On Sunday, I spoke at an event organized by a coalition of peace groups marking the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. Being the reclusive writer type, I don’t really get much of a kick out of speaking in front of an audience. However, in this case, aside from the somber occasion, it was the kind of event I didn’t at all mind doing: no fuss, no muss, all I had to do was walk a few blocks to the Unitarian Universalist church over on Franklin Street.
It was a beautiful spring day, and, although the program wouldn’t start until 5 in the evening, it was still light, and warm (warm, that is, for San Francisco) as I set out on my way. There was a holiday feel in the streets. Hand-holding couples ambled down the sidewalks, window-shopping and luxuriating in the change of season. I wondered: how many people are going to give up such a gloriously lazy Sunday evening to attend a political event?
As I approached the cross-streets of Franklin and Geary, I could see the crowd spilling onto the church steps, their signs "Out Now!" and "Cindy for Congress" giving the whole scene a festive air. Trotskyites of every sect and flavor waved their newspapers at me and thrust leaflets into my hands as I entered the hall, which was filled to overflowing with people the church was already more than half full, and it was a very big room. They soon ran out of seats, and people stood in the aisles. I estimated the crowd at close to 1,000. Perhaps that was due, I thought, to the publicity for the event, which headlined the presence of Sean Penn, who I believe is some sort of actor.
Being a speaker, I got to sit in the front row, angled between Dan Ellsberg an old friend and Matt Gonzalez, the former president of San Francisco’s board of supervisors who very narrowly missed getting elected mayor, and the only guy in the room wearing a suit. I looked around for Sean Penn, or somebody who just might be Sean Penn, but saw nobody fitting that description. (He never showed.)
Go here for Matt Gonzalez’s speech, which was thoughtful and radical. Yet I wondered at the dichotomy he drew between the moral and economic arguments against the invasion and conquest of Iraq: as the Iraq Recession sets in and people lose their homes, their jobs, and their hopes, is this any less immoral and consequential than the carnage we are wreaking in Iraq? Well, yes, it is, but it is only a matter of degrees of coercion. And what about the poor don’t they suffer the most?
Go here for a video of Cindy Sheehan’s speech: Cindy’s hated by the neocons, but I like her - and not just because of that. Keep in mind, watching the video, that she’s running for Congress as an independent, against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Here is a natural politician in action and, for once, I mean that as a compliment. Notice how she starts out by naming and thanking all the people who made the event possible: always buck up the base. Her mastery of emotion and rhetoric, her evocation of Palm Sunday a poetic touch. This, added to her tears the anniversary of her son’s death is also fast approaching topped off her riveting performance. As far as the ideological content of the speech is concerned, her praise for Ron Paul before this solidly leftist crowd speaks for itself.
My good friend Dan Ellsberg gave the best speech, in terms of analysis, but that’s to be expected. His essential insight is that as long as we sanction the policy of imperialism and mass murder by our complicity by going along with the program it will continue. Yet the War Party can be defeated if good men and women say "No!" His own career is a powerful testament to the power of just saying no: not on my watch, not in my name, not in my country.
Here is Joe Wheeler, a veteran of the Iraq war. What he said shocked me and just about everybody else in the room, just as it will doubtless shock you.
Here is my speech on video, which, I hope, will satisfy those who say I’m going soft for Barack Obama. I print the full text below:
As we observe the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, I am sad and angry to report that we are on the brink of war yet again, this time with Iran. Sad for all the obvious reasons: the pointless, tragic deaths; the wanton destruction; the horrific costs of a few men’s hubris. And, yes, angry, because no one seems to have learned the lessons of the last war not even those who said that if they knew then what they know now, they would never have supported or voted for war with Iraq.
You know, it’s funny, in a macabre way: everybody seems to be against this war five years after it has become crystal clear that it is, as Gen. William E. Odom points out, the worst military and strategic blunder in our history. Even many if not most of the neoconservative ideologues who brought us to the brink of disaster are now admitting that "mistakes were made," and are seeking to distance themselves from the carnage.
The reality is that this was a horrible mistake from the very beginning, and yet many who say this and said this at the time are not ruling out an attack on Iran. Yes, it’s all fine and dandy that the two Democratic presidential candidates are telling us what we want to hear that we need to get out of Iraq as soon as possible. But do they realize that the longer we stay in Iraq the closer we are to war with Iran? Do they rule that out? Of course not.
As we protest, mourn, and speak out against the current war, we must raise an alarm against the next war and by all indications it is coming soon.
Opponents of the invasion of Iraq warned that the conflict could not be contained in Iraq, that it would soon spread throughout the region and that prediction is coming to pass before our eyes. The firing of Adm. William “Fox” Fallon described by Esquire magazine as the one man standing between us and another war prefigures a disaster in the making, and the rhetoric of this administration and of Democratic Party politicians, who are enabling this administration in its war plans bodes ill for the cause of peace.
What it comes down to is this: if we don’t raise public awareness of the next war, if we don’t wake up the American people and mobilize them in their millions against the madness of the War Party, we are headed for a war that will make the present one seem like a Sunday school picnic.
Apart from the death and destruction that will be the fate of the Iranians, we here in America will be hit hard. The price of oil will rocket upward, an economy already on the brink will fall into the abyss, and the sheer horror of it all will stain our conscience for many years to come.
We must act now to prevent this scenario from ever playing out.
We have powerful forces arrayed against us: the establishment of both major political parties, the military-industrial complex, the neoconservatives in the media and the Washington think-tanks. All these forces are united in their insistence that we must stay in Iraq and move against Iran. The enemy is in Washington [applause], which, as a libertarian, I know all too well: it is liberals as well as conservatives who are obstacles to peace.
But the people are with us and that is our strength and our hope. Now we must rouse them, make them aware of the danger and get them to act. Our choices are few: it is protest or passivity in the face of evil. I know what my choice is; now make yours.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
My topic is ” The Ron Paul Phenomenon and the Prospects for Liberty in the U.S.,” more specifically the state of the libertarian movement in the U.S., which I hope will prove informative to the decidedly international cast of participants, who will be coming from every part of Europe, in what promises to be a most enlightening convocation and exchange of views. Set against the backdrop of what used to be known as Halicarnassus, home of Herodotus, we’ll hear from a great variety of speakers, including John Laughland, whom I’ve always greatly admired, as well as conference organizer Hans Hermann Hoppe, Paul Gottfried, Peter Brimelow, Tom DiLorenzo, British libertarian activist Sean Gabb, and a host of other academics and activists.
I greatly look forward to this, and urge you especially my European and Middle Eastern readers to investigate attending. The conference is going to be fascinating, and Bodrum, I hear, can be quite a lot of fun. You can write to Robert Grozinger, the secretary of the PFS, for more information: groezinger@PropertyAndFreedom.org.