March 23, 2003

What can one say? The war's on tv. Even journalists in Baghdad who know the basic plan, have heard the hype about precision bombing, have forewarning from their networks when bombing sorties take off, and know the US would prefer viewers not hear them being blown to bits...don't feel safe. The ABC guy could hardly get a sentence out, he was hyperventilating and freaking while studio commentators discussed the gigantic bomb blasts like they were especially excellent special effects. Imagine how Baghdad's residents feel. They are being *told* on their tv that civilians are the targets.

Laugh-out-loud moment: Blow-dried weather guys following the day's local forecast with Iraq's weather. In exactly the same style. I was like, wait, that map looks weird, as the guy gestured and pointed to temperatures.

Cognitive dissonance:

The administration is gleeful that a small town is captured without a fight and embedded journalists can get footage of liberated Iraqis hugging soldiers and dancing. Slight intimations to the contrary popped up in the NYT's Dexter Filkins' report which also mentioned a guy in a pickup truck riding around with two badly burnt men in the back, looking for help. The army was moving so fast its medical supplies were far behind, and nothing could be done for the people. I read that yesterday and thought, hmm, that's not good, they should have the mediacal and humanitarian aid absolutely on the heels of their arrival. Well, despite bluster about unprecedented amounts of aid, the port it's all supposed to come in on hasn't yet been secured (remember how they announced the very first day if had "fallen"?). There are no supplies even on their way in the country yet.

So today, the follow-up story is that the happily liberated town is having looting, civil unrest (the Baath loyalists still live there, after all), and was shouting at journalists that the US was coming in to steal their oil and take over their country. Was Israel coming next, they asked? And, by the way, where was all the humanitarian aid that had been promised? And yes, they are very angry about the civilian casualties (3, not sure if that includes the 2 wounded men). Journalists had to ask British troops to come get them when it looked like angry civilians were set to take them hostage.

You really have to read between the lines to get any sense of the gestalt, the chaos and smell of war. Reports from the field are curiously technical, bloodless, sanitized. It was only BBC World that had images of a corpse-strewn road into that port city, and the guy said yes, there are definitely women and children among them. Those are the only bodies I've seen, although the amount of "softening" advance shelling into the outskirts of cities would seem too generalized to not be hitting a lot of people. On reporter slipped and talked about "unforgettable stench" of passing a shelled tank division.

The first night, when I saw the neat, orderly rows of tanks riding out over a barren desert, I thought, oh wow, was this what I was protesting? It's going to be the Yule Log war, just a boring, monotonous, reassuringly predictable affair of men in heavy moving equipment. It's very hard not to be sucked in, feel as though everything is inevitible and thus somehow sanctioned by a grand design. In fact, even as dissenters, what can we hope for but a fantastic bloodless liberation followed by elections in two weeks?

But if Rumsfeld yesterday and Tommy Franks today didn't somehow creep you out, make you feel as manipulated as the Iraqis with their state TV, if watching the video war doesn't make you feel somehow complicit in that seductive "logic of war," (We'll just take Basra, No problem. Let's roll!) then I'd just have to accept that humans living on the same planet at the same time in the same culture can actually not inhabit the same world.

When I pull back and think about it, I am more worried than ever that the repercussions of this will last longer and be more destructive than we could know. The catholic church had an empire once. It was the way people thought, its riches were boundless. That is over. We do a bit more of this and maybe fundamentalist Islam will have a crusade or two. Bye Bye secular humanism and democracy.

I noticed this after 9/11 as well: crisis flattens texture. "The protesters" become this one soundbite and a few images, nothing to do with the lived experience of my afternoon. "The Kurds" are one shot of piles of gassed bodies, a refugee shot, and some guys with rifles. Plus, you say "suffering" with "Kurds." "The Arab Street" is a few mullahs in mosques and "death to America" demonstrations. "Security" is a snippet from Bloomberg, shots of Grand Central, a couple of passersby averring they "feel more safe" with the (last shot) heavily armored police.

I start looking at the future of the world that way, at my own life that way. In fact, lives are composed of mundane and human moments of eating and talking with friends and doing errands...for everyone. Crisis news makes everything adrenalized, oppositional, and harbinger-of-apocalypse-esque. Before I start freaking about the jihad rallys, maybe I should remember how the media covers the peace protests. One second on the march, five minutes on a few jerks getting arrested. Maybe I should remember thay gave equal time to a pro-war rally that had just a few people standing around singing patriotic songs.

Maybe the media's creating huge schicsms in perception of cultural gulfs just as surely as John Ashcroft sees a terrorist in every manic-depressive, or the Bush team sees weapons of mass destruction in every truck.

Could it be that post-9/11 we are our own worst enemy? This war is starting to look like serious overkill in terms of national security threat, and not much of a trade-up in human suffering, either. The security is laughable here, also in its overkill, but also in its misdirection. We neded to take some profound steps to make ourselves more secure, but that involved being a better team player in the world, and getting a clue about anti-American anger and addressing it long-term. This was such to exact wrong response. Can't you feel it? Look at the sirens and the armed guards, it's like martial law here in NY.

Finally, I can't imagine how the Iraqis are going to interpret all of this. Imagine growing up without a free press, without information about the outside world. All of our rhetoric, our leaders to us, and to the UN, takes place within an entirely different universe. Beyond what it must feel like to live through the uncertainty of an invasion, without a governement giving you any clue what to expect, or reassure you you are safe; what will they experience, emotionally, intellectually, with such a sudden, yes, shocking change of discourse and life-rules? I think it must all be very scary. You know how people hate change, even desired change. I wonder if the overall military experience (surrender, with pockets of resistence) mirrors the internal landscape of the population.

March 15, 2003

It's a gorgeous day here in New York. Sunny and warm, peaceful. I feel sad to be tied to my computer. Since November I've had incessent work. I'm lucky to have work instead of spending the same time and energy drumming up work. But I've not yet aquire the knack of getting the *right* work. I've been writing some historical overviews for 10 cents a word. This would make sense if I could write a page an hour. But I'm working from terrible research. One decade was cadged from about two history sites, verbatim and without fact-checking. For that, the researcher was paid almost three times what I'm getting to fact-check, write, and edit it down. It's taking about 3-4 hours a page and it just doesn't seem to end. I'm cut of from the energetic flow of life, social stuff, errands, going out are all on hold. Yet I can't just work steadily till it's done because I hit a wall of concentration and of screen fatigue.

I have felt intimations of hope. Despite the rhetoric and posturing, the troop movements and the inevitible seeming newscasts. Several days after the February 15th protest in New York and the world, a gentle snow fell. It muffled sounds and energies. It slowed the pace and made us human. It was like a benediction and a model. I felt it told us amen to peace. And the 11th-hour stay of the Texas death row inmate whose trial was riddled with procedural errors (why do they always wait until the last moment. that seems cruel.) and the improbable, miraculous, and mundane return of Elizabeth Smart.

That nothing is set in stone and miracles happen and wrongs can be righted and love and justice can overcome ineptitude, self-righteous posturing, and malevolent forces. We are being shown a way. (If I look at it metaphorically, I see a motif of "what you are looking for is right there, in your own backyard. However, it is a bit cautionary, in the sense that the ballyhoo'd police/FBI searches for both Elizabeth and the Washington sniper had major flaws, while the perpetrators were actually stopped or in custody several times. It was citizens who found both people.)

I left my flat and went down to get some ground fresh coffee. I was waiting at the counter when a slightly agitated-energy guy came in. I moved to give him access to the milk and sugar. I left and ran into two old friends on their way in. We began talking and I told them I'd had a dream several nights ago that I was in the 101st Airborne, about to be parachuted at night into enemy territory. I was unprepared and clueless. I also had dreamt that Saddam Hussein committed suicide, throwing the US policy into a tailspin. I joked that the administration, not wanting to abandon their larger design, yet robbed of public enemy number one, announced that it was one of his body doubles, not him.

My friend said he was discouraged to feel that he had absolutely no impact, that demonstraters were entirely unheard. I told him that I'd even heard op-ed and left-wing media analysts claim that the demonstrations were practically media-created and overreported. I said that if one listened to Fox news you could hyprventilate, so much scaremongering, a lead-off story about New York's inadequate plans for "the next attack." I said that I was tired of the shifting rhetoric. That I kept hearing even left-wing writers claim that protesters should also demonstrate against Hussein and for Iraqi human rights. I said, "Give me a break! Free Tibet! These fucking opportunistic morally relativistic..."

At this point, the guy I'd seen inside, who was sitting on an outside bench feet from us began shouting. He shouted my oaths back at me, spluttering that was no way to talk. I said. "I'm sorry for my languiage" and he began shouting "Have YOU ever been on the front line of a battle?" I said "Actually, I'm talking to my friends about media rhetoric." He insisted "You can't say fucking opportunistic bastards if you've never fought.." I said "No, I haven't" and, to my friends, "OK, I don't want to get into this, enjoy the day and your coffee." I was a bit shaken and pissed off that someone would butt into my conversation, misinterpret my words, and start, as I understood it, telling me I had no right to have an opinion and imply that I didn't support the troops. I felt really censored, forced to either shut up or completely repeat my whole argument to someone on an entirely other kick. I don't even get asking "Have you ever fought in the front line of a battle?" Shouldn't that question be asked of the hawks and the soft-bellied middle-management Rambos-by-proxy?

Addendum: I do love Mark Shields. If you've never heard him, tune into PBS's News Hour on Fridays. This past Friday, the moderator asked "This has been described as Bush's Omaha Beach.." (I've also heard "Waterloo" and "Waco"). Mark pointed out the huge historical differences between this action and Omaha Beach, and then said "It certainly seems to be his Moby Dick. Removing Saddam Hussein is the key to everything. If that guy's gone, Bush seems thoroughly convinced that Sunday school attendence will be up and incidence of cavities will be down. By God, this is the silver bullet." Love this man, funny, brilliant, incredibly well informed, and human.

March 14, 2003

Freedom Fries

Fredom Fry Martyrdom

I had one of my long, egocentric daydreams yesterday. As usual, it combined poignant self-sacrifice with It's a Wonderful Life redemption. It opens with President Bush addressing the nation. He's addressing the nation because I've been attacked. I couldn't decide whether to kill myself off or if the fantasy would work if I lived. I've been attacked because I decried in my blog the decision of the House of Representatives cafeteria to adopt the "freedom fries" and "freedom toast" rhetoric.

I'd written that what had been a childishly jingoistic publicity stunt on the part of a few opportunistic restaurant owners smacked of an ugly Americanism crossed with McCarthyism when espoused by the powerful. My attacker has exacted poetic justice by delivering a coup de grace with a magnum of Dom Perignon.

In my fantasy, President Bush raises a troubled brow to the nation. "Good evening, my fellow Americans," he begins. "This is a sorrowful occasion for our country. A woman who was exercising her Constitutional right to free speech has been attacked by a fellow American. Now, I understand that this woman did not agree with much of this administration's policy. In short, she was a rabidly anti-freedom-fry left-wing nut. But even sadly misguided Americans love their country. Reasonable people can disagree on how best to handle the very complex issues now facing our nation, but we here in the United States do not punish and repress dissent. Perhaps this hasn't been very clear lately.

I am saddened by the loss (wow I guess I do have to die for the fantasy to work) of one passionate  American at the hands of an equally passionate, larger, and less mentally stable patriot. I urge that, as events gather force and steamroll right over you, everyone take the time to count to ten before engaging in strenuous exercises of free speech.

To lower the domestic collateral damage of the war I most emphatically have not yet decided to wage, I have instructed the Longworth Office Building cafeteria to change their menu to reflect our tolerance for all points of view by serving "potato fries" and "yummy egg toast."

Now, a little French bashing is good clean fun. It was amusing when those guys smashed that Peugeot with bats. But the recent crucifixion of several French poodles doused in Chanel No. 5 perfume was a bit disturbing, frankly.

I have instructed the FBI to immediately suspend "Operation Froghugger." We will not be spending several hundred million dollars to investigate American citizens who have recently rented "Last Tango in Paris" or "Green Card." You will no longer have to hide your Gerard Depardieu videos in those "Armageddon" boxes they've been selling on e-bay. And we're going to remove the covering over the masterpiece "Guernica" by the great French painter Pablo Picasso.

But wait! There's more! I have also instructed my minions to pay our back dues to the UN. We will sign the Kyoto treaty and join in the International Criminal Court. I'm diverting funds for the development of the "Star Wars" missile defense shield to Social Security and Medicaid. We'll be looking into unilateral reduction of our seriously overkill nuclear stockpiles. We're going to go along with a version of that Canadian plan giving until the end of March and verifiable, graduated benchmarks for Iraq's disarmament, and the Security Council is gonna all pitch in with making this work without war.

In fact, we're canceling our order for those 500,000 "War is Peace" bumper stickers. People might get confused. From now on, only peace will be peace.

And earlier tonight, I called up Kim Jong Il. "People who differ need to talk," I told him. "We need to talk." I suggested that we get together for an hour of gentle yoga and guided authentic movement. We'll be breathing together, trying to attune our energies, and expressing our respective frustration, rage, and longing for world domination in sweeping arm gestures, vigorous jumps, and spiraling dives to the floor. I urge all citizens to reach out to your estranged neighbors, to your black-sheep relatives, and to those with whom you have profound differences of political and culinary opinion. We are all going to take a day off from war without end. We are going to have a day of healing. Good night, and God Bless America."

March 07, 2003

more exciting pre-possible-war verbiage. (in the form of notes to myself from which to some day Write Something of Actual Note. or maybe just make a few bux writing for a late-night comic. who knows)

questions I predict the media will be asking in three months:

Where is Hussein?
Where are the WMDs?
Where is the democracy?
How many died?
How much does this cost?
What's happening to the Kurds?
Why do we have to attack Iran and Syria, again, exactly?

On Bush's press conference:
Bush's message is he's basically putting the UN on the spot to veto or "fail to live up to their responsibilities"-- he's giving them a chance to get on board 'cos unless Hussein leaves the country and his generals immediately hand over the tons of material we insist they have, we're goin' in.

He repeated over and over Saddam is an imminent threat to the US, has ties to terrorism, and he must have brought up how Sept. 11 changed everything about 5 times. The British, having needed a second resolution, are now left holding the bag, since Bush won't withdraw it, so apparently the British Secretary's statement today that they would be amendable to changing its language is a desperate bid to show their public that they "really really tried" to compromise. Apparently they'd be willing to put in like a 3-day deadline or something, which is quite meaningless tactically and to allies who prefer diplomacy. It's all quite a mess.

Quite fascinating how dismissive Bush is of N. Korea. There's a country that IS GETTING nuclear weapons and he said "it's a regional problem." Instead, we're prepared to alienate the world and bankrupt the country for this idiot who can't account for his anthrax and mustard gas, but who doesn't even have a nukes program. He was also dismissive of the demonstrators, saying "as you recall, we had some demonstrations around free trade. There are always demonstrators. I took an oath to protect this country and that's what I have to do, and the American public understands that." It was very much pitched to god-and-country Americans and it used fear and anxiety.

What was most interesting to me was how everything he said about America's agenda and responsibility could be turned neatly on us. "A man who flouts international will, who will use evil weapons, who doesn't care about his own people or liberty. We are going to keep the world safe from these people." Sounds like he was calling for a revolution. Or maybe someone to disarm us before we kill again.

Diplomatic Insights from Me, who they should invite to the negotiations. I mean really, guys, get some bodywork, take a deep breath, take a full day of rest and get some perspective. When people talk about a "rush to war" and you guys say "He's had 12 years to disarm!" like rabid chipmunks, what they mean is this adrenalized, frenzied, number-one-most-evil-and-threatening-ever personification stuff, and the total lack of anything that shows imminent threat:

It doesn't at all help national security or safety to be seen as a power that won't abide by international law; that vetos anything not in its interest, but won't respect others' vetos (if that should happen). It makes us a target for so many kinds of anger.

The Bush administration seems so intent on vilifying Saddam they fail to see his rule as systemic. There will be other Saddams, and we need excellent international precendent and policy for keeping weapons of mass destruction from zealots who'll use them, whether state leaders (of whatever legitimacy) or rebels or terrorists, as well as for human rights advocacy. This policy we're pursuing will lead to more proliferation, not less. Because cooperation with inspectors or resolutions will be seen as pointless; the US will attack if it wants anyway.

Our allies understand what's at stake here. If there is no international body of negotiation and restraint (except as a rubberstamping or empty paper-producing council), we are in a world of individual nations policing their enemies' weapons, preemptively declaring threats, preemting the preemptions, an infinite regress. This is complicated by the historical fact, as we've all seen, that today's friends are tomorrow's enemies. Selling arms to people and then taking them away when the ruler is no longer amenable to American control is an unsustainable foreign policy.

The world has such destructive technology and materials, so many unaccounted for, and so many political and monetary opportunists who will trade and sell secrets and materials, that there will be many other Saddams. What we do now has profound implications for how the world can deal with the monsters it has unleashed. I'm afraid our policy will just create more monsters. It's like cutting off the head of the hydra.

The US could have parlayed international empathy and cooperation in the wake of 9/11 into a truly effective, cooperative diplomatic, military, and intelligence effort. On that model, we could now have a fully international group of military personnel lending muscle to inspections on a clear timetable with clear objectives, and that international force would have acted in concert when and if inspections failed as defined by their requirements.

Instead, we have the UN signing off on a disarmament resolution merely to give a nod to our then-unstated goal of remaking the Middle East. They've been bait-and-switched and are now being told they'd better go along with the switch if not to become irrelevent. And we've put the inspectors in a position of being complicitous in a plan to de-fang our chosen enemy before invading it. The added elements of extremely high-pressure diplomacy tactics involving economic blackmail and bribes, as well as political promises (as well as spying on our allies to exploit their doubts and fissures) make our diplomacy very costly both in real and symbolic terms.

good Slate article on diplomacy

random thoughts:

Enforcing disarmament with massive ordnance seems bizarre. Doesn't it just show it's better to have weapons?

Watch for N. Korea to liberate the U.S. from an outlaw regime

Taking immense comfort from the Pope's absolute stance that preventive war is "stupid" and this is wrong and dangerous. Apparently he hasn't felt so strongly since Solidarity. go Pope! pray for peace, envision peace, use your power for peace.

re: Turkey. we'll just use their bases anyway. what're they gonna do, have a war with us?

our problems: overkill, crying wolf, courting disaster, reducing resources and effectiveness for real threats, and if S has wmd, wouldn't he give them to terrorists or use them NOW? overestimating our enemy. creating our enemy. spooking at shadows. tripping over ourselves, truncating rights, throwing lives and money in all directions.What if this guy just wants to stay in power at home, like lots of communist nations did?

Fox's new reality show: "American Warplan." YOU vote on policy. should we kill this guy? bomb this house? vote now!

Winning is not winning. winning in the administration's terms is still a huge loss for our society, karmically, there will be an effect.

Anyone feel like we're in the movie "Mars Attacks"? The Martians keep saying "We come in peace" before they blow everyone to kingdom come. The earthlings are perplexed; we seem to have a failure to communicate.

I never thought "inspections work; war doesn't" was a good slogan; cos it was never about disarmament.

I'm also upset about the abdication of Congress form its duty to represent the people and claim its right to declare war. They got the first bill through on that same post-9/11 fervor that swept the Patriot Act through. In fact, I believe the Bush administration was strongly hinting to Congress that they had intelligence that Iraq was involved in 9/11. That would have made it the sort of reprisal attack we had in Afghanistan. Absent the proof, however, they went the U.N. route, looking to put teeth in old resolutions and thus get a nod for war. It's turned into quite a quagmire for Bush, and, as I watch the rhetoric change day to day, I feel pleased that the questions Congress should have asked are now being asked by the U.N. Nonetheless, I simply don't understand how a president who was only technically elected can act as though he has this unanimous mandate.

We start an easy war against a weakened enemy. eviscerate them using the UN, then punish them preeemptively via the same. We thereby rid the world of this proclaimed great evil, liberate people, and, by the way, get a toehold in the Middle East and access to huge oil reserves. We leave aside scarier, murkier moral conundrums like N Korea and Pakistan and Iran. The president gets his domestic agenda passed, takes the wind out of the sales of Dem candidates, and declares us safer, tying it (racially, at least) to the war on terror, which is clueless, disorganized, bureaucratically bogged, and most Americans have no more clue now than before 9/11/ what actually to do in various cases.

what Bush is doing to the U.N. it's being turned into a war rubberstamper after we strongarm sanctions and then press them more than so many other violators or threats. we turn it into for us or against us tribunal, make our agenda its. even if they get a majority, that doens' tmean it was ever or is "world will" or "world priority" it means we politicked 'em. saying everyone has to sign on to give the UN teeth, and show S we mean business, creates a political consensus when the real unified will is absent.

3/2 (before it seemed we might withdraw the resolution)

I'm thinking now that there may be only one thing that prevents this war. We've already basically started it, bombing more frequently, dropping "Surrender, Dorothy!" leaflets, and calling top Iraq military personnel on their private cell phones to tell them we know where they are and they'd better come quietly.

I think we may well get the 9 votes needed in the Security Council. But..what if ALL of the other permanent members abstained? In other words, we get a "coalition" of the powerless, broke, and bribed. Countries who won't be able to contribute materially to a war, nor with whom we'd want to be obligated to share the spoils. All the important allies, the ones with money, with whom we trade, whose expertise and capital we need, would abstain. Germany, China, Russia, and France, by all abstaining, would send a powerful message without just one of them bearing the brunt of U.S. vilification and reprisals, as would happen with a veto. The veto is not likely to stop a war, merely create a huge diplomatic rift. But if the U.S. chooses to go to war with only allies whom we'll now owe billions of bux and political favors, and the first world nations make clear their united disapproval of our actions, it may well spell political disaster for Blair and Bush.

So I will not feel it more legitimate if the UN signs on. Nor if we "win" easily. I'll consider it very very dangerous.

precedent for deposing/killing sitting leaders? for "regime change" from outside? what does the Constitution say about just wars? (it says Congress should frigging step up to the plate and represent, y'all).

Idea of a responsible consumer guide. It's no longer about buying eco-detergent, recycling paper, unbleached tp and boycotting Coors. it takes research. Who owns what, where are the sweatshops, who pays the lobbyists? Stop sending 50 bux to the Wildlife Federation while buying products from companies who are destoying habitats.

idea that only power of the people is economic. voting w/ your purchases. every dish liquid bottle is a vote for parent company sweatshops, lobbyists, and pollution. that Marx was right. capitalism is the new government. forget the diplomats, we need new markets, new labor, new resources, and we're gonna democratize the world so the people can be free to buy CDs and plastic novelty items.

libertarians tilt at old windmills. it's not your government who's limiting your freedoms, invading your privacy, it's Time-warner-AOL. Or hadn't you noticed? go in and make the world safe for multinationals.

new world order is lumbering nation-states combatting guerilla warfare against multinational globalization.

new rhetoric: the dangers of inaction. anyone who says that Iraq can't sustain a democracy is racist. (priceless). war for peace.

new world order isn't "special interests" getting the ear of legislators, but multinationals installing them and telling them what to do.

notes for a musical about this period of time:

We know what's good for the Turks
those intransigient jerks
We know what's good for France and the Palestinians, too
And we know what's good for you

Signs that your country is slouching toward Armaggedon:

You get spam headed "Prepare for war." Inside it says "Let our lovely ladies kiss your ass goodbye."

Your president gives a speech explaining why war is good and how all the Palestinian children will run free, and you realize he ripped the whole thing off from last year's Miss America runner-up.

Conservatives keep saying, when asked about protests, "I fully support their exercising their right to free speech; we would like to afford the same opportunity to the oppressed Iraqis," and it sounds like the protesters are out there doing leg lifts for freedom and soon the Iraqis can join in.

The justifications for war start to sound like the justifications for tax cuts or drilling in Alaska: they're an all-purpose cure-all, good for what ails the country.

You walk down a mild winter evening sidewalk, run into some old friends, have some Indian food. And it feels as though there are parallel universes. The one where you follow every motion in this tragedy, and the real world, where none of it has to happen at all, where it's all some sort of manufactured bogeyman nightmare. And you realize that, thousands of miles away, people just like you are feeling the same duality. And that destruction will rain on them. And you can't seem to stop it. But it hasn't happened yet, and right now they're alive, not really believing it has come to this, either.

March 04, 2003

I have a friend who opposes war with Iraq on pragmatic grounds. It will not be effective. It will not achieve the stated goals of disarmament, increased security, lessening terrorism, regime change, and Pax Americana throughout the Middle East. He tells me that his bottom line is the course of action that results in the least suffering. And ours is not that course of action.

A long time ago, I read a famous short story. How do I know it's famous? It was in a collection with O'Henry's and Maupassant's best. But the story that really got to me was this one: A bomber pilot (I do not know which World War, and I don't know what nationality he was) approaches a small French (I'm pretty sure; I imagined the gray stone buildings, church spires, and neat streets) town. His assignment is to drop his payload on the town. It's a beautiful, sunny, blue-sky day. The pilot feels godlike, powerful, and magnanimous. He feels a surge of rightness, righteousness, as he drops his bombs, not on the town, but on the fields outside its walls. The awe he feels at his own mercy and generosity, the way he has spared so many just with one decisions, these comfort him for years. When he is much older, he decides to visit the town. He decides to see the lives he has spared and the people he selected for his munificence. The town is very sparsely populated, almost everyone is old and defeated-looking. Where are all the young people, he asks, the families? "In the war," an old man tells him, "a plane came to bomb our village. We had expected this. But the plane did not bomb the village; it bombed our fields. We had sent all the children to hide in the fields."

This is why I cannot agree with my friend's pragmatic criterion for a just war. We are human, not gods. We can never know, never evaluate the path of least suffering. We can never say that, well, if we'd gone in and taken Hitler out when he was just getting started, there would have been millions spared. We do not know what would have taken his place. Each small decision in every life or in the history of nations creates a new universe, and then again and again, to form an incalulable whole; it is never an either-or or if-not-for-this-one-thing-then proposition. We cannot know if decimating Baghdad spares suffering in the long run at the expense of lives now. But we do not need to make that calculation. That is not a math we, as humans, are ever allowed to know. It is, simply, evil, to weigh lives or tens of lives or hundreds of thousands of lives against some posited greater good.

I am against this war. I am against it in the strongest terms, absolutely. I am against it because it is so morally reprehensible, so opportunistic, so shortsighted, and so falsely justified. I am against it because it stands the principles of the United States, of democracy, of international law, of international alliances, and the concepts of self-defense and peace on their heads. The rhetoric is a perversion of the very ideals it lays claim to. And one need only look at what is happening NOW, not posit or calculate all possible outcomes, to see this.

Because of the United States' thirst for war, the world is in crisis. There is massive anxiety, world markets are volitile, alliances are fracturing, leaders are forced to choose between the wills of their populations and the political bonanza of getting on board (thus falling on their own political futures' swords for the Bush administration), the United States is seem as imperialistic and bullying, its reputation is tarnished, its citizens are in danger abroad and at home. Because of the United States' thirst for war, the Muslim world sees cause for jihad, sees a thinly veiled holy war, the North Koreans see what happens to nations branded "axis of evil" and have decided to be preemtive themselves (whether or not, as they claim, they believe we are about to attack them, they've chose not to go quietly, with at least nominal cooperation, like the Iraqis, but to flout and provoke, to say: we are not your whipping boy), the Iranians may well be funding terrorists in northern Iraq, the Turkish military is hungering to bring the Kurds to their knees. Because of the United States' thirst for war, its own citizenry is divided between a desire to trust its leaders and believe they are not being lied to, a desire to be patriotic and supportive in the wake of 9/11, a desire not to penalize the soldiers as they were in Vietnam, and a desire for peace, peace of mind and security, and some attention to our domestic and economic woes. Simply as a result of engineering, jockeying for an ersatz legitimacy for war, ugly precendents have been set, ugly actions have been taken, ugly prejudices have been inflamed. We have promised goodies to those who fall in line, and threatened economic and political consequences to those who balk. We have questioned allies' loyalty and commitment to world peace and international law. We have revived French-bashing, and incited anti-Semitism. We have, in an underreported memo leaked to London's the Guardian, instructed the NSA to spy on Security Council members in hopes of exploiting their private fissures and doubts. We have, merely by promising major aid (to offset massive expense and economic hits, proven by the last Gulf War), and then, by democratic vote, having that phantom wealth disappear, caused the economy of Turkey to take a major hit. We have rejoiced at that hit, calculating that the precipitous fall of the Turkish stock market (which we rightly anticipated following the no-vote in their parliament) might well be the lever that would ensure a subsequent yes-vote to our basing our northern operations in Turkey. Already, large multinationals have calculated opportunity and placed their bets on war. And these interests are not tangential to policy, not merely second-level opportunists; they, in fact, in a global economy and in the currrent administration, in large part are driving policy, are engineering this nominally high-minded war.

About our high-minded rhetoric. If we are so concerned about states that fund or harbor terrorists, what about Iran, Pakistan, the Philippines. If we are so concerned about domestic security, what about the inefficacy of our new behemoth bureaucracy and its scaremongering without real guidance or funding for emergency resources? If we are so concerned about peace in the Middle East, about democracy, what about the repressive autocracies with which we are allied, from whose bases we will mount our war; what about Israel's state-sponsored terrorism in which one of the largest military machines in the world, funded and equipped by the United States, annihilates and pulverizes entire communities of poorly armed, disorganized, and appallingly poor Palestinians in a tragically childish, ceaseless, self-perpetuating tit-for-tat? If we are so concerned about atrocities and human rights abuses, where were we in Angola (now a new ally, due for perks and goodies), in Rwanda, in Zaire, in Cambodia when Pol Pot was executing anyone with a high-school education (a corollary of our actions in Vietnam, as were so many atrocities), when Franco, and Pinochet, and Marcos, and Qadaffi, and Idi Amin, and Heile Salassi, and Miloscovic, and Ceaucescu were raping their countries and terrorizing their people? We supported many of these men, covertly, by open policy, or by inaction. We were so concerned with the "evil empire" and the "eastern bloc" that we colored the map red and supported any repressive, selfish zealot who at least wasn't Communist, while letting half the world's people suffer. And to war advocates who cede the above, but say that getting rid of Saddam is a step in the right direction, that the past is past but now we're stepping up to the plate, I offer a different, less morally defensible analysis of why Iraq and why now.

As to conservative commentators and pundits, as to administration apologists and mouthpieces, as to kowtowing Congressmen and fat-cat civilian hawks, I say now is the time to stop lying. The half-truths, immediately spun and rewritten history, outright lies and misrepresentations, jingoistic ignorance and hatred wrapped in the flag being foisted on the American people and the world right now is shameful. Shame on Congress for writing Bush a blank check for war without any of the debate, the hard questions that we've left it to our international allies to ask...and pay the price for asking. Congress rolled over on its responsibility, its grave and crucial role as the body that declares war. Shame on Congress for passing the Patriot Act so quickly, and for so misnaming a repeal of civil rights patriotic. Shame on the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee for proudly declaring that he considered removing his father's Croix de Guerre from his office wall to punish lily-livered France, and shame on John McCain for calling France an overpainted dowager who's lost her looks but still hopes to dine out on them. Shame on Condaleeza Rice for saying that Iraq has had "12 years" to disarm as if this administration hasn't pursued a new, aggressive policy just since November on the issue and as if there weren't dozens of similarly disregrded, toothless UN resolutions on the books that the US has no interest in pursuing, including one 35 years old requiring Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories. Shame on Bush for withdrawing from the Kyoto treaty and pooh-poohing global warming, and pursuing a destabilizing missile defense shield against international outcry, and then casting aspersions on the international will toward peace. Shame on Donald Rumsfeld for saying, in a patronizing, avuncular, long-suffering way, that of course we have no interest in Iraqi oil; that the oil belongs to the Iraqi people. Shame on George Will for eching this in a screed belittling "the protesters' favorite slogan" "No Blood for Oil." Shame on him for showing an obviously photoshopped image of a deranged-looking Martin Sheen at the front of a march with a "No Blood for Oil" sign prominently over his left shoulder. Shame on him for pompously schooling his audience that this war will cost us much more than we could possibly gain and that of course America will pay for oil post-war as it does now, by the barrel. Shame on him for being either an idiot or a bullshit artist. And shame on NBC for giving him five minutes of prime air time to lie to their viewers. Yes, ordinary Americans will foot the bill for this war for generations to come, not only economically, but in the trade and political policy promises we're hogtying our future to in our attempt to build a coalition. And yes, ordinary Americans will pay just as much, if not more for oil in future. But American-controlled multinationals, the military-industrial complex, and the few plutocrats now in office and their special word-to-the-wise cronies will make billions on infrastructure contracts, war materials, contracts for every stage of the oil exploration, pumping, refining, and transporting process, and insider stock speculation on these outcomes, which makes their vested interest in war, and their power to ensure that we wage it, absolutely a factor, and absolutely deserving of the cry "No Blood for Oil!"

Shame on Ari Fleischer for being an apologist and a forked-tongue mouthpiece. Shame on him for saying on the one hand that Iraq's refusal to destroy the missiles indicates intransigience, but on the other that their acquiescence is merely a game. Shame on him for rewriting history by claiming Iraq was hiding these missiles, saying they never had them. These missiles are not the missing "weapons of mass destruction," but conventional weapons that Iraq itemized. What they disputed was that the missiles exceeded the flight limit imposed by the UN; they did so on the grounds that the missiles were test-fired without the payload and guidance system that would weigh them down and limit their range. That is reality, recent history, rewritten for us as it happens.

Shame on "moderate" columnists like Thomas Friedman and Anna Quindlen for pandering to their audiences and hedging their bets. Friedman likes the idea of Pax Americana but regretfully doubts we can pull it off. Quindlan earnestly hopes for a smoking gun, a reason for a just war, a reason to believe America is not a bully. Both need to stop being so evenhanded and disingenously hopeful for the administration's truthfulness and motivations. Both can see clearly that we're grievously in the wrong, and they need to say so, strongly and clearly and proudly. Shame on the American news media for stirring music and red, white, and blue graphics with logos and slogans like "Showdown With Saddam" and "America Uber Alles" or whatever the hell. Shame on pundits who calmly predict the post-war political landscape and patiently explain the diplomatic wrangling that will result in our prevailing on the UN resolution, both as if war is a fair accompli. Shame on the media for forcing anti-war commentators and pundits and world leaders and policy analysts, over and over, and *every single time*, to have to reiterate that they are not pro-Saddam, that they, too, understand he is evil, evil, evil and lying and despotic and threatening. Why do those in favor for peace constantly have to preemptively defend themselves from being seen as Saddam apologists or unpatriotic while those who are pro-war are never required to give equal time to their belief in peace or international law or democracy, but in fact abrogate those principles to their shrill cries for vengeance? Shame on the media for not more closely scrutinizing and questioning administration rhetoric, and timing of recent events. Why has nobody raised the question that our recent shift in *stated* objective (for it was always our objective; we were being lied to) to regime change and remaking the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East might well have been a ploy to show that war was inevitible and thus force the Iraqis to halt destruction of the missiles (why should they participate in their own de-fanging if the attack is imminent) so that we could the cry to the Security Council "Foul! Material breach! We must attack!" Why has no one in the news media questioned the fortuitous timing of the recent Al Qaeda bigwig arrest, coming as it does right when the administration is getting so much heat for focusing on Iraq rather than terrorism. Apparently the lead came on Fenruary 13th. Couldn't it be that the Pakistanis have had a very good idea where quite a few "evildoers" might be found, but have only recently getten major heat from the US to be proactive, for the administration's agenda's credibility?

Somebody needs to stop this war. It is wrong. What is happening now in the world as even a consequence of our agitating for this war is wrong. We will all pay for the vengeance, greed, and powerlust of a few men and corporations. We will pay emotionally, or with our lives, or karmically, or in our school systems and social programs or with our jobs. We will pay with America's broken promise of democracy, its broken tradition of nonaggression, its sullied principles. Foreign leaders will pay with their broken political futures and the mistrust of their citizens. Citizens of many countries will pay as the world economy reacts, as hatreds mount, and as anxiety infests.

And we will pay in domestic security. We are begging future terrorist attacks. Donald Rumsfeld calmly explained that any collateral damage (those would be people, Mr. Rumsfeld, human lives) incurred by our bombs would be Saddam's fault, his war crimes, his crimes against humanity. Because he made us do it, he pushed us to it, it was our only option. This is not true, it is a lie. This is an optional war. As Bill Moyers said in his recent "journal," it is a failure of imagination, of moral courage, and of diplomacy. As such, the war crimes are ours. The childish, sibling whine of "He made me do it, Mom!" is being put forth by adults with immense power. The abusive parent or spouse's lament "Now look what you've gone and made me do" has become foreign policy. And, in the same Orwellian slippage that allows Wolfowitz to straight-facedly call this war "a peace initiative," we plan to cry, not only "look what he made us do!" but "Look what he did!" If and, god forbid, when, there are further terrorist attacks on American soil or against American or its allies embassies or facilities abroad, the blame will lie squarely on the Bush administration. They are courting terror. They are, in fact, counting on terror, to stoke bloodlust and vengeance, to further muddy the waters of cause and effect, to further broaden the "enemy" and legitimate their military plans and their domestic social agenda, including Patriot II, tax cuts, drilling for Alaskan oil, cutting back social welfare programs, and, in short, raping the American economy for their cronies' (controllers, really) coffers while destroying the environment, the economy, and the tenuous world stability. What the North Koreans are doing right now can be laid at this administration's bellicosity; labeling them part of an "axis of evil;" breaking diplomatic ties, and setting a precedent of preemptive aggression.

This war is wrong not only because it cannot achieve its stated goals and because bombing the hell out of a people in the name of their freedom, without demonstable and immediate threat, is ugly precedent and morally bankrupt, but because it is an artifically created crisis, a crisis that is already having profound negative effects on millions of people, on the global economy, on the world's existing tensions and fault-lines, on national and racial and religious divisions, and on the gestalt, the energy, the, if you will, karma, or the world. This crisis is manufactured, artificial. The threat is overstated and the response to it so disproportionate that it engenders more heinous consequences than the ill it purports to cure. All the ills of the world are laid at one villain's feet: terrorism, global instability, human rights abuses, nefarious plots and weaponry and game-playing. Building up a fading, delusional dictator to the epitome of evil, focusing so much of the world's resources in human energy and anxiety on one man, feeds a terrible beast. As retribution, we will annihilate many people who have only the misfortune to have suffered alrady by being born in Iraq. And this includes the soldiers, who will become the "enemy," whom we will hate and depersonalize and count as righteous casualties. Most of these soldiers are boys or young men who have no choice; there is compulsory military service and I imagine all able-bodied young men will be told to take up arms on pain of death.

This war is wrong on the most basic, naiive terms. What could possibly be right about massive destruction, at massive cost-- monetary, material, diplomatic, secxurity, economic, emotional, karmic-- that will kill and pollute and create chaos and untold echoes and repercussions for generations to come? What could be right about this if it weren't undertaken solely to save the world from imminent, greater destruction. And it is not. The United States is about to embark on its most shameful adventure. One that will destroy the meaning of our Constitution and the priciples of our republic; and one that some of the people themselves support only from a dull patriotism, a manipulated fearfulness, an appeal to that most core racism--the "other," or a terrible, unthinking acceptance of outright lies. I have to believe that a majority of Americans, whether the vocal minority like myself, or the "silent majority" of the vaguely apprehensive, the "Gee, I dunno, this seems a bit...," the "I sure hope they know what they're doing"s---have a true will for peace. I hope that even those who, the polls tell us, favor military action "with international support" now understand that we manipulated an actual internatioal coalition for disarmament into a rubberstamping of regime change; that the objective for which we received support was never our objective. This is why, at the peace march, I thought the signs that urged "Inspections Work; War Doesn't" were misguided; yes, inspections work, but only if the objective is really disarmament. "Inspections work" is no argument against war from the administration's point of view, because disamament is only a thin pretext for a war they badly want, have badly wanted for a long time and now see an opening for.

This is an artificial crisis at a time when we face real crises. We have a more difficult enemy, North Korea. We have a more diffuse enemy, which we label "Al Qaeda" and attempt to tie in a neat, hierarchical package, but might be better understood as situational actions by disenfranchised groups against percieved global hegemony. We have joblessness and deficit and cuts in programs and a souring national mood. We have fracturing alliances at a time when we need solidarity. Our multinationals expolit resources and vast populations and create crime, pollution, and corruption, sparking new manifestations of "al Qaeda." None of these crises is as easy to address, as "winnable," as worthy of breathless reportage, breaking headlines, patriotic and militaristic "in-depth" profiles, as manipulable, as expressible a in good-versus-evil Manichean duality, as glibly personifyable and easily reduced to an uber-villain, a Dr. Evil who must be spanked, and spanked hard, as is Iraq.

We were told it was about disarmament, about a clear and present, or perhaps future, threat to national security. We were told it was about cutting off aid to terrorists and destroying their haven. We were told it was about human rights abuses and liberation from a despot, regime change, self-rule for Iraqis and peace in the Middle East. The more cynical of us perhaps suspect a profit motive and a power motive, a strategic ploy for a lever of American will in the inhospitable Middle East. Perhaps we even suspect the administration of winding us up and pointing us in the direction of their favorite enmy, spinning all of the anxiety and post-9/11 fear and powerlessness and rage with no outlet at a convenient target. Perhaps we suspect that this target has the virtue of being ruled by a familiar villain, a favorite bogeyman for the Bushes, that it has the virtue of being a Muslim country at a time when, although we vehemently deny it, Muslims are easy to lump together and blame for 9/11, and that it has the added attraction of being a strategic linchpin for a power shift in our favor in the Middle East as well as, purely coincidentally sitting on the world's second largest oil reservoirs. Perhaps we suspect them of wanting a definable crisis that distracts from domestic woes, and can be framed and "won" within the frame they present. Perhaps we understand that all of the caution by Nobel Lureates, academics, writers, actors, world leaders, and a majority of the world's peoples will not stop an action to which the administration has already staked its honor and deployed its vast armies. Perhaps we even suspect that the Bush administration wants to take the military out for a spin, watch the newfangled gizmos shock-and-awe the world, deter evildoers everywhere, and leave no doubt as to who's the superpower who'll be calling the shots around these parts.

But I'm suggesting something further, something that Bill Moyers hinted at in the phrase "failure of imagination." I'm suggesting that what is truly terrifying is that blasting a second-rate dictator to kingdom come is the best answer this administration can come up with for the global complexies of the 21st Century. I'm suggesting that all of the factors, rationalizations, woes, ramifications, costs, and crises that I have enumerated now facing us add up to the Bush administration to "let's go get Saddam." I'm suggesting that our leadership is not only morally bankrupt, corrupt, and undemocratic, but woefully inadequate to address the real threats and the real problems and the real needs of the American people. And I'm suggesting that they are at least partially aware of this, and hope that a spectacular, meaningless "victory," complete with media cooperation and stirring look-and-feel graphics, music, and montages, will mask their fundamental inadequacy. And I'm suggesting that, tragically, it may do so, and that, tragically, we will pay and pay and pay for their hubris.

February 26, 2003

2/27 addendum:
my new favorite thing
a discussion I've spent more time on than this work that's due tomorrow (starts out dumb, gets better)

I just caught Bush's speech at the American Enterprise Institute. More on them.

What struck me quite forcibly is how the rhetoric has crept. We cried for disarmament. We pressed for inspections. But the clear objective, no longer veiled, is regime change and reshaping the entire Middle East in the name of peace and liberty. Mr. Bush never used the word "war." He called Saddam's Iraq an "outlaw state." He said that the U.N.'s failure to pass the US/British new resolution would render it an irrelevant institution, not committed to fighting terrorism and global peace.

Resolution 1441 is for disarmament. It's very clearly been a bait-and-switch. We do not want to disarm Iraq and then leave it alone. We want to depose, preferably kill, Saddam, try his henchment for war crimes, and install a U.S.-approved regime. The United Nations charter forbids assassination, unprovoked invasions, and forcible occupation and regime change. The Bush administration is telling the U.N. it now must support our illegal actions in order to have the power of its convictions as expressed in the resolution to disarm Iraq. This is positively Orwellian. There was very little in the spech that wasn't Orwellian. War in the name of peace. Occupation in the name of self-determination. Reshaping a region to better suit our political and economic ends in the name of liberty and national security. The concepts are so conflated that Bush didn't even bother to detail why Saddam IS an urgent threat. It's now taken as a given that our game plan depends on his removal. And the game is revealed as global. There was vaguue talk of his support of terrorism, something that the administration has been unable to prove. But by mentioning Sept. 11, threat, and weapons of mass destruction along with evil, despot, repression, and totalitarian, he basically threw everything into a big stew and hoped anger and vengeance would override close questioning of any proof.

All of this is unprecedented. No smoking gun, no aggression, no crimes, and yet a righteous call for war. The U.S. and U.N'.s own stated principles prohibit preemptive war. Reshaping the global landscape for our own ends no longer even hidden, yet not debated or decried. And, above all, the speech made clear that *no disarmament will satisfy us.* Our plan requires war, which requires Saddam to be evil, which makes a truism of his non-cooperation. *There is NOTHING that Saddam or the inspectors can say or do that will avert this war, because our objective is not disarmament but occupation.*

This gigantic a change in American foreign policy, this broad and expensive and costly in terms of the world's good will and human lives an initiative, this amount of peace-and-democracy warmongering wrapped in the flag and gee-whiz look at those big guns news specials...should call forth the most intense, forceful, and sustained debate from real leaders. And yet, by creeping rhetoric and inexorable actions while paying lip service to a U.N. process, the administration seems to have sandbagged the opposition, to have presented a fait accompli which allows only for debate on "restructuring" and "length of occupation." I am having trouble forgiving Democratic politicians and the news media for looking to their own small fortunes when the fate of the world hangs in the balance.

This is a few mens' war, in the guise of world will. How can this happen? Look at the mood, the economy, the anxiety and rising tensions. This is all down to a few men. How dare they fuck with our lives this way? How dare they lie and lie and lie and lie? How dare they sit in their corporate-special-interest ballroom they call a "think tank" and congratulate themselves IN PUBLIC on their plan to take over the world? And have a multi-flag backdrop and never ever ever talk of war or cost or death, but only of peace and freedom and the United States' vision and moral leadership?

For shame. Shame! Shame! Shame!

February 16, 2003

The New York Protest and Rally

I present my experience and my take on the news coverage I saw and read at home.

My mom's bus was to get in to Shea Stadium at 10 am. She'd left Worcester with four busloads of people at 6:30 am, just two hours after I'd finally fallen asleep after consuming most of a bottle of Pinot Grigio and writing an ambitious "things I'm gonna do as soon as I finish this work push" list. Chief among them might be finding out if anyone on the web has archived Groksoup's old content. The site has turned into an ersatz search engine, and even Google doesn't have the material cached. I started Texting in December of 1999 on Groksoup and, until the server returned more error messages than successful posts, posted there until the beginning of 2001. I left the archives up there, and, although I often reminded myself to copy them to disk, that got entangled in my plan to revamp all archives and make them searchable, which made me put off the complex task. Now it seems that hundreds of pages of my writing may be lost in cyberspace.

Anyhow, mom called at about 10:20. What I should have done the previous night was get my warm clothes and protest supplies together, as, hung over, I stood on a chair to reach a jammed storage area in which were hidden mittens, hats, and scarves. Never found 'em. Had no bottled water or kleenex. Tried three different coats (do I want puffy down, for safety and warmth, a long black wool coat for style and "look, we're not all crunchy hippies" respectability, or the shoat black city coat I wear every day? Finally went for the last, thinking that rather than create more anxiety by treating this as a scary situation, I'd act like a New Yorker who's on the streets every day and just happens, this day, to be near the U.N.) -- and in the process left my tobacco in the down coat pocket, prompting a nicotine fit later.

I walked over to Astor Place, stopping to buy some overpriced, cheaply made gloves from a St. Mark's vendor. When I got to the subway station, everything suddenly seemed real. The platform was jammed with peple, many with signs or slogan hats or buttons, a sense of subdued anticipation and solidarity. I began to feel very excited. The train was already crowded and became unbearably so as we neared Grand Central.

I got out at 51st, the plan being to meet my mom at the Waldorf Astoria's informal restaurant. The crowds were thronging, and I was fighting them walking west. Some organized groups paraded the sidewalk with drums and costumes. On Park Avenue, I passed a large Catholic church, the kind with a wide apron of marble steps. The steps were full and the sidewalk impassable as paritioners gathered, wearing lots of white and purple, carrying "Who Would Jesus Bomb?" signs and pictures of waiflike Iraqui children with the taglines "Collateral Damage?" or "What is Her lIfe Worth To You", and singing hymns. My throat tightened and I got teary.

The Waldorf is huge and I ended up having to backtrack the entire avenue inside the hotel's lobby because the restaurant is on the Lexington Avenue side. My mom wasn't there, which was weird because she'd had almost an hour to get there while I futzed around like an idiot. Now the sidewalks outside were solid with people, unbroken streams. I was circling around the restaurant again when my mom dashed in the hotel lobby door and headed for the escalator; I headed her off at the pass. She said she'd spent almost 40 minutes covering the blocks from Grand central and trying to get out of the terminal itself.

Mitsu was picking up friends of his and Sue's coming in from Princeton at Penn Station, then busing west. I figured he was long gone, but when we called his cell phone, he and the group were still stuck in the Grand Central area, which had become complete pedestrian gridlock as thousands swarmed out onto streets with no room to hold them, and the police began blocking certain exits and routing people away from where they wanted to go. My mom waited for Mitsu while I went for coffee, easier said than done in Midtown, which features blocks of solid granite buildings, and few delis or bodegas. I had to go almost over to 5th again, worried that Mom would miss Mitsu in the throngs. Then having that first sip of coffee and realizing no cigarettes. I bummed one from another person waiting in the lobby portico; turned out he also smokes roll-your-owns.

Mitsu's friends were a family with two small children. The oldest daughter had made a big cardboard sign that said "Dear Mr. Installed by the Supreme Court, Why Don't You Give Peace a Chance" and was pretty greens and pinks with a flower motif. The sign, on a folding box remnant, turned out to be very hard to manage.

We joined the throngs flowing north on Lexington, and within a block, were off the sidewalk and in the street, solid crowds from building to building on either side and as far as one could see north or south. We were allowed to go east to 3rd within a few blocks north, but were trapped on third for several more blocks before being allowed to go east on the next unblocked cross street, to 2nd Avenue, where we spent the bulk of the afternoon.

At first, on Lex and Third, we'd be pushed to the sidewalk by blocs of traffic, still trying to get through at a snail's pace. But by 55th Street and for all of our journey north on 2nd Avenue, the sea of humanity was far too dense to allow vehicle traffic, and we passed cars that had been caught up in the crowds, some with drivers inside or sitting on their hoods, some abandoned where they'd been trapped. The crowd would flow around them like liquid. The very very few police this far west were desperately blocking the cross streets east; some had wooden barriers, others just had personnel. It was only about the mid-50s that we saw police in riot gear. On the avenues, maybe one or two policemen every block had been given crowd control, and either simply stood still like the vehicles while thousands passed, or shouted futilely to "get on the sidewalks!" (which were absolutely full already), or just collected wooden sticks (prohibeted) from signs.

I was fortunate to have arrived early enough to both be able to reach the meetingplace with my mom (others were divided by barricades from their parties) and to be situated in the main flow of people toward the demonstration, the flow that would actually reach the First Avenue blocks earmarked for the rally, albeit three hours later. Other groups, coming from west, north, and south, hit cul-de-sacs of barricaded cross streets. The way it worked was like a staircase. The further south you were, the further west the cross streets were barricaded, to prevent the sideflow crowds from crushing the full avenues. However, since the police had not figured any of this out in advance, barricade rigidity became situational. Also, police were unable to say where one *would* be able to access the protest, since there was no traffic flow plan. This meant that protesters at Fifth or Park or Lex Avenues shouted and agitated at barricades on cross streets rather than simply being told to go further north until the next open cross street east. Almost all of the clashes with police were due to this simple communication/logistics breakdown. The police simply hadn't been paying attention to the grassroots news. March permit or no, how were several hundred thousand people, coming from every direction, going to access one location (given as First Avenue and 51st)? Inevitibly, streams would converge into rivers and would become gridlocks and solid, stationary masses, unable to get in. The protesters should have been told to stay on subway trains until the late 60s or so, where some cross streets were open to First Avenue. The barricade cops should have had walkie-talkes so that instead of pointless argy-bargy, they could have said, go up five blocks north and then cross east. Very very bad planning.

That said, the protest was fantastic. It took awhile before it coalesced in the sense that for perhaps half an hour, we all thought we'd soon be on First Avenue, facing the podium, all gathered as one group and one energetic body, where we'd sing and chant and cheer. During that time, we all felt like commuters at rush hour who were waiting for a temporary bottleneck to ease, and the mood was sort of like waiting in line for a popular movie or something. Grumbling, silly songs of "let us though," and massive energy and sign-waving and puppets all held in abeyance for the "real" protest.

But it soon became apparant that this WAS the "real protest." That we were the protesters, every bit as "real" as the First Avenue rally, and that this was the time we had, where we were. There was sort of an energetic change then, as we resigned ourselves to walking north indefinitely, "away" from, and parallel to the rally. People who had portable radios turned the speeches up loud, and you'd hear several minutes before the amoebalike crowd carried you away from them. Staying connected to ones group was hard, it was easy to be cut off and then drift in a different pattern, lose visual contact.

People were very, very funny. It was an intelligent and very upbeat crowd, which was reflected in both the overheard snatches of conversation ("Oh, yeah, this'll be on the news 'several protesters gathered.' 'In other news, a handful of radicals mad life hard for motorists today in Midtown'), and in the signs, which were terrific. Although there were "No Blood for Oil" and "Impeach Bush" signs, as well as some signs for peripheral issues, most were not polemical, but presupposed a commonality of purpose and hopeful-but-slightly-cynical tone with puns and humor.

I'd wanted to carry a sign on a stick, but abandoned the idea when told no sticks. I forgot about cardboard tubes, which many people used to hold their signs. I couldn't decide between "No War No How"; "Ask Me Why I March" (a segue to handing out my list, which I had about 30 copies of but didn't hand out because it was silly; everyone WAS marching, couldn't stop and read, and were all packed in like sardines); or "Mark Shields for President!" Now I wish I'd put duct tape all over my slothes, worn plastic sheeting as a shawl, and carried a sign saying "Am I Safe Yet?"

Great signs included a gorgeous felt applique peace banner with doves (no space to march with it unfurled to be seen, though), pretty silkscreened scrims of the earth from space, "Draft the Bush Twins," "Got Tape?" (takeoff of the milk campaing with a pic of Bush with duct tape over his mouth); "Asses of Evil" (picture of Bush administration bigwigs), "Regime Change Begins at Home," "Not in Our Name," and, my mom's favorite "Let's Not Elect Bush (Again)."

At one point we heard the crowd estimates for protests in Rome and Berlin and London and everyone cheered. We heard snatches of a very informal and funny speaker from Harlem who was like "You can stick Colin Powell or Condileeza Rice in your Cabinet and we stil;l aren't fooled! Those people do not represent us! We're not gonna die in your war! If you hate Saddam so much, Mr. Bush, why don't you take a plane over there and punch himn in the nose!" They announced PeteSeeger but then I was out of range, which was sad.

Further north, we passed the "Glamericans," my favorite agit-prop theme of the day, they were glammed out in sort of goth/drag with sequins and lots of fake fur and feathers and high heels, with pink, white, and black signs in glitter on faux fur saying "Peace is Glamorous!" "War is a Bore" and other silly fabulous things.

There were big puppets of peace doves with wings on sticks flying over the crowd. People would start localized chants, from the good-oldies "a people united will never be defeated!" and "we shall overcome" to "I-2-3-4 We don't want your stupid war! 5-6-7-8- No More Duct Tape!" to silly situation-specific chants like "Onward to 59th!" Some young people made a sort of grunge rap from old chants, We caught up with the Psychiatric Profesionals For Peace carrying their "Peace of Mind" banner and looking sensible and calm as is their wont.

We all came to realize that, by denying a permit and a march route, the city had created a march, a march to the protest. And that, with all the concerns for "safety," this unanticipated march was completely unpoliced or regulated, with all the barricades and crowd control and sharpshooters over on First Avenue. And that we were in a completely self-regulated crowd, organically marching, and it was somehow beautiful. And a huge cheer would arise from behind us, massive and unified, a tonal "ooooh!" that traveled forward in a sound wave like the visual waves organized at large sporting events, but completely spontaneously, forming a shape, an aural energetic wave of solidarity and assent. It was very very powerful, like an "ohm," and it also seemed transpersonal, global.

"We got our march!" people said. "Yeah, we're marching." There was no intent to defy the law; this wasn't a rebellion against the rally; it was the people marching TO the rally. Mitsu said, "It looks like the decision to forbid the march was like dividing the baby in half." Somewhere in the early 60s, the family from Princeton peeled off to go home, with two exhausted and overwhelmed kids.

This is why crowd estimates on this particular protest are very misleading. Lots of people never got to the rally and staged side-street rallies; other got freaked by the crowds; some went all the way west and protested not having been able to get to First Ave at the Javitz Center. And thousands, like our friends, came a long way, joined in, but never made it to First Avenue to be counted although they marched for hours. Even as we marched north, exhausted protesters who'd been standing in the cold since 10am were coming west, out from the cross treets that were blocked from our direction. We stopped at the first deli we came to (really, 2nd Ave needs more delis in the 60s!!) and it was packed solic with hungry protesters. Restaurants as far away as 5th Avenue were slammed. Midtown was like the West Village right after the Gay Pride parade winds up and tens of thousands fan out into every locale. Some protesters stopped in elevated corporate building stairs or aprons to take video, watch the parade, or try to find the people they'd lost.

At some point we asked a barricade cop how far north we'd have to go and he said "72nd," but it was 69th that north of us was blocked and we swung right, the energy surging again, 2:30 p.m. and we were "almost there." More singing and euphoria now, and we hit First Avenue, both north and south blocked now, penned in btween 68th and 9th. "We're here," said Mitsu "We weren't here before, but now we are."

The rally was slightly anticlimactic, as we were frozen, tired, overstimulated, far from the podium, and no longer moving. I truly think it would have been safer, easier on traffic and law enforcement, and more satisfying for the protesters, to have marched on a route. As it was, we took over streets unintentionally, didn't know where to go, marched anyway, but with no protection or room to spread out banners and represent groups, and never got that satisfaction, the coming together of everyone at once, in one direction, energetically forward, channeling energy and sharing a common experience. By the time we got to First, the pens in front of us had thinned out as people went for food or toilets (no port-a-potties, "for security"), or had left after being there 5 hours. So we starte a leapfrog game of waiting at a pen for ten minutes or so until the crowd pressure from those still streaming on from 2nd (we began walking at about 11:30, so think of the people who had yet even to arrive for the rally scheduled at 12!), forced the cops to swing to partitions open and we'd suge forward to the next block. However, sidewalks were being kept open for passersby, so people were climbing the barricades over and bypassing the pens via the sidewalks. Barriers were fallen over, which was dangerous, and bottlenecks around one small opening forced much more jostling and crushing than before. We could see space ahead of us, which made the crush seem pointless.

At one point, trapped much longer than usual in one pen, the crowd surched left to the sidewalk, climbing the barricade and really crushing. I lost my party and then they swung ther barrier in the center open and I was carried forward very fast. I went over to the left and hoped to see my mom come by. If she didn't she could be anywhere. But there they were. It was probably on that block that, trying the sidewalk again, dangerous with ice and utility poles and postboxes and debris, I was caught between a tree on my right, and a crowd on my left, when a young guy with a huge backpack tried to sort of swing me open like a door, pushing by very hard and knocking me sideways. I thought, time to stop, this is getting dangerous. I stood in front of the tree for shelter, we all paused there, and now, finally, we could see the huge video screen of the podium and hear the speeches (sound trucks with loudspeakers were positioned every block on 1st).

Just a not for rally organizers: Fewer speakers. More variety in tone and message of speakers. More songs and humor, less shrill, endless preaching. And for the speakers:: speak slowly, keep your pitch low, enunciate clearly, use short sentences, and don't think you can go on and on really fast and shrill and then end with a rallying cry and expect spontaneous chanting!! Pace your delivery with several mini-crescendos of humor or exortation, let the crowd cheer and laugh, leave then wanting more, and end with a very catchy phrase. They'll chant it then.

Saw Danny Gover and one articulate woman, then one of those "Pink Lady" protesters I later saw profiled on the national news (Code Pink for Peace!" just didn't quite catch on), missed Seger and Tutu, and realized my muscles were spasming and my teeth were chattering and it was time to go.

It was almost as hard to leave as to arrive, with subways blocked off, streets thronged, avenues blocked, and no bistros or open restaurants. Mom and I, exhasted, meandered down as far as 59th and over almost to 5th before a shopkeeper put us on to a small second-story Irish pub, which, even at this remove, was packed with protesters (which they were not prepared for, with one waitress). I'd seen a friend from yoga class amid the huge 2nd avenue crowd; here, the couple at whose house I'd celebrated New Years' walked in. I had to walk all the way over to Columbus Circle for an accessible subway and, after seeing mom off for her bus, ran into a guy I'd worked side-by-side with at the post-9/11 Clarkson relief station.

All in all, the protest was exhilerating, powerful, life-affirming, joyful, a mess logistically, but beautifully handled by the protesters. I can se how mobs work though. If this were a slightly more repressive country, if people had been a tad less good-natured and funny, and angrier, I could see how sheer energy and size could create a mob, I could see plate glass smashed and those stranded cars overturned. I think we should thank one another and give much props for the peace and camaraderie.

February 13, 2003

Why Do I March?

I march because I love my country.

I march because I refuse to believe it's futile.

I march because this is a government by the people and for the people and of the people and we are the people. I refuse to believe representative government is dead.

I march because I refuse to be marginalized as someone "exercising my right to free speech" as if that's some precious acting-out I'm allowed while the real grown-ups get on with their war.

I march because America was founded as a haven from imperialism and expansionism and doctrinaire conformity, and we are on the brink of betraying what makes us great.

I march because this war will make hypocrites of us.

I march because I can feel terrible things coming; I can feel it like a sneeze, crisis upon crisis, war without end.

I march because we financed Iraq's weapons program in the first place.

I march because they're playing with my life.

I march because the United States budget and the United States Armed Forces are not Bush's private war chest.

I march because George Bush is president the same way that O.J. Simpson is innocent.

I march because the same small group of rich white men, in various configurations, has annexed the resources, power, and very lives of the world's people over my entire lifetime.

I march because I live in a time where a few furtive blowjobs are more criminal than financing genocide with arms deals to tyrants.

I march because I don't believe that Saddam Hussein will give weapons to Al Qaeda unless we force him to.

I march because I'm tired of being lied to.

I march because I believe we are living that parable, the one where the fisherman is granted everything he desires from the sea, and yet he conjures fearful things, and, in his fear, brings about the very destruction he had imagined.

I march because I am one of the over ten percent of the population who is unemployed, underemployed, unemployed so long I no longer count, or self-employed with no clients.

I march because I learned today that Enron paid no taxes in the latter half of the 90s; that this corporation run by this administration's cronies and held up as free-market capitalism's golden child destroyed lives, smashed the stock market, betrayed its employees and investors, took this country's resources without giving back, and lied, cheated, and stole so that a few white men could become billionaires.

I march because the California energy crisis was manufactured.

I march because I want to see who Joe Millionaire chooses and not terror alerts and warmongering.

I march because I love that the show Joe Millionaire could only come out of the sort of peace, abundance, cultural irony, insta-celebrity hopefulness, and leisure time that we all have structured our lives within, take for granted, and within which everything we do has context and meaning.

I march because it's very hard to work, to write, to make good art, to breathe in fear.