Despite—or perhaps because of—the fact that nationalist Iraqi militias have largely defeated the American invasion of their country, ordinary Americans who have silently opposed the war remain quiet. With the exception of a few groups, notably Code Pink, the peace movement has been missing in action for four years. And that is one reason why Bush can issue blatantly ridiculous statements, such as that withdrawing from Vietnam 30 years ago created a bad military and political precedent for today, without losing his job. There is nothing like several million angry demonstrators on the Mall to make politicians and the bankers who love them look for the nearest way out of a war.
In the absence of people power, we have pundit power. Meet Max Boot, roving columnist for the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and the Weekly Standard. Boot’s specialty is rewriting history so that the corporativized thugs we call our government can continue to murder entire populations under the aegis of protecting their “freedom.” In an Aug. 24 article (“Another Vietnam?”) for the Wall Street Journal, Boot cited the “killing fields” of Cambodia as a cost of withdrawing from Vietnam. What he failed to note is that those “killing fields” were directly caused by American carpet-bombing of Cambodia’s agriculture infrastructure. We deliberately caused a countrywide famine that empowered the Khmer Rouge.
But even the Khmer Rouge were not as malicious as the American-created death squads (the CIA’s Phoenix Program targeting civilians) that systematically assassinated 26,000 South Vietnamese dissidents. Ultimately, it was the Vietnamese people who saved the Cambodian people from starvation and chaos. Those same Vietnamese freedom fighters had defeated a high-tech army of American invaders who killed more than 5 million people while Halliburton (then called Brown & Root) piled up war profits.
Boot also fails to mention other circumstances that contributed to America’s military defeat in Southeast Asia. As the American death toll passed 50,000, people of all ages and classes momentarily united with the Vietnamese people, finally disgusted by the unjust war. In Iraq, the number of exploded GI’s has yet to reached the level of critical mass necessary for American consumers to take to the streets in anger.
While we Americans occupy ourselves eating sugary trash, scarfing Adderall and obsessing about sex and fame, several million Iraqis have lost their lives to a brutalizing occupation, two bloody invasions and 12 years of incessant bombing coupled with a cruel economic blockade that turned the technologically and sociologically advanced Iraq into a rubble patrolled by reactionary religios and corporate war-profiteers.
What can we do? Take a real lesson from Vietnam. Years ago, after images of napalmed Vietnamese children surfaced in the media, many Americans extended their hands to the Vietnamese in friendship and repentance and antiwar fervor. In June 2004, after Nadia McCaffrey’s son Patrick, a National Guardsman based in Sonoma County, was killed in Iraq, she traveled there to meet with the mothers of Iraqis killed by Americans. The video of that moving encounter between fellow sufferers, Journey to Peace, shows the possibility of forging Iraqi-American friendships.
Two weeks ago, McCaffrey and the Farmer-Veteran Coalition held a public meeting at the Elim Lutheran Church in Petaluma to encourage Iraq war vets to take up farming. Sonoma County organizations represented at the sparsely attended meeting were Farms Not Arms and California Farm Link. McCaffrey, who has been an outspoken critic of the Iraq war, told me she is now “disgusted” with the peace movement and the hidden agendas of some of its organizing forces. Therefore, she is working “nonpolitically,” she says, to build Veteran’s Village, an organic farm where vets can reintegrate into society.
Next month, McCaffrey and the nonpolitical coalition are taking their community organizing effort to New York City, hoping to reach out to all vets, including the pro-war ones. I find this retreat from political action to be disappointing.
The problems of invader-returnees are miniscule compared to the pain we inflict upon the Iraqi people. If remorseful vets want to make reparations for the evil that they—and we collectively—have done to Iraq, they and we must actively and loudly oppose the war, not retreat into farms and “nonpolitical” silence. Rather, we must vociferously demand the immediate withdrawal of American troops and war-profiteering corporations from Iraq. In four years of war and occupation, very few Americans have reached out to the suffering people whose country we are so blithely destroying. Do we dare to create an Iraqi-American friendship movement?
That kind of political courage would make Bush and his Boot-licker quake.