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The Peace Movement Between Wars: What Next?
Published on Wednesday, June 4, 2003 by
The Peace Movement Between Wars: What Next?
by the War Resisters League

Someone called the WRL office in mid-April about an upcoming demonstration and asked, "Are we protesting the war or the occupation?"

At that moment, it was a hard question to answer. It wasn't clear whether the war was over. The United States seems to have entered into a permanent war mode, rather like that described in Orwell's 1984 - or perhaps we should say, permanent attack mode: Even as Bush & Co. mopped up in Iraq (that's "established the occupation," in Oldspeak), they appeared to be conducting a ghoulish casting call for the next war's enemy, with Syria and North Korea as the front-runners and Cuba as a sleeper candidate. Three issues ago, looking ahead to the war against Iraq and noting the unprecedented opposition to it, this magazine editorialized, "[The antiwar movement's] task now is not so much to change hearts and minds, but to build a diverse and credible movement that can mobilize voices and bodies. If we do that effectively, we can stop this invasion before it starts."

In retrospect, we have to give that prognostication a mixed review. The worldwide peace movement did succeed in mobilizing bodies beyond our wildest dreams: More than once, before the Iraq war had even started, millions of people across the globe spoke out simultaneously against it in the largest protests in history. Yet alas, we not only failed to stop it before it started, we failed to stop it before Bush and his craven coalition had finished devastating an already devastated country. Now, predictably, the numbers at the protests are dropping, although they'll probably rise again when the administration announces the winner of the next-foe audition.

But permanent war is more than just country-hopping. We have to respond, not only to where the next invasion is, but to what the U.S. forces do when they're there. Opposing war is no longer enough; we need to oppose the misplaced priorities of occupation as well: the garrison building, the resource exploiting, the political manipulation. For all the administration's talk about protecting the people of Iraq, once there, all they protected was the oil. And the media, which were giving the opposition unprecedented visibility before the war began, in large measure relapsed into get-behind-the-President business as usual, leaving the cynicism and brutality of the occupation unchallenged. Thus, it falls to the peace movement to issue that challenge, audibly and visibly.

A word here about which movement we're talking about: Historically, "antiwar movement" and "peace movement" have been used interchangeably. Strictly speaking, however, the peace movement - those groups that, like the War Resisters League, work before, during, after and between wars to promote the cause of peace in the world - has always made up but a fraction of the opposition to any given war. Sometimes the fraction has been a large one, sometimes a minuscule one; few other than pacifists opposed World War II, for instance, while virtually all the United States left of dead center opposed the Vietnam War. But if there was ever a time when the cause of peace required that that fraction grow into a more substantial part of the whole, it's now. A mere antiwar movement will not be able to generate enough momentum to disrupt the stop-and-go rhythms of the permanent war; a permanent war requires a permanent peace movement.

We also need to infuse our opposition with yet more actual resistance. Mass demonstrations against the next U.S. invasion are necessary, but won't be sufficient to stop it. Bush and his friends have made it eminently clear that they're not listening. They would have to listen, however, if enough people crowded the jails with civil disobedience, if not enough people paid war taxes to finance a war, if counter-recruiters brought the number of armed forces recruits to below armed forces sufficiency.

The last sentence, although clearly true on its face, begs the question, how much is "enough" to make them listen? That's easy: Enough is the number - unknown and unknowable in advance - that gets the job done. We don't know, for instance, how many war tax resisters it takes to stop war; but we'll know we've done the job when, in the words of the old poster, the Pentagon has to hold a bake sale to go to war. We don't know how many counter-recruiters it would take to whittle the armed forces down to numbers too low to accomplish the endless war's aims, but we'll know it when there aren't enough troops to mount an invasion.

But if that's going to happen, if the peace movement is going to be effective, it will have to be more broadly based than it has been in the past. No unarmed movement has ever succeeded without gaining the allegiance of a broad segment of the society it was trying to change - nor would we want ours to. As much as we want to end war, most of us also want to end it democratically, not by the fiat of a vanguard.

In the end, that's the burden and the joy of pacifism - that what feminist pacifist Barbara Deming called the "exploration" that is nonviolence must be done in the company of the like-minded and the not-yet-quite like-minded. To face off against the largest war machine ever assembled on the face of the earth will require a large and motley crew bringing a range of gifts and perspectives to the effort.

We are calling, in other words, for both an escalation and a broadening of radical nonviolent resistance, which the War Resisters League has stood for for many years but which has never been more necessary than it is now. In the long-ago words of the great peace agitator A.J. Muste, "There is no way to peace. Peace is the way." Now it is the only way to stop the Bush permanent war.

The NonViolent Activist is published 6 times a year by the War Resisters League, which advocates Gandhian nonviolence as the method for creating a democratic society free of war, racism, sexism, and human exploitation.


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