Eric Garris and Scott Horton let me write pretty much anything I want. Maybe it shows. OK, we all know it does. That’s rarer than it might seem. Outside of the occasional tease about my vague left-leanings from that Antiwar.com CEO-editorial director combo, they’ve a knack for finding, guiding, and then trusting folks like me – and those better than me. Over the last 25 years – it’s quarter-century anniversary season – the site has served as home station, salon, and sanctuary for a range of tough thinkers and fascinating personalities.
Diverse in interests, expertise, and no doubt style – but always aligned on rejecting empire – it’s been a cast of characters that’s hard to match. I’m a relative latecomer to the game – an instructive and humbling reminder that the site’s stalwarts were critical of even once popular Kosovar wars before it was cool, and before I’d left high school.
Still, misguided as I often was in those days, I’ve also been preparing for my work at Antiwar.com since back then – and way before. At least since I started cleaning the New Dorp branch of the New York Public Library out of every book on a range of distinctly uncool and obscure topics – from Custer to Chad, and Napoleon to Nagorno-Karabakh – with manic regularity around the turn of the 1990s. Not that I’d then thought all that secret hyper-nerding would pan out any better professionally than it had played on the pretty girl circuit. No, per Indiana Jones, for this kid it was off to seeking – if not fortune – certainly glory.
It wasn’t until glory as sentiment – and historic serial murder – proved grotesque, that all the geek-grounding came full circle. Turned out I was better prepared – and inclined – for critiquing than for managing killing. A self-styled, and probably somewhat self-satisfied, island adrift from a near-career at war (or war prep) was I – that’s when some good and sensible Samaritans like Tom Engelhardt, Bob Scheer, and yes, Eric and Scott moored me.
Sometimes it’s hard to believe I’ve been writing originals at Antiwar.com for almost three years. It’s harder to believe sundry Antiwar-alum were at it – and accurately so – for 22 before that. This hit home a couple months back when Turkey’s government conspired and enabled Azerbaijan’s reigniting re-invasion of Nagorno-Karabakh. Plenty of mid-range publishers and producers suddenly found my own "frozen conflict" curiosity a hot commodity. "Nobody seems to know much about this tussle, but we figured you might, ya damn dweeb," went the standard between-the-lines messages refrain. Momentarily aglow, and basking in the bibliophile’s vindication, I then realized I’d actually have to write and remark on this tragic Caucasus mess – that my faint satisfaction couldn’t substitute for a solid brush-up.
That’s when Eric suggested a light look at weighty prose from the late great Justin Raimondo. Sure enough, in his aptly-titled 1999 column "Hey There, Heydar!,” Justin had essentially predicted the sources, stimuli, and script for today’s bloody second act of the Karabakh-conflict!
That’s often the Antiwar.com norm. At once a hub of intellectual activism and treasure trove of an archive, the site has spent 25 years ahead of ever-cruel curves. One has to laugh every time establishment media pundits plead ignorance or oversell surprise when some sorry American trooper gets zapped in a far-flung fiasco – think Senator Lindsey "I didn’t know there was [sic] 1,000 troops in Niger” Graham – or when fighting flares in some seemingly obscure "frozen conflict." Because the odds that someone here at Antiwar.com – surely Justin or Scott – called that spade a spade before anyone on the Post, Times, Journal circuit could even spell the name of the suddenly salient spot.
And sure enough, antiwar.com had an article warning of the "Growing US Footprint in Africa" – including training troops in Niger – just three months before the "surprise" ambush in that country killed four American soldiers. A year and a half before that, a posted piece predicted trouble brewing in "Hillary’s West African Footprint" – due to destabilizing arms, Islamist, and ethnic Tuareg migrations from shattered-by-the-West Libya into Mali, Chad, and yep: Niger.
Three years before that, Justin offered a friendly reminder that exasperated ethnic groups and swelling tensions stirred up by Francophone – now closely coordinated with AFRICOM-ian American – neo-imperialism in Mali, have pesky tendencies to transcend such minor colonial synthetics as borders. The title of this Raimondo column classic was "Napoleon in Mali" – a reminder that Antiwar.com‘s cast of Cassandras offer creative and provocative flair to their blistering critiques.
Anybody who’s spent even a touch of time in banal boardrooms or amidst military minutiae knows just how rare – maybe mythical – are inspiring mission statements. Back during my stint in the old Afghan absurdity that isn’t quite old news, we’d refer to "visions" and instructions from on high as our friendly daily non-missions. Well, consider Antiwar.com a veritable unicorn, then, since this outfit’s own description manages motivation, clarity, and concision (clearly neither Justin nor I was behind this blurb):
This site is devoted to the cause of non-interventionism and is read by libertarians, pacifists, leftists, “greens,” and independents alike, as well as many on the Right who agree with our opposition to imperialism.
That aspect of the Antiwar.com brand is a refreshing counter, and indispensable alternative, to a mainstream media space that I hardly have to tell most of you has come full circle – and full-throated – to Orwell, and down a dishonesty spiral. That Englishman’s prophetic knack plays past his now clichéd, if relevant, "hits" like 1984 and Animal Farm. Speaking of living one’s values yet maintaining cognitive agility, consider George’s diagnosis of Spanish Civil War reporting – a conflict he took a bullet and suffered a cerebral shakeup in:
I remember saying once to Arthur Koestler, ‘History stopped in 1936’……in Spain, for the first time, I saw newspaper reports which did not bear any relation to the facts, not even the relationship which is implied in an ordinary lie.
I saw great battles reported where there had been no fighting, and complete silence where hundreds of men had been killed…I saw, in fact, history being written not in terms of what happened but of what ought to have happened according to various ‘party lines.’
[As for] atrocities in the Spanish Civil War: I know that some were committed by the Republicans, and far more…by the Fascists. But what impressed me then, and has impressed me ever since, is that atrocities are believed in or disbelieved in solely on grounds of political predilection…The truth, it is felt, becomes untruth when your enemy utters it.
Now if that 77-year-old description doesn’t read as off-puttingly familiar in these pre-/mid-/post-Trump and terror war times, we ain’t part of the same species. But I know that it does for most readers. Maybe many citizens are cool with today’s obscene media mismatches:
- Bushy Iraq surges are bad (until they’re not)…Obamian Afghan surges are good, until he changes his mind – then changes it again…oh, and Trumpster Afghan mini-surges are always bad – but somehow so are his troop withdrawals.
- Bush’s (and Trump’s) drone strikes are bad…Obama’s free-for-all is good (well, at least unworthy or impermissible to mention).
- Starvation sanctions and blockades are bad if they kill kids…that is if Bush backs it or Trump tries it. Half a million Clinton-catalyzed Iraqi and at least 85,000 Obama-assisted Yemeni child funerals are fine, of course. In fact, who can bother being bothered if Biden brings the latter crime’s still unapologetic architects onto his incoming war-whispering squad?
Well we happy few band of insufferable Antiwar.com brothers, that’s who. Here there are no Orwellian "Republican" and "Democrat" atrocities – just atrocity-atrocities. Crimes against humanity, decency, and what remains of the republic are named and shamed with consistent clarion calls. Would that it’s ever thus.
Look, nobody likes this part – and it’s hardly the creative sort’s narrative dream – but all that rarity and quality doesn’t just happen. To do what they do, and do it as a matter of course, the Antiwar.com team must locate, recruit, and hire writers in a competitive yet hard-luck publishing economy. That’s not a teensy task.
So here’s the thing: if you like what you see, if you want more – and hate to cede the space and story to the usual sleazy suspects – contribute to the cause.
It’s one way to live those values. That’s no small thing.
Danny Sjursen is a retired U.S. Army officer, senior fellow at the Center for International Policy (CIP), contributing editor at Antiwar.com, and director of the new Eisenhower Media Network (EMN). His work has appeared in the NY Times, LA Times, The Nation, Huff Post, The Hill, Salon, The American Conservative, Mother Jones, Scheer Post and Tom Dispatch, among other publications. He served combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and later taught history at West Point. He is the author of a memoir and critical analysis of the Iraq War, Ghostriders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge and Patriotic Dissent: America in the Age of Endless War. Along with fellow vet Chris "Henri" Henriksen, he co-hosts the podcast “Fortress on a Hill.” Follow him on Twitter @SkepticalVet and on his website for media requests and past publications.
Copyright 2020 Danny Sjursen