December 15, 2003
I open up my mouth with the intent of vocalizing, yet nothing comes out.
This is a dream I had as a child -- a nightmare, actually. I was trying
to scream for help because there was an intruder. But all I could muster
was an eerie wind of silence, compounding the despair.
Today this same nightmare is becoming my reality.
I want so badly to express my views on Iraq. The war, the occupation, the tragedy. The hypocrisy, the miscalculations, the devastation, the inhumanity and humanity both.
Feeling suffocated by imperial failings I want so badly to put forward solutions. I want to condemn exactly where the Anglo-American experiment in modern warfare has gone wrong, and give voice to viable alternatives to misguided Bush Administration policy. I want to say what I think the answers are. I want to help others see the light. But each and every time I try to open my mouth, there is only that same noiseless, eerie wind. The immediate dangers are palpable, just as in my childhood nightmare, but the immediacy only makes it harder to utter a sound.
The urgency of the situation is very real, and it is unlike anything I have experienced before. Remarkable doubt taints my own views of the crisis in Iraq. The extent to which I am uncomfortable with any of my proclamations exceeds anything I have felt before. It is possible to be certain, and to be wrong, like the New York Times' Thomas Friedman. But despite that convenience, I am realizing the extraordinary amount of uncertainty that the world holds towards Iraq, not least among them the Iraqi people. And without certainty, it is painfully difficult for the world to articulate that vision which will bring peace to Iraq, and hope to the Iraqi people.
I am certain of some things -- that the motives for this war were ugly and complicated, that the justifications for this war were bald-faced lies, that the United States needs to end its occupation, and that the rebuilding of Iraq needs to be internationalized immediately. But the practical questions these certainties raise are daunting. The great depression that has blanketed the anti-war movement has made things even less clear, but the blanket is being lifted.
The tremendous force that made up the protest movement to this war was in part fueled by a very basic sense of community. As television and cinema and chain store bargains have eroded community throughout the U.S., the anti-war movement in America offered something that mainstream marketers could not -- shared goals and an interdependent struggle across a diverse community of individuals. Simply coming into contact with strangers who wanted to stop a war before it started, while the virtual-reality picture painted by CNN and Fox News was fundamentally fallacious, was an enormous dose of community. Thankfully, there are growing signs of a reinvigoration of this movement here. The British "welcome" to the American President was among the significant events that have lent visibility to the notion that Bush is vulnerable. Another sign is the speed with which the mainstream press has jumped on Bush's motives for his surprise Thanksgiving visit to Baghdad.
On the day of the Bush visit, The New York Times and its "International Herald Tribune" gushed that the trip "was seen as an effort by Mr. Bush to show the importance he attaches to the embattled United States-led effort to pacify and democratize Iraq." (1) The very next day, the New York Times pointed out the practical benefits of the Bush trip:
And now, in a single day, Mr. Bush may have managed to supplant what has become the single most problematic image of him in this war: The picture of him swaggering across an aircraft carrier in front of banner reading "Mission Accomplished."While The New York Times did not impugn Bush's motives, it supplanted its earlier, rosier view that this was a personal step in democracy-building and troop-cheering for Bush. In a newspaper where most critique of the Bush Administration is relegated to the opinion pages, I take it as an omen that this happened before the perfectly executed public relations move had fully played out.
In a media atmosphere where Michael Jackson's arrest takes precedence over 100,000 people toppling a Bush effigy in Tony Blair's London, the outlook remains bleak. The practical questions of how to break through the systemic lies, how to empathize with the Iraqi people when we have been forbidden to see their point of view or even see them as human beings, or how to entrust oversight of the rebuilding process to either the self-interested nations of the world or the self-interested power-seekers of a broken nation, are left, for now, unanswered. The situation is fluid, and the fluid, I fear, is combustible. Urgent redirection of United States policy in Iraq is needed to turn the momentum, and yet the policy-makers are deaf and the people are dumb. Even the anti-war crowd -- loud and abrasive and obnoxious as may be -- stands mute.
I have tried for too long to summon a voice only to find it lacking. My own doubts have overpowered my ego's unfailing wisdom. The optimistic light that my eyes cast on everything I see was absorbed by too many dark clouds and for once in my life I had nothing to say. Blind faith in hope is as useless as blind faith in anything else, and my favorability towards idealism was always based on perceivable good. But now the doubts were too many, and their collective weight too heavy.
Americans responsible for the war were kept blind to the concerns of the global village, who in turn saw the American blindness and grew even further outraged. A single day of global protest sparked an unending long-term struggle for peace, but did not halt the imperial war plans. And even the highly symbolic statue of Bush coming down in Trafalgar Square was not enough to disrupt our voracious appetite for fluff. You only need half an imagination to worry about the implications of such demonstration against American authority in the streets of England. It is no wonder I only saw these images on C-SPAN, and even then, several days after they took place. The damage done by the Bush Administration to the standing of the United States in the eyes of the international world is incalculable and it is growing. But the situation is not hopeless. Opportunities to turn things around do exist.
Most importantly, we should do everything we can to ensure that the Iraq War does not turn into the Vietnam War. The despair in Iraq has reached that point where intensified violence will only trigger more violence. Any new strategy of shock and awe will be tragically misguided.
And just because we do not have the answers does not mean we can afford to remain silent in the face of the machine. Keeping up with the events in Iraq, however grim, is as important as ever, and letters-to-the-editor of newspapers of all stripes are a crucial way of voicing our dissatisfaction.
We'll also have the opportunity -- on November 2, 2004 -- to send this President packing (if he's still in office) in the single most important election this nation has faced. The whole world is watching.
But since more urgent action is required to minimize the ongoing damage -- both physical and otherwise -- I am inviting you to join me in a simple act of community. With my cohorts in the Green-Rainbow Party in Somerville, Massachusetts, we are beginning to sprinkle our neighborhoods with beautiful rainbow peace flags. I am finding that this peace flag movement, in solidarity with the "Pace da tutti balconi" (Peace From Every Balcony) campaign which swept across Italy and parts of Europe during the build-up to war, transcends community on the local level or even the national level. Because there are billions of us earthlings with shared goals locked in an interdependent struggle, we have every right to embrace this movement as an act of global community.
Take the somewhat scary step of hanging a peace flag from your balcony. Believe me, it feels good. (3)
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Notes and Resources
1. "Bush Makes Surprise Thanksgiving Visit to Iraq," by Brian Knowlton, The International Herald Tribune, November 27, 2003. (back)
2. "Democrats Temper Praise for Bush Visit With Criticism," by Adam Nagourney, The New York Times, November 28, 2003. (back)
3. "It feels good" is a trademark of FlagCo & Brothers, Inc. (back)
See Peace From Every Balcony campaign for more information on the Somerville Green-Rainbow Party's peace action.
Pace Da Tutti Balconi
Pictures of rainbow peace flags hanging around the world
Visit United for Peace to find peace and justice groups in your area
The International ANSWER coalition has information about peace events all around the U.S.
Eli Beckerman is a Green Party activist.
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