Politics & Policy

Down With The Peace Movement

The trouble with the antiwar warriors.

The advocates of “peace at any price” are not waiting for a declaration of war against Iraq. Months ago they booked flights and hotel rooms and scheduled time off from work and school to attend prewar protests in America and abroad. Many have spent hours kneeling over posters with wide-tipped magic markers, scratching out their signature policy proverbs, such as “CHOOSE PEACE NOT WAR.” An activist group called Voices in the Wilderness is sending small groups of American and British protesters to Baghdad. Over 100 celebrities signed an open letter opposing military action in Iraq. In October, actor Sean Penn placed an ad in the Washington Post that criticized President Bush’s war policy. He then traveled to Baghdad to assess the situation for himself and, presumably, for his fans. Not surprisingly, Mr. Penn concluded that America, not Iraq, is to blame for the current tensions between the two nations. No doubt he will trek to Pyongyang before next summer and reach a similar conclusion.

Peace activists may be well intentioned; but at their worst, they are more helpful to America’s enemies than to America. The best we can say is that they are clinically naïve. They are as insufferable as a college freshman who believes he and his political-science professor can end poverty if only people would listen. It is as if the peace activists believe they have discovered for the first time those self-evident and thus ancient truths that human life is sacred, and war is tragic. Little do they know that a majority of the Iraqis who stroll past their peace marches in Baghdad support an American invasion. Many would eagerly fight and risk death in an armed revolution if they could obtain the resources and momentum to launch one for themselves.

Naïveté allows the peace movement to thrive, but it is animated by arrogance.


While campaigning for the presidency, candidate Bush said that his administration would conduct its foreign policy with less arrogance than past administrations had displayed. He is now widely accused of forsaking the less-arrogant approach and of choosing, instead, to rattle his saber at any dictator he thinks he can rattle. But is it really arrogant for the president to insist that a violent and unpredictable dictator with ambitions to control the world’s oil supply — who is also a friend of al Qaeda — should be denied a secret nuclear, chemical- and biological-weapons program? Is it arrogant to suggest that Saddam Hussein should be removed from power if he continues to defy and deceive the international community? Likewise, is it arrogant to expect the North Koreans to abide by the Agreed Framework, under which the U.S. promised to inject millions of U.S. tax dollars into the faltering North Korean economy? Perhaps it is slightly arrogant, but the peace movement is fantastically more arrogant.

The peace movement is founded upon a subtle ethnocentrism that escapes detection even by the multicultural Left where most peace activists are bred. The group that most openly celebrates the diversity of mankind does not understand that many people in the world hold diverse beliefs and subscribe to ideologies that are entirely independent of American influence. In the mind of the peace activist, America is not just the sole superpower, it is the center of gravity for all world events; and so every world event is simply an equal (and sometimes opposite) reaction to a prior American action. Peace activists believe that America’s economy and culture are such dominant forces in the lives of people throughout the world that the actions and policies of other nations can be interpreted only as mere reactions to the actions and policies of the United States government. Therefore, they believe America has the unbounded ability to manipulate foreign governments through economic and cultural means.

Peacenik foreign policy is really very simple: Without an action by the United States, there will be no reaction by others. If America does not start a war, there will be no war. This is the arrogant ethnocentrism of the peace movement. Under this view, it is unthinkable that quaint little dictators — such as Saddam Hussein or Kim Jong-il — might deign to manipulate America as much or more than America tries to manipulate them. It is unthinkable that a nation would resort to building nuclear weapons if they did not first feel threatened by the world’s only super-bully. It is inconceivable that Saddam Hussein or Kim Jong-il might have diabolical plans and evil aspirations that were not created by, and are not controlled by, the U.S. State Department. The peace activist then reaches the conclusion that the United States can make a unilateral decision for peace, simply by choosing to lay down its arms. If the United States would ignore open and notorious breaches of U.N. directives and treaties, and simply refuse to disturb the current state of peace, then peace would prevail by default.

Of course, the choice between war and peace is not ours alone. There could be war — and likely will be war — regardless of our course of action. The only questions are: on whose terms, and on whose turf?

Many members of the peace movement also hold tightly to a loosely defined utopianism. They believe that the human race (save conservative Republicans) is evolving toward a higher and more noble plane of social existence. The activists themselves are, of course, at the forefront of the evolutionary curve; while the Cro-Magnon in the White House and his Cabinet of Neanderthals stubbornly resist progress. Although the Left has largely declared the concepts of “good” and “evil” to be passé, the peace activist believes that the heart of man is intrinsically “good,” and that it would be “evil” if we do not give Saddam Hussein every chance to let his goodness shine through.

Utopianism is dead in the minds of most people, because as veterans of the 20th century, which was the bloodiest century ever, we cannot deny that “good” and “evil” are entangled within the hearts of men and many of his ideologies, and that peace is little more than a welcome respite between wars. We also know that unless the Saddam Hussein’s and Kim Jong-il’s of the world are Utopians too, then to champion utopianism in America or Europe is useless. Utopianism is folly; unilateral utopianism is suicidal. But rather than adjust their policy to reflect reality, the peace activists will march in circles, carry their signs, and wait for reality to reflect their policy.


While the peace activists march, the president and his Cabinet must face reality. Nations acquire weapons of mass destruction for one of three reasons: to deter their enemies, to obtain leverage in diplomacy, or to attack. Nations that wish to accomplish either of the first two objectives must announce their arsenals to the world. America is open about its nuclear capabilities to deter aggression. North Korea has boldly announced its nuclear capacity to set up another diplomatic shakedown. A nation keeps its weapons program secret, conversely, if it is planning an attack. Iraq’s weapons program is highly secretive.

Iraq also has ties to a terrorist network that is unlike any of America’s historical enemies. The man who recently sprayed bullets into a Southern Baptist hospital in Yemen, killing three American missionaries and wounding a fourth, confessed that he did it to “get closer to God.” Negotiations, economic sanctions and even appeasement are useless in the face of this new threat: terror as an end in itself. The peace activists have nothing to offer toward a solution. They are wrong to distinguish between the war on terror and the war against Iraq. Terrorists need money, safe harbor, weapons, training and intelligence. All signs indicate that al Qaeda gets them from sponsor states such as Iraq. Again, the peace activists have no response other than “CHOOSE PEACE NOT WAR.”

The peace activists are sincere, dedicated, and sometimes they display bravery and even a patriotism of sorts. But their policy of unilateral passivity will leave us vulnerable to being nickeled-to-death. Jimmy Carter was right when he said that war is evil, but only in the sense that war is the most undesirable state of human affairs. More evil than war, however, is the sentiment that pervades the peace movement: That there is nothing worth fighting for. Luckily there is a large group of Americans — those in uniform — who are willing to do the very dirty work that may be necessary to achieve another extended period of peace.

— Adam G. Mersereau served in the enlisted and officer ranks of the United States Marine Corps from 1990 to 1995. He is now an attorney in Atlanta, Georgia.


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