It didn’t take long at all. The rubble of the World Trade Center had hardly stopped smoldering before the most feared enemy, the force that posed the greatest immediate danger to America, was identified — and the counterattack began. Well-coordinated, massive in scope, this campaign struck at its target repeatedly, brutally, with relentless force, and neutralized it before anyone realized what had happened.
Who was this enemy? Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida? Mullah Omar and the Taliban?
Don’t be silly. Those were mere external threats. No, this threat of which I speak was far more insidious, far more capable of crippling America, of putting glorious victory out of reach. If the response plans of the neoconservatives and the Bush Regime were to proceed, that force first had to be eliminated, swiftly, immediately, and decisively – the other threats could then be dealt with in turn.
I am speaking, of course, of that dreaded scourge: pacifism.
In the days after 9/11, I was astonished – devastated would be a better word – at the speed and ferocity with which commentators attacked any suggestions beyond the kneejerk desire for war, and castigated the very ideal of pacifism itself. Michael Kelly, editor of The Atlantic magazine, led the charge: “The American pacifists,” he wrote, “… are on the side of future mass murders of Americans. They are objectively pro-terrorist.”
(Kelly, ironically enough, would later be killed in the opening weeks of the invasion of Iraq – the first journalist to die in that invasion, which he had wholeheartedly endorsed and encouraged.)
Pacifists were effectively routed from the field. Ridiculed and reviled, they were left out of any major media discussion of the attacks, their causes, or possible responses. (Except on shows such as Amy Goodman’s “Democracy Now!”, of course.) And so, bereft of any meaningful alternatives to consider (much less the opportunity to consider them), we waved our flags, chanted “U-S-A! U-S-A!” and sang Toby Keith songs as the US-led coalition removed the Taliban from power.
(By the way, does anyone remember how in the months before 9/11, how many warnings there were regarding the dangers the Taliban – but since they were coming from the women’s rights community, they were largely ignored?)
But then (as ever) the militarists and belligerists overplayed their hand. Heady with victory, the neoconservatives fantasized a triumphal march of “permanent war”, establishing free-market ideology from Pakistan to the Mediterranean.
But the switch of attention from Afghanistan to Iraq, and the blatant nature of the campaign to justify the Iraq invasion, reawakened the pacifist spirit. Our local anti-war group, Waynepeace, was founded in the fall of 2002, when a call for an anti-war vigil lead not to the half-dozen folks sitting quietly in the park that I had expected, but rather to an angry crowd of 75 activists that was willing, ready, and eager to march down the middle of Main Street.
And slowly, slowly, disillusion grew – disillusionment with cowboy diplomacy, disillusionment with “peace through strength” rhetoric, disillusionment with the ballooning expenses of war, both financial and personal. The “new normal” that the neocons tried to graft onto our psyches, the notion that war would be permanent, that we would always face enemies everywhere, and that the national security state was inevitable, failed to take root.
Even after the election of Obama – an election that was in large part a repudiation of Republican militarism and its consequences – opposition to war, both specifically and in general, has continued to grow. Repeated deployments, repeated setbacks, and repeated scandals have taken their toll on the faith that many had had in the supremacy of purely military solutions.
Thousands of lives and billions of dollars later, the belligerists have failed. We are still here. The hope of pacifism – the hope that peace can be made – is still alive.
Some useful links that I found while researching this article:
“Peace Theology: Defining Pacifism”
“Cliches of Antipacifism”
“Amplifying Officials, Squelching Dissent”