Americans speak out against war
On 1 April 2003 the UK Stop the War coalition held a meeting at Hackney Town Hall, London, billed as “Americans speak out against war”. Despite rain and being a mid-week evening, hundreds of people attended, and heard a panel of speakers including two American visitors: Anthony Arnove, writer, activist and editor of the critically-acclaimed book Iraq Under Siege; and Michael Letwin, founder and convener of New York City Labor Against the War and one of the organizers of the 15 February anti-war demonstration in New York.
Share International co-worker Gill Fry includes an abridged transcript of Anthony Arnove’s speech, and an interview with Michael Letwin.
Anthony Arnove speech
“It is crucial that we build opposition to the war in the UK and the United States, the two countries driving this horrific assault. The United States is portraying this war as being fought by a coalition. On the news in the United States they speak of coalition bombing, the 9,000 bombs that the coalition has dropped on Iraq, or a coalition soldier being killed. It is worth seeing who that coalition actually is — when you look at [the list] it is countries that the US has fought, bullied and bribed to support this war — an imperial adventure by the United States backed by Tony Blair — against the opposition and wishes of people around the world.
David Frome, a former speech-writer of the Bush administration, put it this way: “An American-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein and a replacement of the dictatorship with a new government more closely aligned with the United States, would put America more wholly in charge of the Middle East than any power since the Ottomans, or maybe even the Romans.” [The US administration] is very conscious of laying out an agenda of redrawing the map of the Middle East, not just to maintain Iraq, but regime change in Damascus and Tehran. The route to that lies through Baghdad, the most vulnerable and easy to demonize country. Because George Bush I had not engineered regime change in Iraq at the end of the last Gulf war, there was, as Willy Crystal the New York conservative columnist put it, ‘a lack of awe’, and a lack of respect for US imperialism. So now we see cynically playing out a demonstration of American imperial power over the Iraqi people”.
In the United States this war is being used to openly re-legitimize the idea of imperialism, of colonialism. There are people there — writers and politicians — speaking about an empire of colonialism, introducing a discourse and putting a positive spin on it. The New York Times magazine had an article recently: “The American Empire — get used to it” — an article that lays out very clearly an agenda for resuming the “white man’s burden” and explaining away all the horrors and deprivations that colonialism and imperialism have caused, and the lives that they have wrecked around the world. You see claims being advanced that the US must assume this imperialist role”.
There is opposition around the world, and it is very inspiring, very courageous — We are at the beginning of a process, an international movement of responding to this imperialistic drive by the United States pushing back their objectives in Iraq. That movement has to take up a broader question of what the real aims of the US are — and this system, which is driving towards global domination — a project which is utterly at odds with the interests of billions of people around the world.”
Michael Letwin interview
Share International: Have the numbers of anti-war protestors in the US dropped a lot since the start of the war? Are people ashamed or scared to be thought of as unpatriotic?
Michael Letwin: I don’t think the numbers have dropped a lot since the war began. There were half a million people on the streets of New York on 15 February. On 22 March there were a quarter of a million or more, but that difference, I think, reflects not that people are ashamed to be part of the anti-war movement, but rather a certain degree of fatigue to come out to demonstrations. Also a feeling of powerlessness that there was such a large demonstration around the world on 15 February and yet the war went ahead. For a lot of people, especially those new to the movement, it was a very great blow. For all of us, whether we objectively thought our actions would stop the war or not, it was a big blow to see the war beginning and was disheartening for a lot of people. Nonetheless there has continued to be a big outpouring [of protest]. I think for most people opposed to the war, the idea that the governments are putting out, that we should somehow become silent about the war now that it has begun, is not taking hold.
SI: Does the US media report fairly on the anti-war events in the US and around the world?
ML: The US media is anything but fair in its reporting. In relation to the war in Iraq the media has served essentially as a cheerleader for the voice of the American Government. It does not report on, let alone portray, the civilian casualties that are broadcast on other media around the world. It pretends that the people fighting this war are a coalition, when in fact we know it is the United States and Britain — period. It doesn’t cover the war from the Iraqi side. Pete Arnett, one of our leading journalists for American television, was fired for doing an interview on Iraqi television where he admitted the war was not going as well as the government had planned. So there is a tremendous barrage, as in any war, of lies by the American media. That’s why there is the traditional saying that the first casualty of war is the truth.
SI: Various celebrities have been heavily criticized in the American press for their anti-war stance. Is it becoming very difficult for them to speak out in the US?
ML: A large number of celebrities have spoken out — Michael Moore most directly, and music groups like the Beastie Boys and Sheryl Crow at the Grammy’s [award ceremony]. There is a fair amount of red-baiting of people that are coming out that way, just as there was during McCarthyism.
SI: Are the worldwide anti-war demonstrations reported on American television?
ML: They make very brief mention of worldwide protests, if any. They treat it like a footnote at best. But the anti-war movement has become so big that it has been hard for the media to totally bury it. Americans are very aware that there is an anti-war movement in the United States and that the movement is international.
SI: How is the anti-war movement developing in the labour movement and colleges and universities in the USA?
ML: The anti-war movement is clearly strongest in colleges, universities and among high-school students. Students have always been among the most enthusiastic activists because they haven’t been beaten down and defeated like many older people have, and they haven’t become cynical about our ability to control events in the world. Also they have less responsibility in terms of family and work. So being a student is a great time to be an activist. There’s also activism among many other people both in neighbourhood groups, in national organizations of various kinds, and a new anti-war activism among the labour movement where there has not traditionally been much anti-war activity. [For the first time ever the US labour movement is opposing an American-led war.]
SI: How can the anti-war movement improve its effectiveness in the promotion of its ideas?
ML: We have to make sure that we are constantly bringing this issue to reach people who are not already among the “converted”. I do believe that millions of people are opposed to the war in Britain, the US and around the world. Especially in our two countries where the governments are so firmly behind this war we need to be reaching out to people that are not already involved and convinced of the anti-war movement. [We need to] go to where they are, not simply ask them to come to where we are. It’s wonderful when people come out to demonstrations, but many people aren’t prepared to do that yet and those people we need to reach out to, in our communities, in our schools, in our society. [We need] to show the connections between the war that’s happening in Iraq and problems that we’re having at home: unemployment, cuts in social services, attacks on our civil liberties and many other issues. We have to continually not take the easy road of talking with each other, but need to reach out and talk to people who are not yet here.
SI: There is much talk of “people power”, with the huge worldwide marches. Do you see this developing and becoming a stronger and stronger force? What do you think of its future role?
ML: The demonstrations have been tremendously important but we can’t simply be a movement of demonstrations. We have to find additional, creative ways to voice opposition and to actually bring the war-machine to a halt. We’re not in a position where we can do that yet. But having these demonstrations helps create a general atmosphere of opposition to war that’s very important, and [especially] in conjunction with civil disobedience and other kinds of protest and direct action, particularly by working people against the war.
The supply-lines to the war start in our own countries and at some point we can be in a position to cut off those essential supply lines: to say that we are not going to produce those materials that wage war, or that we’re not going to transport them. For example, in Scotland recently, train drivers refused to move a train of raw materials heading for the war — the symbolism of that was tremendously important. [It was recently reported that] several British soldiers are being court-martialled for refusing to fire on civilians in Iraq. These kinds of resistance have the most impact. It is a tremendous sacrifice and risk for people to take these actions, but that is ultimately the type of action that is going to make a difference. By building anti-war sentiment and bringing it back to our communities and workplaces I hope and believe we’re going to be able to see that kind of action — to stop war occurring.
SI: Are the anti-war movements around the world synchronizing and co-ordinating events?
ML: There have been a number of days of international protest, most notably 15 February and 22 March. There is a tremendous effort to try to co-ordinate internationally because it is one world and the wars that go on affect all of us, and the only way we can bring these governments and their wars down is by uniting across international boundaries.