The Anti-War Essays
PEACE MARCH IS
Outside of buying influence with campaign contributions or running for office, there are three ways to be part of the American political process: voting, contacting your elected representatives and protesting in public.
Of the three, marching in the streets with a homemade sign is by far the most satisfying, as I discovered on St. Patrick's Day.
Voting is worse than pointless if you don't back a winning candidate, because it lends legitimacy to what boils down to mob rule. (If your guy ever does manage to win, of course, the system immediately morphs into the civilized "miracle of democracy." But if your track record is anything like mine, that won't happen much.)
Contacting politicians who don't already share your priorities is a complete waste of time, no matter how polite their form-letter replies may seem. Not once have I heard back from a president, senator or congressman who said, "Thank you for illuminating the error of my ways, o wise and persuasive constituent. I shall change my stance on this matter forthwith!"
Carrying a crudely lettered placard down Hollywood Boulevard with several thousand like-minded chanting citizens, however, is simultaneously expressive, ennobling and good exercise. It shows a level of personal commitment that goes beyond merely inking a ballot or typing an e-mail, as well as a foolishly courageous disregard for the possibility of ending up in an FBI database.
Last Saturday's end-the-war rally in Hollywood marked the first time that I ever marched in any demonstration for anything, but I received instant validation for my efforts. In Sunday's Daily News, a sliver of my face was visible between somebody's "Bring Our Troops Home" poster and an Iraqi flag. (Unfortunately, only a corner of my own rather cynical sign -- "Gitmo Here We Come!" -- appeared in the shot.)
Was the protest a hopeless cause? In a word, yes. I doubt that any of the 5,000+ participants thought that President Bush would react by bringing US troops home from Iraq, or that supposedly anti-war Democrats would prove their sincerity by cutting off funding for the war.
Intellectually, we knew that everything in Washington would be business as usual on Monday. Still, something in all of us demanded that we raise our voices instead of seething in silence.
Maybe the only thing we got for our efforts was the self-respect that came from making a public stand for what we thought was right. But maybe we inspired a few more people to be first-timers at the next march -- to stand and be counted, even if nobody in power thinks we count.
It's good exercise, in more ways than one.
THOSE WHO STAND AND WAIT
The following piece appeared in the October 5, 2001, issue of the Daily News of Los Angeles, two days before the US began bombing Afghanistan. It was published under the title "Collateral Damage? If We Kill Innocents, We Murder."
I was in a long line at the Tarzana post office behind a young mother and her four-or-five-year-old girl. The mom suddenly remembered something she needed to get from her car. She told her daughter, "You stay here. I'll be right back."
As soon as she stepped away, the line moved forward. The little girl stayed right where she was. Another customer at the counter was waited on and left, and the line moved up again. The little girl stood patiently in her spot.
I didn't say anything. I thought it was impressive that any kid these days could mind so well, even if she was taking what she had been told a bit too literally. As a stranger, I also didn't want to confuse the girl by countermanding her mother's instructions. Besides, six people still were ahead of us, so where she stood made no real difference. Nobody behind me was complaining.
Within half a minute, the gap between the girl and the man in front of her became several people wide. That man looked back at me and grinned. "She does just what her mommy tells her, doesn't she?" By then, everyone had noticed the steadfast little sentry, who seemed blissfully unaware of the attention.
Her mother reappeared. She looked embarrassed when she saw her daughter still rooted in place, and the wide empty space in the line. I smiled and said, "She did exactly what she was supposed to do, that's for sure." The mom laughed and hugged her kid. It was a sweet, Norman Rockwellish, all-American kind of moment.
When I hear people say we should bomb Afghanistan and other "terrorist-harboring" countries, even if that might result in thousands of civilian casualties, I think about that mother and child. I don't know if they were Afghan, Iraqi, Iranian, Syrian, Lebanese or Palestinian. I do know that they both had beautiful dark eyes, jet-black hair, and exotic features indicating their origins were somewhere Middle Eastern or South Asian.
They and people like them do not deserve to become "collateral damage" in the coming conflict because they have the misfortune to live in what our generals decide is the wrong place. Wiping out lives like theirs to achieve America's goal of striking back at terrorism makes about as much sense as blowing up four jets and three buildings to make a political statement. Killing innocent people is murder, regardless of any overriding intentions.
Warmongers argue that if the citizens of anti-American countries would rise up, overthrow their evil leaders and expel all unsavory characters, the US would not be forced to risk slaughtering the guiltless along with the guilty. By that logic, passengers who could not overcome the thugs who crashed those jets on September 11 deserved their fate, too. "Blaming the victim" makes for a dangerously dubious foreign policy.
Most of the Afghan people probably would be delighted to live under less severe rulers, with a better standard of living and without gangs of nomadic psychos bent on international mayhem squatting in the mountain ridges. Unfortunately, very few human beings have the "George S. Patton" gene, the "Thomas Jefferson" gene or even the "William Bradford" gene. Most people do not have the military skills to wipe out the bad guys, the political savvy to change their governments, or the courage to strike out as pilgrims and leave their homelands.
The overwhelming majority of the millions of innocent men, women and children living in Afghanistan are only there because that is where they were born. Their parents left them there, in other words. They have not moved from that spot.
And they are waiting.