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February 2003 • Vol 3, No. 2 •

Challenges in the U.S. Antiwar Movement

By the Editors

Important questions face the new antiwar movement. Events have galvanized mass opposition in the United States to the looming war on Iraq. Everyone in the movement is very clear on our task—to stop this war by mobilizing so massive a movement in the streets that our message cannot be ignored.

The biggest questions facing the movement are: What demands should we make, upon whom should we make them, and what form should the antiwar movement take as it broadens its support amongst the American people?

As the Bush administration, supported unanimously by the bipartisan Congress, drags the American people into a war against Iraq, there is an unprecedented worldwide mobilization to stop it. It is now less than a month since the historic worldwide January 18th demonstration, sponsored in the U.S. by International A.N.S.W.E.R. Yet another intense mobilization is underway for another international “Stop the War on Iraq” demonstration on February 15.

It was initiated by the anti-globalization movement in Europe, and organized in the United States by another new national antiwar coalition, United for Peace and Justice, which has set New York City as the site of a national east coast demonstration and has garnered support for this mobilization from all sectors of the antiwar movement.

Bay Area United Against War (BAUAW), which endorsed the A.N.S.W.E.R demonstration in San Francisco last month, joined the worldwide call for the February 15 action in Europe and New York City. The San Francisco-based coalition, BAUAW, also initiated the united action by all four antiwar coalitions on February 15. (Events beyond our control, however, compelled the organizers to change the day and date to Sunday, February 16.)

Furthermore, many other local groups in cities and towns far from New York and San Francisco have also organized antiwar actions for February 15 in coalitions both independent and affiliated with the national antiwar coalitions.

The most positive developments so far in both the international and U.S. antiwar movements are the street mobilizations that unite masses of working people against U.S. plans to invade Iraq. The “Stop the War Against Iraq” demand is the lowest common denominator for the antiwar movement—the umbrella under which all opponents of the U.S.-initiated and led war on Iraq can unite.

Different views on how to stop the war

However, within the antiwar movement there are some important disagreements over how to achieve our common goal of stopping the U.S. (and its British junior partner) from launching a massive bombing assault and invasion of Iraq. We are among those in the antiwar movement who see our main responsibility as opposing the criminal policies of our own government. This opposition is most clearly expressed in the demand that the U.S. withdraw from the whole Middle East and bring all its troops and weapons home. And closely connected with that is the antiwar movement’s demand that not one penny be spent to fund the U.S. war machine and thus use those badly needed funds for construction instead of destruction.

Other peace activists, however, argue for letting UN weapons inspections proceed instead of going to war at this time. Some also argue explicitly and others implicitly that if the UN inspectors discover a “smoking gun” that they claim “proves” Saddam Hussein’s regime to be in violation of UN resolutions, it would then be okay for the world’s only super-power to attack and murder tens or hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi people.

In fact, even Nelson Mandela, who justly blasted President Bush for his war mongering and who denounced the U.S. for its use of nuclear weapons against Japan at the end of WWII is one of those who argues that a war on Iraq would be justified if the UN grants its approval.

Other courageous opponents of criminal U.S. wars, such as Daniel Ellsberg, have argued.mistakenly for letting the U.N. inspectors do their job, as have many leaders of United for Peace and Justice. But, most of these peace activists are silent on the matter of where they would stand if the UN supports the war on Iraq. Placing confidence in the UN as a just and objective force for peace would disorient the antiwar movement and set it off the straight track against this war. If the past is any guide to the future, there always are some who oppose wars before they begin but jump on the war bandwagon after it starts. Therefore, we must think through to the end the consequences of putting faith in the UN and where it has led in the past to see where it is likely to lead in the days immediately ahead.

As another disorienting factor, some leaders of the antiwar movement trust in Democratic Party congresspersons to help avert or stop the war. But all members of Congress voted the funds to carry out this war no matter what they say now! These are no friends of peace.

Experience teaches that often those with the best intentions in the world can lose their way, ending up where they had no intention to go—supporting this unjust war for control over the world’s supply of oil and to maintain American imperialist world domination.

We seek to unite all those who agree to march together under the slogan of “No War on Iraq!” As someone once said during the Vietnam War days, we achieve unity despite diversity. This way, the differences we have over how to most effectively organize our common struggle to stop this war need not interfere with joint action by all components of the antiwar movement. At the same time, a healthy debate continues and diverse policies are contrasted in the slogans each of us carries in our joint marches and protest demonstrations. This is entirely within the best traditions of genuine grass-roots democracy and has proven its effectiveness in the movement against the Vietnam War.

We hope that the four coalitions, Bay Area United Against War, International A.N.S.W.E.R., Not In Our Name, and United for Peace and Justice, continue joint action.

—Carole Seligman, for the Editors





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