Atlantic Man: Peaceniks talking truth

By IRA STRAUS  |  March 30, 2003 at 10:25 AM
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WASHINGTON, March 30 (UPI) -- What would happen if members of the "peace movement" were given a shot of sodium pentathol or some other "truth drug," and found themselves seized with an uncontrollable urge to start speaking honestly about the war?

What if they broke their silence about the efforts of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and his colleagues to get their own people killed for propaganda purposes? What if they were to apply their skills at finding "hypocrisy" in others and started noticing it in themselves?

It would make for an interesting "thought experiment." Or "gedankenexperiment" as Albert Einstein liked to put it.

Let's suppose just a few "peace" people overdosed on sodium pentathol and launched into an analysis of the blind spots of their movement. Here's what they might say:

"It seems we got it all wrong. America is trying to minimize the casualties not only on its own side but on the other side as well. Meanwhile Iraq is trying to get its own people to get killed as well as to kill Americans. It's doing its best to put its people in harm's way. Then it tries to pin the blame on America.

"This is sheer hypocrisy. And it seems we've shared in the hypocrisy. We haven't said an honest word yet against the Iraqi tactics. Instead we've been waiting at their side for the first opportunity to blame America. Which means we're egging them on, promising to help them get the propaganda bonuses they want if they can just get their people killed.

"There's something new afoot. Usually in wars each side tries to protect its own people and kill people on the other side. This time it's different: one side is working to protect the people on both sides, the other side is working for death on both sides.

"And that means it comes pretty close to being a war of good against evil. There's an idea we always scoffed at. And - what is hardest for us to admit -- America is the good side.

"So why are we still directing all our attacks on America?

"There seems to be a dirty little secret about our movement. We aren't really for peace, we're at war against America and the West. For us, America is 'the evil empire.' We focus all our energies on fighting it.

"We speak of love for humanity, but in practice, hatred of our own society seems to be the motor force of our politics. We're so deep into our anti-Americanism we've lost the ability to see straight. If anyone wanted to predict what side we'd support in any situation, all they'd have to do is figure out which side is bad for America. They'd get it right every time.

"Where are our criticisms of Iraq for trying to get its own people killed? Where, for that matter, were our criticisms when the same things happened in Afghanistan and in Serbia? We are always on the wrong side. In each of these wars, America goes to heroic lengths to spare the civilians, while the regimes brazenly use them as human shields and try to get them killed for propaganda purposes.

"Where is our 'ruthless analysis' when it comes to this propaganda, our famous skill at spotting 'hypocrisy'? It is nowhere to be found. Why not? Evidently because we are ourselves a part of the same propaganda system.

"It is as if we're all embedded in a loose global network of anti-American propaganda-making. Isn't that our real place in the world? Isn't that who we really are? We had better face up to it and figure out what it means.

"Where is our famous concern for protecting the environment, when the Iraqi regime is poisoning the air of Baghdad with the fumes of its oil fires and trying to torch its own oil fields farther south? Where is our famous concern for international law, when Baghdad brazenly violates every rule and law in the book? Nowhere. It seems we've been hypocrites all down the line.

"It is time to admit it. We are not the Peace Movement. We are not the Environmental Movement. We are not the Human Rights Movement. We are plain and simply the Anti-America Movement. And the Anti-West Movement.

"We have an unerring nose for figuring out how to hurt the West. Our language games in our internal discussions, with all our code words about what is 'progressive' and what is 'reactionary' or 'imperialist' or 'corporate' or 'racist' or 'foundationalist' or whatever -- they all come down in practice to ways of invalidating any Western interests and validating every interest that is damaging to the West.

"We make sure the code words are used only in this way. It seems by now everyone instinctively understands that's how these words are to be used. Let us face it: what 'political correctness' is about isn't protecting minorities, it's about demonizing the West and privileging anything that's Anti-West. It's a tool for channeling people into an anti-Western course.

"So now that we see who we really are and it's not a pretty picture, what should we do with ourselves? We have always spoken in the name of all the sacred causes: Peace, Justice, Love, Humanity, Freedom, Environment. Now we must begin the hard work of figuring out how actually to serve these causes in a real world that is completely different from the one of our propaganda. And how to choose among them when they conflict.

"We will have to stop thinking issues are simple. We'll have to evaluate our choices by the evidence, not live in a cocoon of praise for our in-group and vilification of outsiders. In fact, we will have to stop thinking as a 'we' and get back to the rigors of individual moral responsibility. And we will have to practice finding our way to the right side of issues, after years of practicing the opposite."


(Ira Straus teaches international relations at University of Tuebingen and at Moscow State Institute of International Relations.)

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