Thursday, May 17, 2007

Bracketed between two wars

I went to Jon Weissman’s retirement party at the end of April. Jon was the contract manager for the National Association of Letter Carriers 46 and is now “retiring” to devote more time to Jobs with Justice.

Jon is one of the most idealistic and down-to-earth people I know. After his colleagues, daughter and wife celebrated him, Jon spoke and tried to sum up some of his conclusions about working for social justice for the past 40+ years. I’m still thinking about much that he said, but one of his comments struck me particularly—that in some sense, his life has been bracketed by two wars—Vietnam and Iraq. Of course, that’s true for me and for most people born in the fifteen years following World War Two.

The Vietnam and Iraq wars have a lot of similarities (don’t get me started) but one key difference is that we had a long lead-up to the Iraq war in which we had (we thought) an opportunity to stop the war before it began.

Another difference is that in the Vietnam war, we were spared the mea culpas of elected officials for a good thirty years. (I think Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, one of the war’s most hated policy-makers, started worrying about getting into heaven.)

(By the way, isn’t it interesting that war architect McNamara became president of the World Bank during the Vietnam war, and war architect Wolfowitz during the Iraq war?)

It drives me wild with rage and contempt to hear John Kerry, John Edwards and their Congressional counterparts apologize for their vote to authorize war in Iraq.

“We were deceived!” they whimper, leaving us to decide if they are lying now or were just that stupid then.

I never bought this damn war from before Day One, and personally knew hundreds of people who felt the same way. Through my listserves I knew thousands more, and hundreds of thousands who protested prior to March 20, 2003.

We all knew we were headed to war within hours of the terrorists’ destruction of the World Trade Center on September 11.

We also knew that Iraq was not behind the 9/11 attacks, that the war was a cover for the neo-con agenda, and doubted greatly that there were weapons of mass destruction left in the country.

We knew that the war would alienate international support, that the war would increase, not decrease, terrorism, and that military and civilian casualties would not be reported accurately.

We also knew that the war would be used an excuse to take away our civil liberties, that secret prisons, torture and prisoner abuse were bound to exist, and that war profiteering would reach new heights.

How come WE knew all this, and Congress and the media didn’t?

Well, the answer, of course, is that many of them did know, but kept their mouths shut and their courage locked away for reasons of political expediency.

I am not the kind of populist who thinks that the “wisdom of the common people” is pure and correct—not with the onslaught of propaganda coming across the airwaves and printed in our newspapers.

I have, however, found that many truly poor people were skeptical of the war from the beginning—furious at the attacks against our country, but so used to being lied to on a daily basis that they take nothing at face value.

The older I get, the less doctrinaire I become. I have no definite answer as to how our government can move into the hands of a well-informed citizenry, or even how a well-informed citizenry can be nurtured under the current circumstances. But I will keep trying to play my part. As Gramschi said, “Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.”

But today, as our military casualties stand at 3,444, and civilian casualties approach half a million, just for once, I want to say, “We told you so.”

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