Daze of Rage
Wartime performance art in American cities.


James S. Robbins

I read with interest a report out of San Francisco about the “rough” treatment some antiwar demonstrators got at the hands of the SFPD. Some complained that their hands were bound too tightly. Others noted the use of scare tactics, such as threatening to withhold bathroom privileges from a protester who refused to identify herself. (“That is not right,” one survivor commented.) Some were forced to sleep overnight on cell floors, others on mats in a gymnasium. The sandwiches they were given to eat “didn’t taste great.” Some women were called “little girl” or “hon.” The horror, the horror. Contrast these accounts with the latest revelation about the treatment of dissidents in Iraq, namely being fed through industrial-grade plastic shredders. The lucky ones go in head first. Imagine it. Seriously, take a minute and try to conceive it. What would be going through your mind the instant your feet made contact with the whirling metal? Bad sandwiches?

I don’t take the peace movement seriously, certainly not as seriously as it takes itself, which is far out of proportion to reality and best analyzed through the lens of social psychology alá Eric Hoffer. Michael Moore’s selfish performance at the Oscars last night is a case in point. What interest could possibly be served by this intellectual leader of the Left mouthing off in his usual way, other than to satisfy some sort of quest for self fulfillment? It certainly did not help shorten the war, and nullified the impact of the much classier statements by other Academy members focusing on the safety of the men and women in uniform. Another moment of high sanctimony took place over the weekend at a federal courthouse in Baltimore, where UMD students staged a “funeral for democracy.” One young woman flat on her back on the grass stated, “We are mourning the deaths of innocent Iraqis who have no responsibility for anything their government may have done.” But did she ever have the urge to make a public spectacle of herself mourning the innocent Iraqi victims of Saddam’s tyranny? Did it ever cross her mind that a funeral for democracy has been appropriate vis-à-vis Iraq every day of Saddam’s rule?

Peace enthusiasts use the expression “not in our name” without irony, although it can most properly be applied to the antiwar movement itself. The last CNN poll I saw showed 76% approval of the use of force to disarm Iraq, and only 20% disapproval. Moreover, of those 20%, I wonder how many would sign on to the radical left agenda of International A.N.S.W.E.R? The fact that this is a vocal minority seems even to be finally understood by the media, though coverage of weekend demonstrations was nonstop. The same old demonstrators voiced the same old phrases. The war is illegal. It is immoral. It is racist. No blood for oil. (How many arrived in cars, one wonders?) The money spent on the war would better be spent on education. One self-described New York schoolteacher made this point; basically, she was demonstrating for a raise. Some protesters brought their children, even babies, draped with slogans — children who can have no idea why they are there, other than as props in their parents’ life-theater. It will be the shock of their lives when the rebellious child comes home after a year in college and confesses to being a Republican.

The ubiquitous expression “we support the troops” is a long way from the more traditional “baby killers.” Today’s protesters are forced by necessity to take this approach since these days most Americans respect the military, and spitting on the uniform is not something likely to generate public approval. One might wonder if the troops want their support, or rather consider them to be a nuisance and an impediment to their mission. Luckily for the protesters, the men and women in uniform do not enjoy the same First Amendment freedoms, and can’t express how they feel on political issues. The related question of “patriotism” came up in every report I saw, and in each case, it was a reporter who brought it up. In fact I have never heard anyone but a reporter raise the issue. It has become a cliché, something the antiwar crowd flogs for their own benefit, allowing them an extra dose of umbrage as they boldly assert their Americanism in the face of public boredom. I was very amused when in Chicago both demonstrators and counter-demonstrators chanted “USA! USA!” Nice everyone can agree on something.

New York protesters shouted “tell it like it is” to reporters whom they feel are shills for the Defense Department. In response, al Jazeera told it exactly how it is, airing Iraqi video of the corpses of American soldiers, some with suspicious gunshots to the head, along with American prisoners of war being abused and humiliated. I recall an earnest protester stating over the weekend, “People need to realize what’s going on [in Iraq].” Well, now they know.

Many peace marchers invoked Gandhi and King, but they will never be subjected to the purifying sacrifices necessary for true satyagraha. They can afford to do this because of their confidence that they will be treated humanely. This is in part because no one takes them seriously and everyone knows what they are doing is performance art. But it is also because the United States is the freest country in the world, and the system is committed to their rights of self-expression. I would respect the antiwar demonstrators much more if they volunteered to be human shields in Baghdad, because at least then they would be putting themselves at genuine risk for their beliefs. (Can we refer to those who do not go overseas for peace as chicken doves?) If they did so they might have an epiphany like the one recently visited on Kenneth Joseph. According to UPI, Joseph, a former human shield and pastor with the Assyrian Church of the East, was “shocked back to reality” by contact with average Iraqis who spoke to him privately without Saddam’s secret police present. He was told “they would commit suicide if American bombing didn’t start. They were willing to see their homes demolished to gain their freedom from Saddam’s bloody tyranny. They convinced me that Saddam was a monster the likes of which the world had not seen since Stalin and Hitler. He and his sons are sick sadists. Their tales of slow torture and killing made me ill.” He has it all on video, so perhaps PBS could edit it down for a Bill Moyers special.

The set of evidence used in the Nuremberg trials was published in a multivolume work entitled Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression. Soon a similar anthology will be assembled for war-crimes trials in Iraq, either under international auspices, or by the new Iraqi government. Saddam’s archives will not only demonstrate his defiance of the U.N. by producing weapons of mass destruction, and document his regime’s links to terrorist groups including al Qaeda, but will also lay bare the workings of the apparatus of oppression of Saddam’s police state, as heartless and brutal as any in history. All of this will prove the case for conflict. In victory, the conditions which have made Iraq a human-rights nightmare and a global pariah state will be removed. And in years to come Iraqis will enjoy peace and freedom in their homeland, will build civil society, will have the right to speak and worship freely without fear of reprisal, as well as the ability to profit from the natural wealth of their country. They will no longer have to bow to images of a corrupt and heartless megalomaniac, will not have to fear execution for thinking freely, and generally will be able to enjoy lives of opportunity and personal fulfillment. And all of these blessings will come about with no thanks whatsoever to the peace movement.

— James S. Robbins is a national-security analyst & NRO contributor.