Let's Look Right and Left Too!

Earlier this year, when an Off-Broadway play opened with the deliciously pertinent title, u201CNow That Communism is Dead My Life Feels Empty!u201D I thought of the writer Mark Danner's apt remark in the liberal World Policy Journal that, more than a decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States is still u201Cmarooned in the cold war.u201D Stranded, beached, in a frozen state of paralysis. The danger of accidental, deliberate or terrorist-inspired nuclear war has not evaporated and the need for reciprocal and verifiable reduction and elimination of nuclear arms more pressing than ever. (After Robert McNamara viewed u201C13 Days,u201D the riveting film about the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, he told a PBS audience he believed the world had been closer to nuclear war than even depicted in the movie.).

So with thanks to Jonathan Swift, here is my own u201Cmodest proposal.u201D Let peacemakers of all ideological and political beliefs broaden their search for new and additional partners in the battle against war and warmakers by forming tactical alliances with antiwar, anti-conscription groups and people with whom they may not always agree. (Does anyone remember Murray Rothbard's journal Left and Right?)?

During the air war against Serbia, many in and out the traditional foreign policy elite expressed their unhappiness because u201COur Boysu201D were not sent into combat (u201Cthe what's-the-use-of-having-a-military-if-we-won't-use-them syndromeu201D). And today, our Beltway's unrepentant warriors, an integral part of the cloistered and influential foreign policy oligarchy – few of whom have ever been on active military service and whose kids will probably never serve either-now have a new shibboleth called u201Chegemonyu201D or u201Cglobal leadershipu201D However one defines it, Barbara Conry of the libertarian-conservative Cato Institute put it well in describing it as u201Cessentially coercive, relying on u2018diplomacy' backed by threats or military action.u201D

But – and this is my essential point – antiwar and nonviolent activists of various political stances continue to rely too much on opportunistic, habitually fainthearted political allies who may be with them on domestic policies but who are too often mute whenever Washington unleashes its military and political muscle in Central and Latin America, Lebanon and the Middle East, Grenada, Panama and the Balkans, not to mention the first four or five years of the Vietnam War.

New u201Ccrisesu201D will surely arise and wars threaten (Taiwan? Korea?) and we need to develop a working coalition and relationship with antiwar people of all stripes, the better to counter the warmakers' propaganda and resist their call to arms. The coalition I propose includes liberals and leftists, moderates, libertarians and conservatives, and of course ordinary Americans unhappy about sending their kids off to yet another American military intervention. Let's ask ourselves: Do we really need another memorial to our war dead in Washington?

Many of you will find other attitudes on domestic issues personally objectionable, but antiwar people can use all the partners they can find without subjecting them to rigid ideological or special interest purity tests. Like their politics and views on abortion, guns, free trade, public health and the environment or not, many of us nevertheless regularly express strong and articulate reservations about American actions abroad. We're often denigrated as u201Cneo-isolationists,u201D but we know the term is a deliberate way of trying to limit or close off serious, tough public debate about alternatives to policies that could very well lead to the next war.

Certainly China is high on the enemies list for our latest crop of Washington-based hawks, whose extraordinarily exorbitant and still technologically unworkable missile defense scheme is aimed less at so-called rogue states than at China, lest they challenge American mastery of East Asia.Writing in the British newspaper The Independent late last August, the liberal Andrew Marshall rightly concluded that, bit by bit, with very little open discussion or dissent, China is becoming our newest adversary, and, more ominously, u201CThe U.S. is thinking itself into a new global conflict.u201D

Consider, too, Bill Clinton's misconceived policy of expanding NATO to the Russian frontier and his equally perilous scheme (with a majority of congressional backing) that sent $1.3 billion in largely military aid to Colombia in its alleged war on drugs (a war that's as inane as it is futile). Other possible (and presently ignored) future wars that will sooner or later have their cheerleaders and u201Cexpert analystsu201D urging action in defense of u201Cfreedomu201D include the potentially lethal, though still muted, struggle presently underway between the U.S., Russia, Turkey, Iran, the oil giants and others for control of Central Asia's vast oil deposits.

Perceptive conservatives and libertarians are dissenting. Like Harry Browne, who ran for the presidency on the widely ignored Libertarian ticket in 2000, but who memorably (at least for me) wrote, u201CWar is genocide, torture, cruelty, propaganda, dishonesty and slavery. War is the worst obscenity government can inflict upon its subjects. It makes every other political crime – corruption, bribery, favoritism, vote-buying, graft, dishonesty-seem petty.u201D Not many politicians and media pundits will dare say this aloud and mean it.

There are a lot of others neither libertarian, conservative or rightwing who are saying the same thing. So I have asked my fellow antiwar progressives: Aren't antiwar, anti-draft people worth reading and perhaps getting to know?

And, to my conservative and libertarian friends I also ask: Shouldn't you too get to know your liberal and leftist antiwar counterparts?

Left and Right Against War. Why not?

June 5, 2001

Murray Polner co-authored Disarmed and Dangerous: The Radical Lives and Times of Daniel and Philip Berrigan and wrote No Victory Parades: The Return of the Vietnam Veteran. He also wrote Branch Rickey: A Biography, the story of a southern Ohio conservative who racially integrated previously all-white baseball. A version of this article appeared originally in Fellowship magazine, but addressed specifically to its pacifist, progressive and liberal readers.