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Patriots or Peacemakers
When a war starts, its opponents must decide whether they are primarily loyal citizens or peacemakers, prepared for the risk of civic disobedience. The true peacemakers know no homeland
by Dejan JOVIC
Slobodna Dalmacija, Split, Croatia, April 5, 2003
Peace movements all over the world are today facing the same problems as those faced at the time, some ten years ago, by the anti-war activists in Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia-Hercegovina. Although very strong before the start of the war, two weeks into fighting they have failed to achieve anything. They are increasingly quiet and weaker. Why?
There are four reasons for that relative failure of the peace movement. First, anti-war protests make sense before the war starts, because their goal is to prevent war, stop it before it starts. Therefore, the very beginning of the war is a sign of failure. Once the war starts, peace movements may achieve something only in the countries facing realistic possibility of general mobilization [military draft]. Very little can be done in the countries with professional military, where majority of population experiences the war as a cyber-event taking far away from their homes.
Secondly, once the war starts, many sincere opponents of the war find themselves in a different role. That can be easily seen in Scotland. In Scotland the population overwhelmingly opposed the war. However, as in the British Army Scotts are very numerous, overrepresented with respect to their percentage of the British population, now many of them are facing the situation where their acquaintances, friends, relatives or even sons and brothers participate in the war. In new circumstances, they are now hoping only for its swift (and successful for Britain, i.e. victorious) end. It is natural that people find it easier to empathize with the suffering of those who are close to them, i.e. "our boys". Therefore, even those who sincerely opposed the war, with the start of the war loose strength to oppose it, holding that "now that the war has started" it's best "for it to end as soon as possible". We did not want the war, but now that it has started, let it end as soon as possible. That argument today absolutely dominates the British public opinion. Naturally, the government and pro-government media are trying to make sure that that attitude does not lead to the conclusion - let it end whatever the cost, i.e. regardless of the outcome. The authorities remind the populace daily that every outcome but a "total victory", or "unconditional capitulation" (of Iraq) would be tantamount to some sort of general catastrophe or even the downfall of civilization. Now, they say, we cannot stop half way, because that would be a defeat for Britain, America, the West, and "civilization in general". But, even if that would be a defeat for the British and Americans only, that defeat would really have catastrophic consequences for daily life of ordinary people in those countries. The currency may collapse, the credibility of the country would fall through the floor, their international status would totally change, all institutions would be destabilized, trust in the military would disappear etc. Therefore, the demand that the war stop is almost the same as demanding that America and Britain commit suicide. Very few individuals are prepared for something like that.
Ours And Theirs
Finally, the most important reason that silenced peace movements is that they failed to find a way to effectively fight "patriotic" rhetoric (just like in the former Yugoslavia), which took control of the public discourse. Media controlled by the centers of power boiled down the whole story to the dilemma "do you want our or their victory?" Once the war starts, this is not an abstract issue without relation to reality. British soldiers are dying in Iraq. Therefore, (patriotic forces claim) it is the duty of every British subject to demonstrate solidarity with the military and encourage them. Protests against the war "sap the morale" of soldiers, "hitting them in the back". The protests are unpatriotic. "Patriotic" media denounce peace protesters as traitors. Police (especially in America) is applying much more repression against them than at peace time. The authorities threaten to enact laws that would treat peaceful protests as support of terrorism. Besides, in extraordinary circumstances hardly anyone cares why someone was arrested, whether he is truly a terrorist or only a peace campaigner. "National interest" and greedy nationalism are in this case, just like in the wars in the former Yugoslavia, the chief opponent of peace and peace campaigners.
In such circumstances, civic disobedience requires a lot of courage. Every opponent of a war waged by his own country must decide whether he wants to be primarily a loyal citizen of a true opponent of war. True peacemakers (let me paraphrase Karl Marx) know no homeland. And those who put their homeland first, must sometimes accept a war they do not believe in and do not support. In today's world, it seems that their number is on the increase.
Translated on February 4, 2004