or knowledge, happened before, that there's such unity in the churches against this war," Wallis says.

More impressive than just the clergy's quick response is the speedy mobilization of mainstream America at the grassroots level. Using the modern bullhorn - the Internet - online organizers have rallied tens of thousands to participate in a variety of public protests in recent months.

Since August, the membership of MoveOn.org, a leading lobbying group, has grown from about 400,000 to about 1.6 million, including more than 1 million US members.

"[The Internet] is an incredibly efficient way to allow people to get involved," says Joan Blades, who founded MoveOn with her husband, Wes Boyd. "A huge number of our members wanted to participate in some way and had no idea how to do so."

The site makes it easy by giving them posters to download, petitions to sign, and e-mail alerts when their contributions are needed to keep trumpeting diplomacy as an alternative to war.

This week, MoveOn - a member of the equally moderate Win Without War coalition - delivered a petition to the United Nations Security Council. Signed by more than 1 million people worldwide, it urged the international body "to back tough inspections, not war."

"We've never had a response this overwhelming," says Ms. Blades. "We really want [the UN] to understand how broad and how deep the support for a diplomatic resolution is."

That kind of ingenuity - combined with the weakness of the Bush administration's case - is what has helped attract the grandmothers and the soccer dads of mainstream America to the antiwar movement, says Todd Gitlin, a former Vietnam protest organizer who now teaches sociology at Columbia University in New York.

They come to be counted among those opposed to war, and to be part of the discussion of alternatives, but critics say there are not enough of them to matter.

The movement, they argue, is still just a small portion of the overall population. And between 55 and 66 percent of Americans polled recently supported military action.

Some critics suggest that by allowing lots of different opinions about the war to be expressed at rallies, organizers dilute their message and lose support.

"That's the real moral failing of these demonstrations, that they are absolutely blind to the evil of the Saddam Hussein regime, and I think that turns ordinary people against them," says Max Boot, a pro-war analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations.

A Christian Science Monitor/TIPP poll conducted last week found that 52 percent of respondents said the antiwar movement had been very effective or somewhat effective in presenting its case to the public. Forty-five percent said it had not been very effective or not effective at all (see chart).

Activists maintain that American sentiment isn't consistent with the polling numbers. "I don't really believe that 60 percent of the country is for war," says historian and longtime antiwar speaker Howard Zinn, noting that when he addresses public forums, "the reaction to my antiwar pitch is very enthusiastic and strong."

Rather than looking at their lack of a majority as an inability to sway public opinion, activists choose to see it as an accomplishment that so many people are saying "no" when the Bush administration controls the microphone.

The real gauge, says Mr. Zinn, should be the protests that are happening spontaneously in little towns across the US. "We don't have radical organizers going into Bozeman, Montana," he says.

For Gary Springston, a 40-something retail administrator who recently attended an antiwar talk by Zinn in Boston, the strength of the antiwar effort lies more with its actions than its words. "I think their existence is the most important message," he says. "[They] show people like me that we're not alone, that there is something wrong with this war, even if you can't put your finger exactly on it."

Some in the antiwar effort, like Zinn, suggest solutions that would require fundamental changes in US foreign policy, such as toning down the nation's superpower status. One of the antiwar coalitions, International ANSWER, advocates similar tactics, but more stridently.

It supports lifting the sanctions and letting the Iraqis decide what to do about their leader, rather than allowing the Bush administration's "empire building." Organizers say ANSWER's stand is about more than just one conflict in one country.

"Really, the question is: What is to be done about the nature of our interactions around the world, and the living conditions of the people all around the world?" says Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, a 30-something attorney on the national steering committee of International ANSWER and cofounder of Washington-based Partnership for Civil Justice - Legal Defense and Education Fund. "It is a movement for social justice. It is not a simple, 'Don't bomb Iraq,' and then if they do, we go home."

Other coalitions, such as United for Peace and Justice, also formed with an eye to evaluating what this crisis means in terms of the role of US foreign policy around the world.

ANSWER is controversial, however. Created shortly after Sept. 11, its leaders are master mobilizers, but their critics can be found on both the left and the right. Mr. Gitlin calls them "left-wing sectarians." Mr. Boot calls the views of some of their organizers "pro-dictator."

Gitlin points out that all the talk about the group's message is healthy. "The debate about International ANSWER is really a debate about what the movement believes, and that's an important debate, that's a debate worth having," he says.

If a war starts, the movement will need to decide what position it will take with regard to troop withdrawal and the new administration of Iraq. "For International ANSWER this is a no-brainer, because they're simply 'US out of everywhere,' " he says. "But I think many other people in the antiwar movement will wonder what the movement should say. And they won't all agree, which is fine."

A war won't be a complete defeat for their cause, organizers say. They will try to keep facilitating the public discussion about the issues related to war, while supporting Americans in uniform. "There may be some demoralization and some confusion that sets in," says Ms. Cagan of United for Peace and Justice, "but I don't think we're going to see significant falling off of the antiwar movement."

She and others see signs that a worldwide peace movement is forming. "What's been happening is really the development of an antiwar movement, not just an anti-Iraq war movement," Cagan says.

That environment could foster the ideas presented by another antiwar thinker, US Rep. Dennis Kucinich (see story, page 12). The Democrat from Ohio and presidential hopeful would like to see the US take a firmer stand for peace. For him, a burgeoning peace movement is a hint of what's to come.

"That direction is the path toward the future," he says. "And it's interesting to see ... the present that is so weighted and freighted with war, colliding with this tide of human unity."

He sees a society ready to ban war

Voices: Peace idealist

WASHINGTON - US Rep. Dennis Kucinich is looking to make war archaic - and he says society has evolved to the point where it is primed to accept such a notion.

His is an idealistic vision, more demanding than others coming from the antiwar movement. But Mr. Kucinich - a longtime peace activist, four-term congressman, and now a Democratic candidate for president - insists the time is ripe for humanity to make that giant leap in conflict resolution.

"The evolution that has taken place has been an evolution of the human spirit and the human heart, where we do have greater sensitivities to the effect of our actions on other people," he says during an interview in his corner office here.

In his reception area hangs a colorful peace quilt - a gift from elementary school students in Fairfax, Va., to commemorate one of his most singular ideas yet: A US department of peace. The Ohio lawmaker proposed the cabinet-level agency in July 2001, saying, "too often we have overlooked the long-term solution of peace for the instant gratification of war."

That bill never made it out of committee, but the world has changed since then. Now that war with Iraq is coinciding with Kucinich's bid for the presidency, his long-held ideas are suddenly getting more exposure.

He describes a society in which a superpower like the US can use military might to defend itself, but not to be an aggressor. "The United States should not be about looking for wars to fight," Kucinich says. "That was not the intent of our founders, and it certainly wasn't the intent of most of our presidents, and it's not the intent of our citizens."

In the past century, wars have often brought calls for world peace, but aggression continues. About 100 million people perished in 20th-century wars, he notes, most of them civilian noncombatants. But Kucinich doesn't think that's a reason to stop trying, especially as people in different nations have become more aware of how connected they are.

"Now is the time we need to insist on our own humanity and pull back from the abyss. That's why the visibility of the peace movement at this time becomes so important, because government is proceeding without listening."

He is adamant that deaths of "hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis" during a US attack would destroy America's moral authority in the world, its leadership on democracy. The precedent for preemptive strike could then prove dangerous to others, he says.

"When we commit to an aggressive war, what does that mean with Russia and Chechnya, with China and Taiwan? What does that mean with Pakistan and India over Kashmir?"

This year Kucinich plans to reintroduce his department of peace legislation, which he says would help foster nonmilitary conflict resolution. He arrived at the idea in the late 1990s after seeing the impulse toward war in the House that led to the US/NATO bombing of Belgrade. The original bill called for, among other things, creating an academy, like the US military academies, that would train people to resolve conflicts worldwide using nonviolent methods.

In the meantime, if the US does attack Iraq, he says that will only help to spread his ideas. "War doesn't nullify the peace effort," he says, "it empowers it."

One Christian's quest for a way out

Voices: The moral conscience

It's not enough to just say "no" to war. That's what religious leader Jim Wallis tells the church groups he speaks to these days. Somewhere between bombing Iraq and doing nothing, he says, are morally acceptable alternatives that the faith community can get behind.

Finding those will test the character of Americans, who need to figure out how to address terrible situations that scare them - terrorism, cruel dictators - without becoming something terrible themselves, he suggests.

"George Bush says he wants two things: He wants regime change and the disarmament of Iraq. I want those same two things, but I don't want to bomb the children of Baghdad," says the cofounder of Sojourners, a Christian ministry that emphasizes peace and justice.

More churches are taking a stand against war for a simple reason, he says: "The unintended and unpredictable consequences of a war with Iraq are simply too dangerous, too great, too terrible."

On his list are high civilian casualties, the potential for negative reactions in the volatile Middle East, compounding the suffering already felt by the Iraqis, and endangering the lives of US servicemen and servicewomen.

"Would removing Saddam decrease the suffering of the people of Iraq? Yes, it would. But further destruction of the electrical grids and sanitation departments - the UN predicts half a million casualties from this war - no, that is just not tolerable."

Like many Christians, he recoils at casualty estimates, one of the criteria for evaluating whether a war is "just" in the Christian tradition. Some Christian denominations, such as the Quakers, prefer nonviolent solutions. Other faiths allow for war if certain criteria are met. Among them, war must be a last resort, protect against significant civilian casualties, and have proportionality - the harm it causes won't be greater than the problem it's solving.

To analyze the US approach, he draws on something the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, told him recently: "When all you have is hammers, everything looks like a nail." America, says Wallis, doesn't know other ways to conduct this new war on terrorism. "What we want to do is what we know how to do. We know how to win these wars and flatten small countries. So if we pound this nail of Iraq, we'll somehow feel more secure."

He and others in the religious community have come up with alternatives for getting rid of Hussein, other than by war. Among them are indicting him in an international tribunal, thus making it clear that he will not stay in power, and conducting more coercive, military-backed inspections.

Wallis continues to try to bring the message of his community to world leaders. He and others met with Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair last month, and he is pursuing a meeting with Mr. Bush, with whom he has met previously to discuss poverty and faith-based issues.

"Some in the antiwar movement hate President Bush. I don't," Wallis says. "My fear is that he's walled himself off.... He doesn't have to agree with those who are raising questions, but he should listen."

She taps a reservoir of hope that inspections can still work

Voices: The antiwar switchboard

When the history of the current antiwar movement is written, the name Joan Blades will surely be among its pages.

She and her husband, Wes Boyd, are the founders of MoveOn.org, a website with a staff of six and more than 1.6 million members. On a daily basis, she is in a position to influence one of the antiwar movement's key lobbying constituencies - average Americans.

"Our approach [to opposing war] is very mainstream, sensible: Let's do the right thing," says Ms. Blades. "The right thing in my mind is to look for the diplomatic solution, to work with the world community. I think we will make the world a more dangerous place for ourselves and everyone else if we condone preemptive strikes."

She draws on her professional training to reach that conclusion. "I'm an attorney," she says, "so I think precedents are important."

That other countries could follow the US example troubles her - particularly when she reads in newspapers and political speeches that the government hasn't ruled out using nuclear weapons when defending the nation.

"Wars can spin out of control. No matter how powerful we are, we can't control all the forces at work in the Middle East," she says.

Blades, who remembers marching in a Vietnam War protest when she was 15, brought her website into the antiwar effort last August in order to help dispel the myth that most people supported the war.

"What makes MoveOn so powerful," she says, "is it gives very conventional ways of communicating with the world to these people who are very mainstream America."

MoveOn was started in the late 1990s, when the married duo - Silicon Valley entrepreneurs - thought Congress was spending too much time on the impeachment of President Bill Clinton.

Their role as chief networker for the antiwar movement was set in motion when they joined forces early last year with a 22-year-old New Yorker, Eli Pariser, who had successfully launched a petition of his own urging a peaceful response after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Blades doesn't like to think too much about what will happen if America goes to war. She says the website will still be an active part of the discussion, but she doesn't know how.

If that time comes, she says, "I will feel like we did everything humanly possible to communicate with our leadership [in Washington] in a responsible and clear fashion. And I am proud of that."

For now, she chooses to concentrate on exhausting all the diplomatic avenues available, "to see that inspections are still a successful solution. That's my goal."

An activist and historian counts the human toll of war

Voices: Champion of the little guy

Howard Zinn frames his opposition to a war with Iraq in terms of the casualties.

"I believe that people who die in wars, whether they are civilians or soldiers, are innocent," the historian and activist told an audience last week at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. "A lot of innocent people will die in this war."

Mr. Zinn's focus on the human toll of an attack is not surprising, given his interest in telling American history from the bottom up, from the view of the factory workers, women, and minorities - not the officials - who lived through it.

Politically, Zinn stands to the left of the left. His recent UMass talk, for example, was sponsored by the on-campus International Socialist Club. But his bestselling "A People's History of the United States," first published more than 20 years ago, is regularly assigned in college classes across the nation. That and a long tradition of activism ensure that his name is well-known among a significant segment of the antiwar movement.

Zinn starts from the perspective that wars never solve fundamental problems, "that war by its nature has unpredictable consequences. That the means of war are inevitably horrible and ends of war are always uncertain."

He is not dissuaded by the argument that more Iraqis could die if Saddam Hussein remains in power. "That is a permanent argument for any atrocity," he says. "The only way you can justify something which is obviously atrocious is by claiming that it will prevent something that is more atrocious."

Mr. Hussein is a tyrant and is tyrannizing his own people, Zinn says, "but that's true of many, many places in the world."

Zinn, a bombardier in World War II, who later became an antiwar activist, is not a pacifist. "I don't argue for an absolute stance against the use of violence or military action," he says. "But I place very rigorous barriers against military action."

He proposes, rather, a solution that he believes would reduce the dangers of terrorism against the US. He wants America to stop being a military superpower, to pull its forces out of countries all over the world, and not antagonize people.

He's probably among a small minority who think bombing Afghanis-tan was not the appropriate response to the Sept. 11 attacks. The US is no safer from terrorism, argues the professor emeritus from Boston University. Any thwarting of the terrorist network is offset by "the increased number of people hostile to the United States as a result of its policy."

To win the war on terror, he says, the US needs to get at the roots of that hostility. "If it doesn't do that, no military action ... is going to have any effect in diminishing terrorism."

About these ads
Sponsored Content by LockerDome

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

Loading...

Loading...

Loading...

Save for later

Save
Cancel

Saved ( of items)

This item has been saved to read later from any device.
Access saved items through your user name at the top of the page.

View Saved Items

OK

Failed to save

You reached the limit of 20 saved items.
Please visit following link to manage you saved items.

View Saved Items

OK

Failed to save

You have already saved this item.

View Saved Items

OK