With Nobel laureate Barack Obama’s announced escalation of the occupation of Afghanistan, even those who believed his rhetoric of hope and change, who supported and voted for him in the last election, have realized at last that his administration represents neither, that the honeymoon is over and patience is no longer a virtue. Consequently, many peace-minded people are looking again to an anti-war movement and finding it somewhat in disarray, perhaps an understatement. If it is truly our intent to revitalize the anti-war movement, we must begin a dialogue to redefine our goals and to re-evaluate and clarify our tactics and strategy. That is, we must become more focused on ending American militarism and imperialism, war and occupation, and we must build a coalition of voices by practicing tolerance and understanding for a diversity of views and opinions.
I think a couple of important conceptual clarifications are necessary. Collective entities, as such, do not exist. Terms such as “movements,” “nations,” “corporations” etc. are rhetorical devices, referents, which designate a set of individual human beings with varied and diverse points of view, but who share (have in common) the relevant interest and/or belief that characterizes the particular collective in question. Consequently, collective entities lack agenthood or personhood. That is, movements, nations, corporations etc., do not act, individuals do. This is important because unscrupulous people – politicians, corporate executives etc. – have taken advantage of – exploited – this fallacy of reification, i.e., ascribing substance or real existence to mental constructs or concepts in order to shroud themselves within the anonymity of the abstraction, the collective, as a means of diffusing, and thereby avoiding, responsibility or culpability for their actions.
I understand “anti-war” to mean an opposition to and condemnation of war and occupation. An anti-war movement, therefore, designates individuals who share what I will term an “anti-war vision,” that is, oppose and seek an end to war and occupation. “Peace,” however, is much more encompassing than merely an absence of war. Even Ronald Reagan agreed, though tragically, more in word than in action. “True peace,” he told us, “is justice, true peace is freedom. And true peace dictates the recognition of human rights.” A peace movement, therefore, designates individuals who, in addition to opposing war and occupation, share what I will term a “peace vision,” that is, support what they see as issues of human rights, justice, equality and fairness. A peace vision may be complex and varied and may include such demands as a recognition of gay marriage, a woman’s right to choose, the rights of immigrants, perhaps even of advocating a velvet revolution – an end to the oppression and exploitation some see as intrinsic to a capitalist imperialist system. Both movements have their place; both are important. Understanding this distinction is crucial in building a viable anti-war movement, in motivating individuals to join together to end war and occupation.
We are at a crucial juncture in our nation’s history, a time of great economic and social upheaval that is made even more precarious by Obama’s insistence on continuing the occupation of Iraq, escalating the occupation of Afghanistan and the war in Pakistan. We continue to spend trillions of dollars to kill and to destroy rather than to build, educate and heal. Though we live in the illusion of America’s greatness and beneficence, it is clear from our continued militarism and imperialism that we have lost our moral compass and have forfeited any moral authority we may have had in the world. We have become the world’s pariah, and there is blood on all our hands. Perhaps, it is already too late; hopefully, it is not. If we are to salvage what remains of our nation and of our integrity, our moral character, we must act and act now to build a viable anti-war movement, to effect change that is far reaching and long lasting. We must foster a groundswell of resistance to a political leadership that, despite its rhetoric, sees war and violence as a substitute for the hard work of diplomacy and the peaceful resolution of differences.
If we are to build a viable anti-war movement, we must seek to unite all individuals who share the anti-war vision, i.e., that war and occupation is immoral, illegal and not in their interest, but yet who may have differences regarding their vision for peace, i.e., whether there is a right of choice or a fetal right to life, whether same sex marriage should be recognized or whether marriage is between a man and a woman, whether capitalism is intrinsically oppressive and must be overthrown or whether we can achieve fairness and justice in spite of its quest for profit. Be clear, I am not, by any means, advocating toleration or concession to “bigotry, misogyny and know-nothing jingoism.” That’s not what cooperative effort is about. It’s about understanding that unanimity of beliefs is an ideal, not a reality. It’s about working together with honest and sincere individuals for the betterment of humankind, ending war and occupation and agreeing to disagree about when life begins, the “definition” of marriage, the virtues or vices of capitalism, differences which can and must be discussed, debated and, hopefully, resolved at another time, and in another venue.
But the situation is dire and time is short, so as you continue to work for peace, be aware that if we are to build a viable anti-war movement, we must have understanding and toleration for a diversity of views. We must focus upon what we have in common, rather than on what divides us. We must seek to create an environment in which all sincere people who oppose war and occupation can be accommodated, not alienated. Perhaps, in developing this cooperative effort to resolve common concerns – revitalizing the anti-war movement – we may eventually be better able to engage in meaningful dialogue to resolve, reasonably and rationally, other differences that may divide us. Why not? Isn’t this what a peace movement is supposed to be about?