Silence = Death
I remember vividly when I first heard that we - the United States - were at war in the Gulf War in 1991. I'd spent a lot of time at protests in the weeks prior, and was what you'd call a news junky, so it wasn't exactly a surprise. And yet, on some level, it was. I felt like I'd been kicked in the stomach, and hearing that war had begun hurt so much that I cried - and at the time, I really didn't cry easily.
There was a gut reality about being at war that no amount of expectation had prepared me for. Suddenly, it wasn't about the possibilities anymore; it was reality, and it was big. We were at war.
On some level, it's ironic that it should have been so shocking to me to be at war. The U.S. has been engaged in all kinds of wars, declared and largely undeclared, for the last century. Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua - those were wars, even if covert. And I was well aware of that, back in 1991; I knew that in my lifetime, my government had already been involved in plenty of killing. So what was the difference between those conflicts and the declaration that our nation was at war in the Gulf?
What it boils down to, I think, is the rhetorical force of being a nation at war. This is not something that the government does in private, or in relative privacy, as so many of our more covert involvements have been. This is something that is full-on public. This is no longer just the government, from which we can separate ourselves; this is us, or so we are told: we are at war. Not they. We.
It's a powerful move; once the government has declared - officially or merely rhetorically - this nation to be at war. It's not a foreign policy issue anymore; it's not something they are doing, as it was with our low-profile wars. Nicaragua was them against them: Sandinistas against U.S.-funded Contras, and while Reagan compared the Contras to our founding fathers, there wasn't, as I remember it, a considerable drive to consider the Contras "us." They were supposedly our friends, and supposedly were like us, but they weren't us. And that made the government's policy easier to disavow, too. Being for the Sandinistas was a foreign policy issue. Plenty of us were opposed to what the U.S. government did, and not a kid in my high school gave a damn what I thought about Sandinistas and Contras.
Not so Iraq. People are getting arrested in malls for wearing t-shirts advocating peace.
We have a sign in our front yard: "American for Peace." When the exterminator came two weeks ago, he said, "That's very brave of you, to have that sign up." I find it disturbing that it's brave to put a sign up in your front yard declaring your convictions. Someone gave me the finger on the highway the other day, and given that I hadn't cut him off or otherwise done anything offensive, I can only assume the finger was intended for the "Attack Iraq? NO!" bumper sticker I have on the back of my car.
And that's what it means to be a nation are at war. There is a powerful push toward unity, a unity that tends to mean "unquestioned support of the government." Those of us against war are unpatriotic; we are not supporting "our troops" - as if peace would not be the best way to keep those troops from getting killed? Unlike the low-profile wars the U.S. has been waging against other governments of all shapes and sizes, this war on Iraq is highly visible, in the U.S. and around the world. The government is being clear about the fact that this war is being waged in the name of America, and unlike many of the other wars, America is being told all about it.
And that visibility means that unless there continues to be a visible anti-war movement, we will all be identified with what happens in our name. Yes, being against war is going to get harder and harder, as our government commits troops and Fox News and CNN broadcast patriotic propaganda, and the Pentagon threatens to kill independent reporters in Iraq. Those of us who've been to anti-war rallies recently, and who've been visible or vocal about our views, know that the rhetoric of patriotism is already being used in an attempt to silence dissent, and officially, the war hasn't even started yet. The sheer virulence sometimes still surprises me, but those people who lived through the Vietnam protests have seen it all before. And it's only going to get more powerful as the war moves closer and then becomes reality.
When our government goes to war, and goes to war as a national, rather than a covert, enterprise, we have to fight even harder to show the world that in spite of the claims of Bush, Cheney, and others, this war is not happening in our names. And it'll get more difficult, especially once the war begins; while I don't think it's brave to put a sign in your yard, it may well seem to be.
When I traveled in Nicaragua in 1991 and 1996, one thing that surprised me most was that no one I met had anti-American sentiments. I traveled in some areas that had been devastated by the contras and a few places that were still in danger of being attacked, and yes, many people were unhappy with the U.S. government - but no one assumed that I had supported what had happened. They wanted to hear from me what my opinion on the matter was. When I asked a woman at a memorial museum about this, she explained that while the U.S. government had been responsible for funding the people who had killed her child, she also knew that there were many people in the U.S. who were opposed to the government's policy; many who'd even come to Nicaragua to help rebuild what the Contras destroyed. The U.S government did not necessarily represent its citizens, and she knew that.
And that's one of the reasons that it's so important to keep marching against the war. Even though there's little we can actually do to stop it, this is a war that is being waged in my name and in the name of all U.S. citizens. And unless we want to be identified with this war, unless we want the world to assume that we agree with what the Bush Gang is doing, we must speak out - not just when it's easy, but especially when it's difficult. Let each other and the world know that there are millions of us who do not support this war, and who refuse to let our government carry on the illusion that this happens in our names.
And speaking up may not prevent the war from happening, but it will make it more difficult to carry out. Rumor had it Bush was going to attack in February, and that didn't happen; maybe we delayed it just a little. International protests have continued, and even George Bush Sr. has just spoken out against his son going it alone. The more of us there are, and the more vocal our dissent, the harder it will be to begin war - and to continue it. Even if protests don't prevent war (and perhaps they may yet), the experience of Vietnam shows that large-scale protests have the power to bring about an earlier end to war - and that is nothing to sneeze at.
Because silent dissent is
no dissent at all. Not when a war is being waged in your name.
Some of my favorite signs at recent peace demonstrations
One of my very favorite signs so far is one that a fellow Karate student carried with her when a group of martial artists drove from Texas to D.C. to take part in anti-war activities: Make Sense, Not War. You can buy notecards with this sign or others on them by clicking on the picture below. (They're quite nice cards.)
This same person also attached a sign to her dog: Leash the Dogs of War.
Another one I liked, mean-spirited as it is, is a variation on the Bush - Rumsfeld - Cheney: Axis of Evil theme, namely: Bush - Rumsfeld - Cheney: Asses of Evil. Plus it nicely alludes to the whole South Park absurdity of the situation.
Someone else from my Karate class brought her two daughters to one of the rallies, who are about 4 and 6 years old. They had decided on their own slogans. War is really really bad, read one of them.
Another demonstrator had a sign on bright orange posterboard - this was February 15th, shortly after we'd been put on "Orange Alert." His sign simply said, Orange My Ass.
Two white guys were carrying this poster: Middle class white guys for peace. That amused me.
There's always the good standby: How did our oil end up under their sand?
And here's one I've seen a lot of recently: Justice? Or Just Us?
Being in Texas, I have to appreciate the folks who come to rallies in a cowboy hat and with a sign saying, Stop Mad Cowboy Disease.
Drop Bush, Not Bombs also gets several points across succinctly.
And as for pointing fingers at the hypocritical religious right, you can't beat Who Would Jesus Bomb? or Pro-Life - Pro-War? or War Kills Unborn Babies.
In crayon, with a drawing of a chair: Give Bush a Time Out.
As for getting across why this war is a bad idea: How do you create 1000 terrorists? Bomb Iraq.
Veterans Against War. And they know what they're talking about. Not to mention Support Our Troops: Bring Them Home.
Then there are several that got a fairly similar point across: There's a Terrorist Behind Every Bush. War = Terrorism.
And then there's Draft the Bush Twins, one of whom goes to University of Texas right here in town. I also liked Start Drafting SUV Drivers.
The American Friends Service Committee is pretty together when it comes to peace organizing. They had some great bumper stickers, including one that said Act Like It's A Globe, Not An Empire.
On the Patriot Act: It's 10 O'Clock. Do you know where your rights are?
Particularly good in Austin: A Village in Texas is Looking For Its Idiot.
And as for what this is really about: Weapons of Mass Distraction.
And some new ones from the rally at the Capitol on March 15th:
God Bless the Dixie Chicks!
Earl was a Republican - Go Dixie Chicks!
U.S. Out of Iraq - and Texas!
Republicans can't take a shit here - their asshole's in the White House
I said No War, dammit - weren't you listening?
W's War is on US
The Loudest Patriots are the Biggest Profiteers
Bush Drops Bombs - Cheney Cashes In
Bush's Arrogance Scares Us Too
Freedom means the ability to choose: I WANT FRENCH FRIES!
Vive la France!
The Constitution is my Patriot Act
Fake Evidence - Fake President
Make the Bad Man Stop!
last updated 13. March 2003
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