The Peter Principles: New word order

By PETER ROFF, United Press International

WASHINGTON, Jan. 23 (UPI) -- Washington was awash in demonstrators this week.

A sea of protestors from all walks of life came together to protest the U.S. government's wanton disregard for human life. Organizers of the rally against another Gulf War wanted to show their strong opposition to the Bush administration's seeming intention to send troops to oust Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein from power.


"Today's demonstrations shattered the myth of consensus for war," Mara Verheyden-Hilliard of the Partnership for Civil Justice said on Jan. 18. Her group belongs to Act Now to Stop War and End Racism, the coalition behind many of the day's events.

"Throughout the whole world, demonstrations today showed the kind of people's power it's going to take to stop the war in its tracks," she said.

She may be right.


An ABC News-Washington Post poll of 1,133 adults -- including an "oversample" of 211 blacks -- conducted between Jan. 16 to Jan. 20 show that support for a new Gulf War may be eroding.

Support for U.S. military action to remove Saddam Hussein from power is at 57 percent in the survey. "While still a majority, support today is a far cry from the near-unanimity that accompanied the start of the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan just over a year ago," ABC analyst Gary Langer wrote Wednesday.

The demonstrations, and the intense media buildup preceding them, likely influenced many. For the first time something resembling a cogent case against military action was put before the American people against the backdrop of why it might be necessary.

As the Jan. 18 rallies and speeches came closer, U.N. weapons inspectors, back on the job, uncovered evidence of potential duplicity on the part of the Iraqis. According to the Washington Post seven out of 10 participants in the latest poll "would give weapons inspectors months more to pursue their arms search in Iraq."

It should not be surprising. As residual anger over Sept. 11, 2001, fades and the prospect of war grows, some may begin to experience doubt, as is typically the case when "the ultimate sacrifice" may result.


But what a difference the order of words can make.

The media culture and the opinion-makers are, for the most part, lionizing the demonstrators who came to Washington to protest the potential loss of human life. Those who came just a few days later to protest the ongoing loss of potential human life are viewed much differently.

On Jan. 23 many Americans of all walks of life also came to Washington to march.

But this march, on the 30th anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade decision legalizing abortion-on-demand, is a cultural blip to many of those who shape America's understanding of everyday events.

Both demonstrations had many things in common including protesters massed in bitterly cold weather to express their views. In each assemblage were men and women, young and old, rich and poor. People of different faiths and creeds all came together to say "No" in a loud, clear and strong voice to official U.S. government policy.

But the celebrity that attached itself to the anti-war demonstration could be not found among the right-to-life marchers. Whereas opposition to the human cost of war is glamorized, opposition to the human cost of abortion is scoffed at. In the cultural calculation a woman's right to choose trumps the right of a baby, once conceived, to be born.


The same ABC News/Washington Post poll showing U.S. support for military action against Iraq waning had, considering the rhetoric surrounding the issue, some surprising news about public attitudes to abortion.

While 57 percent of those polled -- the same number who support U.S. military action to remove Saddam from power -- say abortion should be legal in all cases or in most cases, 42 percent of those surveyed say it should be illegal in most or all cases. This is hardly the overwhelming support for abortion-rights that the zeitgeist says exists.

There also seems to be a one-sided hypocrisy that has gone largely unobserved as the two movements are compared. Most everyone would agree that war, though regrettable and to be avoided if possible, is sometimes necessary.

There is broad agreement, for example, that the war to drive Adolf Hitler from power was justified in spite of the cost in human life incurred. The same is not true of abortion.

Many American politicians still toe the mark set down by former President Bill Clinton, who said it should be "safe, legal and rare." The subject is certainly not approached with the same solemnity as war when it is debated in the public square.


Those who hold up the specter of the human cost of another Gulf War, to the United States and to innocents among the Iraqi people, should have hung around Washington for a few more days. Perhaps some did. It is far more likely that they, satisfied that they helped push the war off for at least another day, went home.

(The Peter Principles is a regular column on politics, culture and the media by Peter Roff, UPI political analyst and 20-year veteran of the Washington scene.)

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