Is there anybody out there?

What happened to the anti-war protestors and the worldwide peace movement?

During the Second World War, till long after the German invasion, many among the Hungarian Jewish community rejected the idea that they would be persecuted. This very disbelief blocked their early escape possibility, as Tivadar Soros reports in his book, The Masquarade. During that time they used to tell a sad joke to each other in order to describe the impossible situation. An optimist, they used to say, is the guy who jumps out of a skyscraper and yells out “here is the second floor, so far so good!”

Kevin Martin of the 85,000 member Peace Action group reminds us of such optimists . He made a statement following a day of protest against war in Washington and different other places in America. The protest was organized by a coalition freshly formed in December. This is what he said in his statement: “Our chances of stopping it [the war] are probably less than a third, but that’s actually quite good for a peace movement!”

The anti-war action which took place more than a hundred locations was hardly covered by the press. However, Reuters carried the story with a hopeful title: “The influential coalition urges Bush to avert Iraq war” According to Reuters, the anti-war coalition was created and backed by over a hundred Hollywood celebrities. Among many included were the National Council of Churches and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, who represent millions of Americans, National Organization of Women (NOW), the environmental lobby, Sierra Club, Peace Now and the Quakers. The “Win Without War” coalition aimed to build on the momentum of nationwide peace rallies by lobbying lawmakers, holding media events and paying for anti-war advertisements. During the protests, Rev. Bob Edgar, the general secretary of the National Council of Churches stated his views by saying: “An unprovoked military attack against Iraq would not be a just war, such a war would violate the U.N. Charter, cause the deaths of many innocent people and unleash forces of political extremism and terror.” The coalition also said that the U.N. inspectors could disarm Iraq without bloodshed and that the cost of a war would divert resources from social programs and distract the United States from the more immediate threat of the al-Qaeda network. Despite the optimistic tone Reuters pointed out that “the protest was a far cry from the pacifist fervor of the Vietnam days and polls showed most Americans still support Bush’s stand against Iraq.”

The history of the peace movement started with the beginning of the last century in which humanity lived through its most violent times. It came ever closer to its own destruction, suffered from the biggest losses. Intercontinental wars followed genocides, the atomic bomb, nuclear armament. Armies constantly violated the rules of war despite the human rights movement. The chemical weapons were administered on civilians. Villages were burned. Ethnic cleansing did not stop. Diplomacy also waged wars through economic embargoes. Humanity was indeed united, not in peace, but in war.

In the beginning of such a century, the writer Virginia Woolf explained why she can not answer the question of “How do we prevent war?”, in her Three Guineas. She, as a woman, first pointed out that the question was asked by a man and this very fact might well jeopardize any possibility of a truthful communication. She was not pointing out a simple gender issue, she was explaining a specific human condition. She wanted to demonstrate this condition from their response to the same image of war:

this mornings’ collection contains the photograph of what might be a man’s body, or a woman’s: it is so mutilated that it might, on the other hand, be the body of a pig. But those certainly are dead children, and that undoubtedly is the section of a house. A bomb has torn open the side, there is still a bird-cage hanging in what was presumably the sitting room. […] War; you say, is an abomination: a barbarity, war must be stopped at whatever cost. And we echo your words. War is an abomination, a barbarity, war must be stopped.

A century later, after many more wars, we again echo each other only to prove Virginia Woolf’s diagnosis of our inability to communicate: War is an abomination, a barbarity, war must be stopped at all cost!

Published 19 December 2002
Original in English

Contributed by Varlik © Varlik Eurozine


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