Time To Stand Up Against Bullying War Talk

We don't know what Bush really knows about Iraq's military capabilities, but his relentless pursuit of a pre-emptive strike on Iraq suggests that he is confident that Iraq can't do much damage to the U.S., to our armed forces, or to our comfortable, secure lifestyle.

And it is evident that even Bush knows we dare not attack North Korea. Unlike Iraq, North Korea is capable of doing serious damage to us and to the world.

Bush is the classic playground bully, swaggering around and terrorizing smaller, more vulnerable kids to win his classmates' fear or admiration (and their candy and lunch-money), but suddenly cooperative and conciliatory when faced with a bigger bully, or with someone genuinely strong and respected -- the big brother of one of the little kids, or a good teacher.

The difference between the playground and the real world today is that we don't have true brothers looking after us, just some bigger bullies: Big Money, Big Media, and Big John Ashcroft. And we need good teachers to help us understand and reason together democratically to end violence, racism and war on the only playground we have, Planet Earth.

Thirty-five years ago we lost two teachers who spoke out eloquently against violence, racism and war. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated by an act of terrorism; Thomas Merton was struck down by a freak accident.

Both men taught that violence, racism and war are forms of tyranny -- we call it terrorism today -- that are nourished by fear of strangers, fear of personal loss, and fear of evil.

Both men understood that violence, racism and war make people feel angry, frustrated and powerless, and tempt them to strike back with equal violence.

King recognized that in American society violence, racism and war are driven by a reckless striving after material goods and power that objectifies people, commodifies things and reduces human relationships to manipulation and exploitation.

Merton wrote on the hopelessness of the war mentality during the heat of the Vietnam War. He predicted the rise of terrorism, not out of Islam, but out of the kind of "doubletalk" we use to fool ourselves and others about what we do and why.

In his essay, "Auschwitz: A Family Camp" Merton observed that Nazi doubletalk defined reality the way a doughnut defines its hole. Phrases like "disinfectant" and "ovaltine substitute" were used to refer to the gas Zyklon B used in the "Final Solution". "We need," Merton said "no more than one lesson, and we gain the intuition which identifies the hole, the void of death, in the heart of the expression."

So we see, today, with the hell-fires of racism and violence still smoldering under phrases like "axis of evil", "collateral damage" and "pre-emptive strike." This new"doubletalk" prevents us from engaging with reality and reasoning carefully and honestly with another. It is now not only conceivable to initiate a war on a people despised for any reason, it is patriotic.

Merton feared that an Auschwitz or a whole terrorist apparatus of genocide could be "set up tomorrow anywhere and made to work ... because there is no dearth of people who .... will instinctively welcome and submit to an ideology ... which turns them loose against their fellow man to destroy him cruelly and without compunction, as long as he belongs to another race, or believes in a different set of semi-meaningless political slogans."

"It is enough", Merton added, "to affirm one basic principle: anyone belonging to class x or nation y or race z is to be regarded as subhuman and worthless, and consequently has no right to exist. All the rest will follow without difficulty."

Our best hope of ending violence, racism and war on our playground is democracy. Even Bush-- or at least Karl Rove -- knows that unless he can win either admiration or fear from his classmates -- we the people -- we won't give him our lunch money, candy or votes in the next election.

We can't let Bush bully us into war with Iraq, or continue to terrorize us and the world with violence and racism. We still have a little time to heed our wise teachers, to use reason and democracy to deal justly and mercifully with one another.

Many Americans have been in Washington this weekend, standing up against a bullying action against Iraq. The rest of us can stand up, too.

President Bush has said that he wants to know what the American people are thinking. Let him know by way of the White House Opinion Line -- 202-456-1111. It's not toll-free, and it's only open 9-5 Eastern Time on business days Monday thru Friday.

It's easy, though you may have to redial several times before you get an open line. Your call will first be picked up by a machine that will ask if you have touch-tone phone and if you want to express an opinion. Then after a brief wait, you will speak with a real person who will ask you what state you are from and what your opinion is. Your opinion will be tallied in the appropriate column.

We don't know what Bush knows. But most of us appreciate that terrorizing other kids on the playground is not the way to conduct the world's affairs. Democracy means that everyone participates and no-one is terrorized by violence, racism or war.

We must make that meaning plain.

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