The OP Peace Fair: A nice idea that won't change much


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Carl Nyburg

I attended the Peace Fair organized by the Oak Park Coalition for Truth and Justice. I love my brothers and sisters in the anti-war movement, but I disagree with some assumptions about peace and politics.

Doesn't it seem weird that "peace" has become a pejorative term outside religious institutions and young hip urbanites? How did this happen?

The anti-war movement is much less of a monolith than the mainstream media portrays. It has at least five types of peace activists.1) The "do it my way" utopians want everyone to embrace their ideology. For example, the Communists explain that if everybody embraced their form of Marxism then we wouldn't have these conflicts.

This is the equivalent of achieving peace by getting everyone to become Roman Catholics. War could be avoided by having the Pope intervene. It may be true, but it's not going to happen. How much intellectual freedom could there be in a world that avoids conflict by making all adopt one ideology?

The solidarity activists identify with a persecuted ethnic group. Many ethnic Serbs protested the U.S. bombing of Yugoslavia, but didn't remain part of the anti-war movement. Most of the solidarity activists at the fair were focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.2) The "individual acts of conscience" camp dominated the fair and is most numerous among the grassroots activists of the anti-war movement. There are pacifists and almost-pacifists. The Quakers deserve credit for providing inspiration for this wing of the anti-war movement. The New Testament is highly influential for these people. Keeping an individual soul out of the military is like saving a soul from eternal damnation. The "conscience" camp understands ethics as a large number of individual decisions. If everybody just refused to participate in war, then it wouldn't happen.3) The "structuralists" believe that political and legal institutions can be used to prevent war and resolve conflict. The structuralists drove the creation of the United Nations and the World Court. The structuralists still exist. However, they tend to avoid rallies and events like the Peace Fair because they feel out of place among the other activists. 4) The "live and let live" Americans are the reserves of the anti-war movement. They are Libertarians, Anarchists and people in favor of minimalist government. They tend to avoid the political process. Most distrust anti-war activists, who are often big-government socialists. But when a war lasts too long, the "live and let live" Americans give the anti-war movement the numbers needed to end the war.5) And then there are the Democrats. Being a coalition political party, the Democrats are constantly looking for some middle ground to least offend all Democratic constituencies. Democrats look at the past coalitions created by successful Democratic presidential candidates and try to recreate successful coalitions of the past.

Now that the Iraq War and President Bush are unpopular, anti-war activists and Democrats assume they should be gaining as much support as Bush is losing. This isn't happening.

The anti-war activists and Democrats sometimes attribute this failure to gain support to media bias or shortcomings of the American people. Americans are too scared, stupid, ignorant, bigoted or lazy to realize supporting Democrats and the anti-war movement is virtuous and wise.

Let's assume democracy works and that the American skepticism of the anti-war movement and Democratic Party has a logical explanation. The leaders of the anti-war movement say some goofy stuff, especially people in the "conscience" camp. War isn't going to end because no one enlists. And spreading peacefulness like dropping pebbles into a pond isn't going to end the Iraq War either. A peaceful network can be disrupted by a pebble of violence. A violent network can't be disrupted by a pebble of peace. To say the opposite of the truth discredits the anti-war movement as wishful thinkers.

The Democratic Party sees security through the lens of domestic politics. Ironically, if Democratic leaders read a few books on warfare, they could make security-based arguments that the Iraq War was and is a bad idea. But Democratic leaders are enamored with the John Kennedy finesse. In 1960 Kennedy was able to get a higher percent of votes from both white Southerners and blacks than the 1956 ticket. The Democrats try to appeal to hawks and doves in the same election. The American people aren't so stupid they don't recognize pandering and indecisiveness.

The Democrats lose on security not because of the shortcomings of the American people, but the shortcomings of the Democrats.

The Peace Fair provided an opportunity for networking, but it seems unlikely to change the world, or even Oak Park.

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