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Daughter of a Anti-War Activist

My mother recently went into assisted living, and I was tasked with sorting through my dad’s old papers. I came across the speech he gave right before the Iraq War. Here it is.

Lee Snyder, Anti-War Rally, Bradenton, FL, October 26, 2002

I come to this platform today rather depressed, because our Congress has just passed a resolution granting the president the power to start a war at his own discretion.Lee

A friend of mine well versed in the intelligence thinking in Washington calls this a declaration of war, indeed the probable beginning of World War III.

And all of this was the result of the bullying of our president and the implied threat that anyone who disagrees will be considered unpatriotic. George Bush is a dangerous man.

There is one fundamental fact that our government seems to ignore, that war itself is the worst possible evil that can come to humankind. It is not some glorious and heroic effort to demonstrate our superiority and righteousness to the rest of the world, or to demonstrate our power to smash our enemies, although it may be that to some short-sighted people, but war is the systematic killing of human beings and the effort to destroy the resources of some region so that the surviving people will be reduced to poverty and impotence.

torture1War is the worst disaster that can come to any society that is the battleground. War legitimizes killing, bombing, shooting, stabbing, beating and merciless torture in the minds of participants and planners. What is normally condemned as criminal in civilized society, becomes in the minds of many not only a duty but even heroic. The result is tragic both for the victims and the perpetrators. It is doubly tragic because many kill with the best of intentions. And our government is being bullied into starting a war in the near future. George Bush is a dangerous man.

One can understand that sometimes war might become a tragic necessity, a just war of defense, a last resort for restoring order, but we have not been attacked by Iraq, and there is no indication that we will ever be attacked by Iraq, a small state facing a “superpower.” Saddam Hussein may be a brutal dictator, but he is not insane. All of his actions make sense in terms of a rational leader trying to maintain power in a small weak state in an unstable region. He would not have attacked Kuwait 11 years ago, if not given a green light from Washington. He may wish to change the structure of his immediate region, but there is no reason to believe he has ambitions beyond that. And yet our government is trying to convince us and the world, that he is a major danger to world peace. Who then is being irrational? George Bush is a dangerous man.

Behind the American rhetoric is something even more sinister. Our leader has labeled Iraq, Iran, and North Korea as the axis of evil. He has thus revived the rhetoric about our eternal struggle against the evil empire, a rhetoric popular with some Americans during the Cold War. In other words, our enemy is some demonic power. When you struggle against the forces of evil, you do not compromise or negotiate, but use every possible weapon, because the fate of the whole world is at stake.

bush_cheney_rumsfeld_prison-620x412This is not the rhetoric of just war, or even a realistic balance of power approach. This rhetoric implicitly means a holy war, a crusade. While crusading against worldwide communism might seem to have been an appropriate use of crusading terminology to many, if crusading is still appropriate thinking in a modern interdependent global society, but to apply these terms to Iraq is laughable. It does arouse emotional power among many people, but statesmen should know the difference between protecting our national interest and crusading. Besides, the whole idea of crusading in this Middle Eastern region has terrible historical connotations, and threatens to ignite a cultural war between Islam and the West. George Bush is a dangerous man.

Our leaders do not seem to realize that there are very diverse movements in the Middle East. Some are secular and nationalistic, and some are religious and universalistic. Radical conservative Islamacists like Osama bin Laden are clearly of the latter type and want to see a revival of a free and authentic Islamic society, free of outside non-Islamic political and cultural influences, and authentic to the basic tenets of their faith. This is crusader-thinking on their part and legitimizes their use of terror as a military weapon against those outside powers that are trying to corrupt their ideals. They hate secularizers, modernizers, and socialists. If we respond to them in kind, crusade against crusade, they will have the advantage and we will be reduced to their level whether we wish it or not. It will become a continuing struggle between religions, a cultural war that increasingly will involve all Muslims, whether we want it to or not.

Iraq, however, is not an Islamacist state. It is a secular, socialist, and nationalist state, championing the cause of Arab nationalism, not Islam as such, and in many ways has been the most modern state in the region. But our bullying will inevitably force these two divergent forces to come together in self-defense, even though they strongly reject each other’s ideology. Is this a wise policy on our part? Shouldn’t we be concentrating on the terrorists? Once again, George Bush in a dangerous man.

Have we become such a great power that we don’t need friends in other countries? Our leadership pays lip-service to keeping friends in other countries, but our actions speak louder than our words. We have been bullying our European allies ad almost demanding they accept our policies without really consulting them and without considering their objections to our aggressive policies. How is it possible that only one European nation supports our war plans in the Middle East? If we go ahead without their genuine support, it may well be the end of the Atlantic Alliance.

Our unilateralism is turning our friends against us. We have pulled out of or rejected no less than 11 international treaties recently, most of which were strongly supported by Europeans and designed to promote world peace and international law. They are ready to defy the United Nations if it cannot be bullied into submission to our views, and we are apparently ready to begin a war against Iraq on our won initiative, clearly an act of aggression in international law, and exactly what we pledged not to do when we signed the United Nations charter. These arrogant policies will isolate us in the world and given a great victory to the terrorists of the world. Power alone is no justification for war. This view has always been considered the thinking of an aggressor nation condemned by all civilized societies. Yes indeed, George Bush is a dangerous man.

Recently the administration issued a new military policy statement that we would not tolerate any nation attaining weapons equal to our own and that we considered ourselves free to use a pre-emptive strike to destroy their weapons, without the approval of the United Nations. That is, we would be free to start a war anytime we thought we were threatened, without any necessary proof, a war that would probably destroy a nation and its people in the process, and not just a stockpile of weapons. Whatever happened to that old idea that a democracy never starts a war? We would become an aggressive empire, imposing our will on others whether they liked it or not, just like the ancient Roman Empire. Are we justified to impose our will simply because we have the power to do it? Once again, George Bush is a dangerous man.

Our success in Afghanistan has warped our judgment. Yes, we quickly destroyed their government, but they were a poorly institutionalize tribal state coming off years of civil war and hardly a serious opponent. Iraq is a different ball game. It is a well organized, well armed, unified state, and our wishful thinking that the Iraqi people will rise up to welcome us as their liberators seems contrary to all reports from the region. In spite of our heavy bombing, we will probably find a hostile population and a hard fought campaign against determined defenders of their homeland, a war that will not be as costless as our recent efforts. Besides Iraq is in the middle of an Arab region, not on a geographical and political periphery as was Afghanistan. Other Arab populations, even apart from their weak governments, will be highly motivated to join those defenders of the homeland. In this region, it seems highly unlikely that our country will be able to control the widening impact. Major wars are notoriously difficult to control. Are we ready for this kind of war, that will prove to much of the world that we are exactly the oppressors that their radicals had been describing? Again, George Bush is a dangerous man.

And what about after the war? Will it be treated like Afghanistan? That country, much of which did welcome liberation, has been rewarded with a new government unable to rule anything beyond the capital city and even there protected by a foreign army. It is a country in ruins, suffering from poverty and hunger, with no signs of the promised aid to rebuild. We of course do not want to be “nation builders.” Let the locals stew in chaos; they are no longer a threat to us. Will we do the same in Iraq? Will we leave the region in chaos? It might suit our interests. Otherwise we may have to garrison the region for decades, trying to teach them the blessings of democracy, as well as the realities of power. Would either alternative be desirable? Is any other outcome probable? Once again, George Bush in a dangerous man.

It is part of our arrogance and ignorance of the rich history of the Middle East that we tend to treat people of the region with condescension. Probably nothing offends Arabs and Muslims more than this arrogant attitude. It offends their sense of honor, for like all the great peoples of history, say like the Chinese and British, they have a very powerful sense of their own dignity and the respect due them. After all, it was the people of Iraq that invented civilization itself 5000 years ago. They invented cities, and writing, and science, and complex governmental institutions, and even a free market economy. For centuries they were the world leaders in technology and industry, as well as learning and religion. People of the area know their history, even though we do not, and might appropriately wonder how a country barely 300 years old can claim such superiority.

Yes, since the 19th century and 20th century colonialism, they have recently fallen behind Europe in some respects, but all the more reason why they wish to modernize in their own way without outside domination. If we really were friends of the region, we would help them develop control of their own destiny. If we really wanted to improve the regional situation, we would do much more by restoring peace to Israel and Palestine, rather than by starting an unnecessary war against Iraq. The region needs time to develop peaceful institutions and regional integration, not a fight against outsiders who have misjudged the historic circumstances. We do need to oppose international terrorism, but not with a sledgehammer that destroys thousands, perhaps millions of innocent people. Terror is fought by patience and that seems to be in short supply in Washington right now. Once again, George Bush is a dangerous man.

Bush may have already heard some of our protests. He seems to have moderated some of his rhetoric, or is thus just a ploy to win over the wavering, while his war plans continue? You be the judge. In any case, without a popular protest, we can count on an ugly and unnecessary war. Thank you.

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