The remark of a friend with an abiding interest in the Holocaust was still ringing in my ears as I attended my first meeting of the San Francisco chapter of Iraq Moratorium. She had recently said that what struck her most on seeing "The Lives of Others," last year's Academy Award-winning film about an East German secret police officer stricken with scruples over his work, was that it reminded her of "Schindler's List" in that once again she was watching a story about the one "good German." All I could think when I heard her was, "What will they say about us?" Will people one day wonder what all the 'good Americans' were doing during the Iraq War? Will they ask why we remained largely mute as our government sent soldiers to Iraq, year after year, to fight an unwinnable battle against an unnameable enemy in a war based upon fraud?
Certainly the good Americans haven't been making a lot of noise about the war recently. It's almost seems as if people just hoped they could simply turn the matter over to Congress once they voted the Republicans out last November. This would have been nice, of course, but for the fact that the numbers never added up to any genuine possibility that Congress would extricate us from the war. The Democrats are predominantly antiwar, yes, but they are far from unanimously so. And given that congressional Republicans have been virtually all pro-war, the votes to get out of Iraq have just never been there in Congress, particularly when you factor in the presidential veto power.
So, while I might have wished that the meeting I was at were a little more organized and I might have hoped that the group were somewhat more broad based, it really didn't matter all that much. What was important was that the people in the room were committed to finding ways to activate all of those people the polls say oppose this war in order to create an actual antiwar majority in Congress.
Modeled loosely on the Vietnam Moratorium, the Iraq Moratorium represents the simplest of programs: A pledge to publicly oppose the war in some way on the third Friday of every month until the war ends. That's it. You can stand in a vigil, go to a rally, wear an armband, write a letter, or make a phone call, so long as you don't let the day go by without some public expression of your opposition to the war. Unlike its predecessor, the Iraq Moratorium will not gather half a million war protestors in Washington, D.C. in the second month of its existence as the Vietnam Moratorium did on November 15, 1969, but what it does hope to emulate is the persistence of those who continued holding antiwar events on the 15th of each subsequent month.
Certainly we would not wish to repeat everything about the anti-Vietnam War movement, even if we could. It was, after all, often misguided, sometimes shrill and off putting, occasionally violent, and perhaps inflated in the glow of memory. But it had one aspect that we badly need - relentlessness. Over time there came to be few corners of American society where you could avoid the question of the Vietnam War; we need to make the Iraq War similarly inescapable.
Many factors contribute to the current diminished level of protest, to be sure. The war in Iraq (as well as the relatively seldom-mentioned war in Afghanistan) is smaller than the Vietnam War, affects fewer people and, perhaps crucially, it has been conducted without resort to a draft. But, if anything, this relative ease with which the government now conducts its wars (even if not terribly successfully) only increases our responsibility to stop them.
Perhaps the silence of "good Americans" stems from frustration. The largest worldwide, prewar, antiwar rallies in history didn't prevent the invasion, so some think it doesn't matter what we do. And who knows, maybe the pessimists are right. We can't be sure that anything we do will stop the war. But what we do know is that the current absence of protest guarantees that the war will continue. If we remain silent, the terrorists in Washington win.
Contact the Iraq Moratorium at www.iraqMoratorium.org
Tom Gallagher can be contacted through his email.