March 20 was the third-year anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, and it was marked by predictable protests in cities around the world. To call these demonstrations ‘peace protests,’ as much of the media chose to, would be misleading. Calling them ‘antiwar protests’ would be closer to the truth, but still inaccurate. They were ‘anti-American military’ protests, pure and simple.
The distinction is an important one, because how a group or movement is characterized, and the terms the media uses to describe them, have a big impact on how the public perceives them and their cause. In some cases, these semantic battles have been raging right out in the open. ‘Terrorist’ vs. ‘insurgent,’ for example, or ‘pro-life’ vs. ‘anti-abortion.’ But many causes and movements are permitted to frame themselves in a certain way without much analysis of whether or not they actually further the values they claim to espouse.
The people who took to the streets to protest the Iraq war have enjoyed a free ride in public opinion. They declare themselves to be lovers of peace, speaking out against war and aggression. They claim to be against imperialism, both cultural and military, and believe that the United States, and by extension, the Western world, should bring their troops home and stop fighting wars on the other side of the world.
All of this sounds very reasonable, even noble, and their altruistic motives are taken for granted. This is a big mistake, as many of the protesters are motivated not by love for the indigenous peoples of faraway places and their cultures, but by hatred of American power. All their talk of human rights and peace is just window dressing for the real agenda, which is to prevent the United States from having any foreign policy other than apologizing for its perceived misdeeds and giving money to poorer countries.
This can easily be proven with a simple test: Do the protesters care about a people’s suffering under their own regimes as much as they do about their suffering under American occupation? Do they hold other governments to anything approaching the same standard? Do they ever point an accusatory finger at any regime that isn’t an American ally?
The answer is a resounding no. To illustrate this, we need look no further than the protesting Left’s proudest moment, the Vietnam war. Once again, you had huge demonstrations against American military action, justified by the suffering of the poor Vietnamese people who were being killed so that the U.S. government could pursue its goals. Oh, the heart-rending sincerity of the students and intellectuals, crying out for the rights of the poor Vietnamese villager!
But the concern of the left for the suffering Vietnamese ended the day the last American chopper took off from the roof of the U.S. embassy in Saigon on April 30, 1975. It didn’t matter to them that all of the predictions made by sober analysts both inside and outside of the military came true: The communist North invaded the South, mass-murdered hundreds of thousands of ‘class enemies,’ set up the usual ‘reeducation camps’ where people were taught how to work while starving to death, and forced many thousands of people to jump into the South China Sea on anything that floated to escape the murderous Hanoi regime.
The ‘domino theory’ was also proven true, as nearby Cambodia fell to the Khmer Rouge, and they proceeded to kill one quarter of the country’s population. The attention of the Left, when it manifested itself at all, was academic and perfunctory. They should have been more interested; this was, after all, their true legacy, the ‘peace’ they had fought so hard to achieve.
But why hadn’t the South Vietnamese run from the rapacious American brutes into the open arms of their beloved countrymen in the North? Why had they stayed put for ten long years of war, when they could have joined the communists against the ‘imperialist aggressors?’
Because the South Vietnamese weren’t playing abstract word games like the rich, spoiled, guilt-ridden Marxists who marched through the streets of Washington and New York. They saw totalitarian communist imperialism on the one hand, and corrupt, American-backed pseudo-democratic rule on the other. They chose the lesser of two evils.
And it’s precisely that choice which the Left seems unable to face. Their entire world view is founded on a false premise: That the United States, or the Western world, is the only real aggressor, oppressor or imperialist power, and that in the absence of American interference, people are free to live their own lives and enjoy their own cultures. That this view contradicts all of human history, including that of the post-Cold war years, doesn’t faze the proponents of this perspective. They go right on, decade after decade, acting as if restraining American power is synonymous with encouraging freedom and peace, when all it does is enable the next power in line to gain influence. While it may be hard for these protesters to imagine, the next power in line, whether Khmer Rouge-style totalitarian communism or Taliban-style theocratic fascism, is often far, far worse.
George Orwell said it better than I ever could, so I’ll let him make the point. Though his words were directed at British pacifists during World War II, they are equally relevant to the Cold War pacifists, and to the current war’s pacifists as well:
Pacifism is objectively pro-Fascist. This is elementary common sense. If you hamper the war effort of one side you automatically help that of the other. Nor is there any real way of remaining outside such a war as the present one. In practice, “he that is not with me is against me.” The idea that you can somehow remain aloof from and superior to the struggle, while living on food which British sailors have to risk their lives to bring you, is a bourgeois illusion bred of money and security…In so far as it takes effect at all, pacifist propaganda can only be effective against those countries where a certain amount of freedom of speech is still permitted; in other words it is helpful to totalitarianism.
I am not interested in pacifism as a “moral phenomenon”. If Mr. Savage and others imagine that one can somehow “overcome” the German army by lying on one’s back, let them go on imagining it, but let them also wonder occasionally whether this is not an illusion due to security, too much money, and a simple ignorance of the way in which things actually happen…Despotic governments can stand “moral force” till the cows come home; what they fear is physical force…
What I object to is the intellectual cowardice of people who are objectively and to some extent emotionally pro-Fascist, but who don’t care to say so and take refuge behind the formula “I am just as anti-Fascist as anyone, but…” The result of that so-called peace propaganda is just as dishonest and intellectually disgusting as war propaganda. Like war propaganda, it concentrates on putting forward a “case,” obscuring the opponent’s point of view and avoiding awkward questions.
Here are some of those awkward questions: Is the United States the only military power on Earth? Is it the least restrained and the most destructive one? Are its enemies more respectful of human life and freedom, or less?
If the U.S.-led coalition loses in Iraq, who wins? And what happens afterwards?