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“There’s Nothing You Can Do”


It’s always nice to hear that considerable numbers of Americans tell nice and progressive things to public opinion pollsters. But when I see the happy data showing that the United States populace supports peace, justice, and

democracy, not empire and inequality, in various issue and policy areas, I like to ask three basic questions: (1) how strong is their sense of urgency and relevance in regard to the progressive issue opinion they have given to the pollster? (2) how up-to- speed are they on how this issue is playing out and where it comes from? (3) how willing are they to actually do something about the issue in question?

It’s nice, for example, to learn that that a much larger percentage of white Americans tell pollsters that they support racial integration and equal-opportunity for African-Americans today than was the case 30 and 40 years ago. The problem is that many and indeed probably most whites no longer have much sense of urgency or need to act on behalf of civil rights and social justice for blacks. They have been convinced that racism is no longer a problem in American life and nobody is really forcing their feet to the fire on the issue — which in fact remains very alve, all the more so because mainstream wisdom holds that “all the [racial] corrections have been made.”

I once had a fascinating conversation with a very successful and witty liberal-left policy intellectual who sat on the board of a leading civil rights organization. He and I were voicing shared agreement with a newspaper column that denounced the hopeless risk-averse conservatism and general listless cooptation of certain civil rights organizations both national and local. After regaling me with the story of a recent civil rights board chairman whose company was laying off thousands of workers — including many of the civil rights organization’s constituency — and telling me that the decrepit CEOs and boards of the post-civil rights movement were doing the black community little good, my liberal-left friend then said, “but there’s not much that can be done about it.”

He did not elaborate.

It’s nice to learn, as a Chicago Council of Foreign Relations opinion survey reported last fall, that:

* 69 percent of Americans want more money spent on education versus just 29 percent who want more funding to “defense.”

* 87 % of Americans support nuclear test ban

* 71% embrace the Kyoto Treaty on global warming

* 76% are for US working with and under the rules of the international Criminal Court

* 53 % say we have a unilateral right to go war only if we are in truly imminent dangers of attack and only 17% accept Bush’s de facto preventive war doctrine

* 84% think the US shoud work its international relations problems through the UN even if the UN will sometimes rules against official US wishes

* 72% of Americans say the US should leave remove its troops from Iraq if that’s what the Iraqi people think we should do.

Great. So how many of the people polled don’t know and/or care that Bush Amerika’s official policy positions are the oppposite of majority opinion as measured at least by the CCFR?: anti-Kyoto, anti-ICC, anti-test ban…dedicated to the marginalization of the UN and international law? How many of them know or care that 29 cents on every one of their single US tax dollars goes to “defense” (Empire that is, including more than $151 billion so far to pay for the racist imperial oil war of choice in and on Iraq, a sum that would have permitted the hiring of more than 2,600,000 new public school teachers for one year) compared to just 4 cents on education? How many of them know that 80 percent of Iraqis surveyed last spring lacked confidence in the Coalition Provisional Authority and 82 percent disagreed with the presence of US and allied militaries in Iraq? That a USA Today, CNN and Gallup poll conducted around the same time found that 57 percent of Iraqis wanted foreign troops to leave immediately? These polls were conducted before the April uprising and the prison scandals, which certainly increased Iraqi’s desire for Uncle Sam to get the Hell out. Is it that people don’t know all this or that they don’t care? Or do they perhaps know and maybe even care but lack confidence that anything might be done? “Nothing can be done,” to quote my liberal civil rights friend.

And on that note check out the disturbing front-page New York Times article that I have pasted in below: Kirk Johnson. “Fighting On Is the Only Option, Americans Say,” NYT, 22 December 2004, sec. 1, p.1. According to a number of Americans the Times reporter and his stringers interviewed, “whether one supported or opposed the invasion has become irrelevant… there is only the road ahead now, with few signs to guide the way.” It doesn’t matter that this is an insane racist and imperialist occupation, we must proceed ahead, at whatever more ghastly price, because…well, according to a cotton farmer-lawyer quoted below, pulling back would make us “look weak” and that would be “a victory for the enemy.” Would that “enemy” include the majority of Iraqi people, who resent the imperial occupation of their country?

“We’ve got to hang in and get the job done,” this fellow says. I assume he means “the job” of exporting democracy or something like that. Has he done any moderately serious investigation into what the real US objectives are in Iraq and the Middle East, pretty much the same as they have been for many decades: control and exploitation of strategic, highly prized oil resources?

A “financial adviser” lady says that “the nation [the US I presume] should protect the soldiers, give them a clear mission, and then help the Iraqi people as best it can.” “I still don’t see any good coming from this,” she feels. “I’m saddened and angered.” Fine, does she know the Iraqis would like her to support her troops by ending this illegal and immoral occupation of their country? Would she be willing to do something to end this sad and angering situation: stopping this war on the people of Iraq?

The saddest quote comes from a GI mother who told the Times that Tuesday’s bombing in Mosul (which killed 19 US soldiers in an American mess hall) has “combined with the prospect of her son’s [imminent] departure” to Iraq to leave her “absolutely devastated.” “It’s like watching your son playing in traffic, and there’s nothing you can do,” Ms. Bellows said. “You can’t reach him.”

There we go again: “nothing can be done.” Not true.

Not one American family has to sacrifice any of their children on the imperial altars of ignorance, racism, greed, national pride, helplessness, and fatalism.

Here are two organizations that troops, veterans, and families who are questioning this terrible, bloody war of imperial choice should think about contacting:

IRAQ VETERANS AGAINST THE WAR, led by Michael Hoffman. See web site at www.ivaq.net.

MILITARY FAMILIES SPEAK OUT, at www.mfso.org, which says “if you have family members or loved ones in the military and you are opposed to the war, join us. Send us an e-mail at [email protected]

See also the piece still up on the ZNet site by ex-Special Forces antiwar activist Stan Goff.

This is an illegal and unjust war and it’s not worth giving up a single one of our children to satisfy the imperial narcissism of the war criminals and deceivers in the White House, the Congress, the Pentagon, and the “defense” and petrochemical industries.

This occupation is wrong and it should be resisted and much can be done. Note how the Times article (below) ends, with Hoffman observing that our presence in Iraq only provokes more chaos there.

American troops, resist this unjust war and the murderers who are conducting it.

December 22, 2004

THE PUBLIC

Fighting On Is the Only Option, Americans Say

By KIRK JOHNSON

DENVER, Dec. 21 – Americans across the country expressed anguish about the devastating attack on a United States military base in Iraq on Tuesday. But it was the question of where the nation should go from here that produced the biggest sigh from Dallas Spear, an oil and gas industry worker from Denver.

“I would never have gone there from the beginning, but that’s beside the point now,” Mr. Spear said, his jaw clenched. “We upset the apple cart and now there’s pretty much no choice. We have to proceed.”

Mr. Spear’s sentiment was echoed in interviews in shopping malls, offices, sidewalks and homes on a day when the news from Iraq was bleak. With 14 American service members killed and dozens injured, it was apparently the worst one-day death toll for American forces since United States forces defeated Saddam Hussein’s regime in spring 2003.

Many people said they were dispirited or angry, but many expressed equal unhappiness about seeing a lack of options.

Whether one supported or opposed the invasion has become irrelevant, many said – there is only the road ahead now, with few signs to guide the way.

One soldier who has been to Iraq and is soon to go back said he believes the war itself has changed, and that guerrilla attacks like the one in the northern Iraq city of Mosul on Tuesday have constricted the view on the ground about how to proceed.

“When we went to war there was a clear-cut enemy,” said Specialist Richard P. Basilio, 27, of Philadelphia, who leaves for Iraq after the holidays for a 12- to 18-month deployment as an Army computer technician. It will be his third tour to the Middle East and his second to Iraq. “Now the rules have totally changed. You don’t know what’s going on,” he added. “You just have no idea who’s your friend and who’s your enemy.”

Mr. Basilio’s mother, Janet Bellows of Daytona Beach, Fla., said the bombing in Mosul, combined with the prospect of her son’s departure, have left her “absolutely devastated.”

“It’s like watching your son playing in traffic, and there’s nothing you can do,” Ms. Bellows said. “You can’t reach him.”

Polls show that many Americans were deeply concerned about the course of the war even before Tuesday’s attack. Out of 1,002 Americans surveyed last Friday and Saturday by the CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, 47 percent said, when asked how the United States had handled Iraq during the past year, that things had gotten worse. Twenty percent said the situation had improved and 32 percent said it was about the same.

Some people said that polls themselves were part of the problem.

Charlie Eubanks, a cotton farmer and lawyer from the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas, said he supported President Bush but had been lukewarm about going to war. Now, he said there was no choice but to fight on, and that reports on opinion polls were only “aiding and abetting” the enemy by making opponents think the American will is weak.

“We’ve got to hang in there and get it done,” Mr. Eubanks said.

Some people said that part of what they struggle with is how to square the ongoing violence with their beliefs about human nature and decency.

“How to deal with the rebels and the insurgency – I don’t know. But I believe that people are inherently good and rational,” said Traci Sillick, a financial adviser from Broomfield, Colo. Ms. Sillick said she thought the nation should protect the soldiers, give them a clear mission, and then help the Iraqi people as best it can.

“I still don’t see any good coming from this,” she said. “I’m saddened and angered.”

Mike Lepis, 30, a small-business owner from Portland, Ore., on a visit to Atlanta, said the bombing reinforced the distinction in his mind between the troops fighting the war and the war itself. “I don’t agree with the war, but I support the troops,” Mr. Lepis said. “It leads me to believe we have less control when we can’t guarantee their safety. It’s particularly unsettling when you hear about violence in areas that are supposed to be secure.”

Carolyn Jolly, 50, a civilian employee of the Army in Fort Lee, Va., said the attack did not change her opinion that American forces should be in Iraq. But she is equally firm in her belief that they should get out as soon as possible. And she is worried.

“I think we should stay through the elections,” Ms. Jolly said. “I support the president’s plan up to there. But if we’re going to focus on Iraq without support of other nations, I see the violence increasing. I can’t see a democratic Iraq. So what are we doing there?”

And while some said the attack reinforced their belief that the Bush administration had failed in its goals, others found it hard to place blame.

Stan Joynes, a real estate lawyer and developer in Richmond, Va., said the administration was not upfront about what would be required in Iraq. But maybe, he added, the administration did not know either.

“We know now we weren’t getting the whole picture,” he said. “I don’t think they knew the whole picture.”

One military veteran, Bob Mayo, 73, who served in the Air Force from 1949 to 1957, said that increasing violence in Iraq was just a sign of desperation by the nation’s enemies.

“It tells me that they are worried that they are going to lose,” said Mr. Mayo, of Newcastle, Colo. “They are just trying to make it as painful as possible and they don’t care how they do it.”

Mr. Mayo said he would not characterize the situation in Iraq as getting worse. “There is no worse in war,” he said. “War is the worst thing that can happen.”

Another military veteran who has become active in opposing the war said the message of Tuesday’s attack was not desperation, but greater organization by the insurgents.

“It’s just like Vietnam: the longer we stay there, the more anti-American sentiment will be drummed up, the more organized the insurgency becomes,” said Mike Hoffman of Iraq Veterans Against the War and a former Marine lance corporal who was in Iraq from March to early May 2003. “Unfortunately, the longer we stick around, the more we’re likely to see attacks like this.”

Reporting for this article was contributed by Lisa Bacon from Richmond, Va.; Ariel Hart from Atlanta; Karen Hastings from Harlingen, Tex.; Gretchen Ruethling from Chicago; and Mindy Sink from Denver.

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