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Now that the Iraq War has revealed itself as a second Vietnam, has anti-war activism become the popular thing to do?

Anti-war activism has long been practiced by the citizens of war-mongering countries.  In the 1960's, outraged protestors cried out against the Vietnam War from every corner of the planet.  In the face of a war unsupported by the people of the country who waged it, outraged Americans could be found protesting on the streets of DC, organizing rallies on college campuses, and playing their music or protesting on the sidewalks of nearly every city in the United States.  As the media continued to publish the work of the independent journalists on the ground, America and the rest of the world shouted back in defiance at the horrifying images of war projected onto their television screens and emblazoned across newspapers and magazine covers.  In 2003, however, a society once ignited by the inhumanity of world governments went dormant, even in the face of a war just as unjust and circumstances equally as devastating.  Blinded by patriotism, the TV pundits and politicians sang their support for the war, crying out loyally against Weapons of Mass Destruction, and later shifting gears like lemmings, supporting "Operation Iraqi Freedom" and the removal of a brutal dictator.  As the civilian death toll in Iraq exploded and the war droned on, the voices of the anti-war activists remained quiet, silenced, perhaps, by the convincing biases of the right-wing media and a society completely out of sync with the realities of world events.

Yet time has an odd way of revealing the truth.  Now, nearly four years on, with no end to this war in sight, the anti-war activists are beginning to find their voices again.  As more and more US and UK soldiers are sent to die in vain, and their loved ones back home grow weary of the wait, public approval for the war has steadily declined.  The proponents of the war have lost their stamina and are growing impatient, and amidst this throng of public disapproval, anti-war activists are finding their way out of the womb, born again before our very eyes.

In the midst of today’s chaos, hundreds of US Senators and British MPs who initially supported the war have now changed their stance.  This may work for the average citizen who now cries out to “Bring our troops home!”  Yet the “If I knew then what I knew now…” excuse just doesn’t cut it when you are a decision-making government official.

In 2003, Hilary Rodham Clinton voted in support of Bush’s Iraq Resolution.  In 2004, when the messy aftermath reality was revealed, she bent slightly, stating: "How could they have been so poorly prepared for the aftermath of the toppling of Saddam Hussein?  I don't understand how they had such an unrealistic view of what was going to happen” (CNN.com, 21 April, 2004).  Yet, in spite of her criticism of the Bush Administration’s faulty clean-up operations, Clinton stood by her initial support of the war, stating:   “No, I don't regret giving the president authority because at the time it was in the context of weapons of mass destruction, grave threats to the United States, and clearly, Saddam Hussein had been a real problem for the international community for more than a decade."  Her support for her vote continued until the real doubt began brewing amongst the American public.  In 2005, when the situation in Iraq really started to reveal itself as hopeless for US troops and their families, Clinton publicly admitted that her vote for the 2003 Iraq Resolution was “a mistake,” stating: "If Congress had been asked [to authorize the war], based on what we know now, we never would have agreed" (NewsMax.com, 29 November, 2005).  Today, Hilary boasts a clear anti-war platform, stating her plans to gradually bring all troops out of Iraq if elected to the presidency.  According to a Hilary campaign web site, VoteHilary.org, “Sen. Clinton has always felt that the Administration did not have a clear plan for what exactly to do with the war in Iraq. Now, more than ever, the Administration owes all the armed forces, as well as their families, an apology for their lack of intelligence of what they were getting themselves into.”  If this is the case, then why did she vote for the Resolution in the first place?  It seems that her anti-war platform is all-too-conveniently timed with her bid for the 2008 Presidential Election.  This position shift is not too dissimilar from that of Senator John Kerry, who voted for the Iraq Resolution in 2003, but later took a strong anti-war stance while campaigning in the presidential race of 2004.

Yet perhaps not all of these position-shifters have motives that are quite so sinister.  Much like born-again Christians, who often believe that the drastic change in their lives somehow absolves them from the sins of what they believe to be a dark past, perhaps, in some odd way, born-again anti-war activism is a release for some from horrific guilt.  Even those who originally voted against the Iraq Resolution in 2003 have since stated that they had no way of knowing the atrocities that were to unfold.  British Liberal Democrat shadow Foreign Secretary Michael Moore stated: “All of us on these benches and many others in the House opposed the original, dreadful decision to invade Iraq. We feared the worst but even in our pessimism we underestimated the horrors of the situation as we see them today. There needs to be accountability for the mistakes that were made and there needs to be lessons learned” (The Independent, 1 November 2006).  If those who voted against the war in 2003 are capable of realizing their mistakes, then just imagine how former war proponents must feel in the aftermath of the destruction!  Is it possible that some of our politicians and media sources made a genuine mistake?  That they were duped by the lies of their President or Prime Minister and now have seen the error of their ways?  And, if so, do they now believe that their new-found activism will somehow rid them of the responsibility for the war they initially supported?

In any case, “oops” is simply not good enough at the cost of so much human life and suffering.  Where was this sudden attack of conscience back in 2003?  The Senators and MPs who voted against the war back then were the black sheep, often accused of being unpatriotic or cowardly.  But could their accusers honestly not have foreseen the bleak prospects, even back then, in the face of WMD?  Why did we have to wait for hundreds of thousands to die in vain before taking action?  It seems that the anti- or pro-war camps shift their stances to the beat of a high school popularity contest rather than a matter of just foreign policy or even humanity.  While we certainly can not deny the new-found anti-war cries of these powerful voices, we must stop and ask ourselves where these voices were when they were really needed?  Anti-war activism is not a platform for advancing one's political agenda, nor is it an opportunity to boost public ratings or to pacify the angry cries of a society which no longer stands by the lies of their leaders.  "Bringing the troops home" should not be used as a bribe to gain votes and sway public opinion.  It is time for politicians, the media, and the rest of the world to take responsibility for their actions and come to the realization that peace is not a trend, a fad, or a fashion statement.  Nor it is a holy absolution from immense personal guilt.

1st February 2007
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Born-Again Anti-War Activists
By Jill A. Bolstridge