This July 4th, as we celebrate the 230th anniversary of our nation's founding, we find ourselves in a tragic position: a nation born out of a longing for freedom from domination has now become the dominator. The US Declaration of Independence proclaimed the need to fight against Britain because King George III had “kept among us standing armies” that committed intolerable “abuses and usurpations.” Today our government, sending 140,000 soldiers off to fight in a foreign land, is committing abuses and usurpations in Iraq.
George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison all warned that the invasion and occupation of other lands would turn America into precisely the sort of occupying force they had rebelled against. "If there be one principle more deeply written than any other in the mind of every American,” said Thomas Jefferson in 1791, “it is that we should have nothing to do with conquest."
But it is the words of John Quincy Adams that should haunt us today. As Secretary of State in 1821, he called on America to be “the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all”, but “the champion and vindicator only of her own.” He advised against going abroad “in search of monsters to destroy” because “once enlisting under other banners than her own…she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force.” The United States might become the “dictatress of the world,” Adams warned, but “she would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.”
The invasion of Iraq, a country that had nothing to do with the September 11 tragedy, is indeed a war of interest and intrigue that has usurped the standard of freedom. While the invasion morphed from a war against Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction to a war to free the Iraqi people, the Iraqis increasingly came to view the U.S. forces as occupiers, not liberators. The abuses at Abu Ghraib, the destruction of Fallujah, the Marine rampage in Haditha—all are reflections of how, in our search for “monsters to destroy,” we have found them in ourselves. And the refusal of our elected officials to put a timeline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops—despite the call to do so from both the American and Iraqi people—shows how our involvement has entrapped us “beyond the power of extrication.”
Many peace-loving Americans have been trying to extricate our nation from this war of conquest by pushing for our troops to come home. We have organized massive rallies, lobbied Congress, held month-long vigils outside the White House and gone to jail for committing acts of civil disobedience. But it’s obviously not enough, for the war rages on.
Perhaps that’s because we’ve been waging peace with half a heart. Father Dan Berrigan, who engaged in hunger strikes and spent years in prison for his protests against the Vietnam War, once said: “We have assumed the name of peacemaker, but we have been unwilling to pay any significant price. And because we want peace with half a heart, the war continues. The waging of war, by its nature, is total, but the waging of peace, by our own cowardice, is partial.”
This July 4, a group of American patriots will gather outside the White House to wage peace with a full heart. Foregoing the barbeques, we will instead launch an open-ended hunger strike, called Troops Home Fast, to call for an end to the occupation of Iraq. The fast is inspired by people throughout history, from Mahatma Gandhi to the Suffragists to Cesar Chavez, who deprived themselves of food as a way to rally public support against oppressive policies.
The long-term fasters include mothers and fathers who have lost sons in this conflict, veterans from Iraq, a former Army Colonel, a retired CIA analyst and a Franciscan priest. Joining in solidarity one-day fasts are celebrities such as Sean Penn, Susan Sarandon, Danny Glover, Willie Nelson and Graham Nash, and over 3,000 people in 18 countries.
In launching the fast on July 4th, we honor the spirit of resistance upon which our nation was founded and call on other patriots to join us. Let us follow the advice of John Quincy Adams by extricating ourselves from Iraq so that Iraqis can rule their own nation and we Americans can, once again, become the rulers of our own spirit.
Medea Benjamin (firstname.lastname@example.org) is cofounder of Global Exchange and CODEPINK: Women for Peace. You can be in solidarity with the fasters by pledging to fast for one day. To sign up or learn more, see www.troopshomefast.org.