One of the most interesting political developments in recent years has been the resurrection of the self-proclaimed “Peace Movement” in the United States. Most of us had assumed that the peace movement was among the casualties of Sept. 11, 2001, but its recent revival and the scope of popular support it has gotten in some quarters may prove otherwise.
If we are to examine the peace movement we must first examine it’s popular appeal. The reason for the popular appeal of the peace movement is simple and obvious: we live in dangerous and complex times, times that will require all manner of sacrifices on the part of average Americans, and America and its allies, to take actions–including wars–that will be morally questionable and dangerous.
In particular, President Bush has had to make some tough decisions. One of the main decisions Bush has had to make is to pursue an aggressive policy of American interventionism around the world to forestall terrorism and related threats. We have already invaded Afghanistan to root out the Taliban and Al Quaeda, increased our presence in the Middle East, provided massive amounts of aid to Colombia to keep Communist guerrillas and drug lords from seizing control of that country, instituted a massive aid program to help the victims of AIDS in Africa, launched a military occupation of Central Asia and prepared to attack Iraq to prevent that nation’s weapons of mass destruction from falling into the wrong hands. All of these polices will be costly and dangerous, and unpopular in many quarters.
Because he wants to secure America from future 9/11 style attacks (both from the immediate threat of Islamic extremism and the possible threat of Marxist terrorism from Latin America and Africa), Bush has had little choice but to do these things. For the first time in years, a President has been listening to the experts around him: the diplomats from the State Department, the analysts from the CIA and NSA, the military officers and others–and is acting on their advice.
The course of action Bush has embarked upon is a necessary one, but it will also be a costly and dangerous one. Taxes will have to be raised to pay for these adventures, arrogant intellectuals foreign and domestic will attack America for it, foreigners will accuse America of imperialism, American military personnel will be killed on overseas battlefields, innocent foreign civilians will be killed in American military actions overseas, America may have to resort to covert operations and dirty tricks such as assassination, coups and kidnaping, we may have to work with unsavory allies who don’t share our values and the civil rights of Americans here at home could be violated in efforts to control terrorism.
All this will have to be done because there are evil, stupid and misguided people in the world who want to kill us. That’s a nasty reality that a lot of people don’t like and can’t accept. Hence the appeal of the peace movement and its message that if only we were to be nice to the bad guys and try to live in peace with them, the bad guys will suddenly become civilized, start behaving themselves, and leave us alone.
That, of course, is a fantasy, a fantasy that has already been tried. America tried to leave Bin Laden and his allies alone in Afghanistan. We tried to leave the Islamic warlords alone to rule over their little fiefs in Afghanistan and Somalia. We even pulled out of Somalia. We tried to leave Saddam Hussein to rule over his kingdom in Iraq. It didn’t work, the Islamic warlords in Afghanistan harbored the Al Quaeda and allowed Bin Laden to run training camps for his killer fanatics and laboratories to create super weapons. Saddam has refused to disarm or to cooperate with the UN or to abide by international law.
We find ourselves in a dangerous new reality, in a world which we share with evil people who want to kill us, and destroy our nation and way of life. Such a reality is frightening and uncomfortable, and it requires us to take risks and make sacrifices. Many people can’t accept such a reality so they start buying into other false views of reality such as those offered by the peace movement.
By claiming that all America has to do is ignore these threats and obey international law, the peace movement is living in a comfortable dream world. By claiming that the war is the work of an evil conspiracy of the military industrial complex and oil interests, the peace movement can ignore the frightening reality that we are faced with enemies who want to destroy us and are willing to sacrifice their own lives for that cause. A corrupt conspiracy of George Bush and the Pentagon is an almost comical farce of villainy that won’t give anybody nightmares, Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein are real-life nightmares that scare average people to death–and rightly so.
This of course isn’t the first time that Americans have faced a new and frightening world by embracing a peace movement offering a simple panacea for the world’s problems. Back in the 1930s, America faced with the triple threat of Japanese Imperialism, Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia, embraced what was called the Isolationist Movement. The Isolationist movement’s basic message was a simple one: all America had to do was stay out of the world’s affairs and the United States would be safe and free. If America didn’t antagonize Hitler, Stalin, and the Japanese warlords, those tyrants would leave us alone. That, of course, turned out to be nonsense, the Japanese attacked America, and Hitler joined in by declaring war on the US and unleashing his U-Boats against the East Coast.
Like today’s peace activists, the America First Movement attributed the impending war on a simplistic conspiracy theory, the evil merchants of death (arms manufacturers) had started World War I to increase their profits and were planning to do it again. This of course was nonsense. It was the aggressive imperialism of Japan combined with Hitler’s desire for war that led to all out conflict.
Yet despite its delusions the isolationist movement, or America First as it was called, attracted tens of thousands of members including many celebrities and important businessmen. Members came from all sides of the political spectrum and included right-wingers, such as William Randolph Hearst, as well as America’s most prominent leftist, Socialist Party leader Norman Thomas. Its rallies drew huge crowds. Its political organization, the America First Committee, had a huge war chest. At its height, the America First movement succeeded in keeping American out of the war even after the fall of France.
Like today’s peace activists, the isolationists were average Americans who simply couldn’t accept the dangerous times in which they lived. As with today’s peace movement America First’s arguments were silly and simplistic, and out of touch with the times. History has proved that the America First Movement was wrong and misguided, today’s peace movement will be no different.
The peace movement is an example of humanity’s seemingly infinite inability to accept awful and unpleasant realities and, instead, to create pleasant fantasies to take the place of those realities. Hopefully we Americans won’t go as far as the isolationists who refused to accept the horrible reality of Nazi and Imperial Japanese aggression until it was too late to do anything about it other than all-out war.