March 20, 2003
Ignoring Opposition to War an Old Story
What do Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boulder, Denver, New Haven, Atlanta, Chicago, Gary, Des Moines, Portland (Maine), Baltimore, Detroit, St. Paul, Newark, Jersey City, Santa Fe, New York City, Syracuse, Cleveland, Akron, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Providence, Austin, Burlington, Alexandria, Seattle, Milwaukee and Washington, D.C., have in common?
They are 29 of the 151 cities -- in some cases, counties -- that have either passed resolutions opposing a war against Iraq or, in a handful of cases, have communicated their opposition to a war not via resolution but by means of a letter signed by a majority of the governing council. And another 154 cities are even now debating whether to join with them.
Has there ever before been such a widespread expression of opposition to a looming war? Has there ever before been so little press coverage of so broad a campaign of protest? What can account for the media's silence?
The answer, I think, is that our president has -- from his standpoint, wisely -- chosen to ignore the breadth of the opposition; he would rather pitch than fight, and so he blithely persists as our cheerleader-in-chief.
Just before the plane starts rolling down the runway toward takeoff, the engines are revved way up; the moment is one of anticipation, the release into motion a kind of liberating orgasm, until, finally, liftoff is achieved.
Never mind that 151 cities have attached ropes to the plane and seek to keep it tethered. The plane has no rearview mirror; the president chooses not to see or, if seeing, not to comment.
Just keep revving. Tell us yesterday about the rapes and today about the gouged-out eyes; tell us about all the Iraqi leaders who are scheduled to be indicted as war criminals; but do not bother to make public the specifics of the indictments or even to tell us by which court they will be indicted, since it for sure will not be the International Criminal Court, presumably created for just such a purpose, but from which the freedom-loving and justice-pursuing United States of America has notoriously chosen to absent itself. Just go on revving. Rev so hard that by the time the contraption begins to move, its movement will come as a relief.
And what, after all, do city councils know? Nothing, for openers, and then, when compared to what the president and his people know -- but will not say -- less than nothing.
The Internet, we have long-since learned, is rife with urban legends. Now and then, however, one comes across an authentic citation that is deeply disturbing. As, for example, the following:
"Why of course, the people don't want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war, when the best he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally, the common people don't want war -- neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a parliament or a communist dictatorship.... The people can always be brought to do the bidding of their leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."
The words are the words of Hermann Goering, reichsmarshall and Luftwaffe chief in the Nazi regime. They were spoken to Gustave Gilbert, a psychologist and intelligence officer who had been granted free access to all the prisoners held in the Nuremberg jail. Their conversation took place on the night of April 18, 1946, during a three-day recess in the Nuremberg trials, and was published by Gilbert in his book, "The Nuremberg Diary."
An outrageous citation with no current relevance? Then consider the words of the attorney general of the United States, John Ashcroft, in December 2001: "To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists, for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve. They give ammunition to America's enemies and pause to America's friends."
These are hard times, troubled times. One measure of that is that we haven't the words with which to reassure our children that tomorrow, all will be well.
We cannot tell them that Sept. 11 was a one-time thing; we were in fact attacked and may be again. We cannot tell them the impending war will have a benign result; no one can say with any confidence what the morning after -- the mornings after -- will be about. We cannot tell them the familiar world will endure, the imperfect world that seemed, however sluggishly, to be moving toward peace and freedom. And we surely cannot tell them that our leaders know what they are doing.
What our leaders seem to know is how to create for themselves a world that is simple, unambiguous, how to exploit our fears and how not to hear what they choose not to hear. Â
Leonard Fein's most recent book is "Against the Dying of the Light: A Father's Story of Love, Loss, and Hope" (Jewish Lights, 2001).