Culture and Life
by Allan Stoehr
Anti-war dissent will grow
In the second half of the last century the American public has been able to exert decisive blows to the plans of those who involve us in armed conflicts. There is every indication that if the civilian deaths in Afghanistan, and the attempts to cover them up, continue, there will be an influential movement to end the conflict. It has happened in the past and will happen again. Since the Second World War, it has become increasingly difficult for the government and proponents of armed conflict to sustain the surge of patriotic fervour that their adventures ignite at the start of hostilities. Historically, though, it takes months and even years for the forces of peace to catch up with and counter the war machine. This was especially true of the Korean War, which started in June 1950 and ended in July 1953. The war raged on and the nation was driven by a right wing that used ever more bellicose language. General Douglas MacArthur, a loose cannon, threatened to cross the Yangtze River into China, thus bringing the Chinese Red Army into the conflict. During this same period our country was under the thrall of Senator Joseph McCarthy and all dissent was stifled. Even so, a peace sentiment grew very strong. Though not organised, it became strong enough that the Republican Party, out of power since 1932, blindsided the Democrats and ran Dwight Eisenhower on a platform of ending the war. When President Harry Truman made the decision to send troops into North Korea, the peace sentiment rose rapidly. Eisenhower's pledge to go to Korea and end the war came at a time of mounting causalities. At the end of the war there were over 54,000 dead and 103,000 wounded Americans; Korean and Chinese casualties were each at least 10 times as high. Responding to this promise, the electorate voted Ike into office. Polls later showed that he got a large majority of the vote of women. Loath to acknowledge the ability of an aroused nation to set foreign policy at the ballot box, the pundits at the time claimed women had voted for Eisenhower because he was a handsome WW2 hero. A more recent example of the desire of the American people for a peaceful and just world is the movement that developed against the war in Vietnam. In addition to a growing popular opposition to the war there was a very powerful (even heroic) voice in the Senate. President Lyndon Johnson in an effort to avoid going to Congress for a declaration of war concocted the "Gulf of Tonkin Incident", claiming that the North Vietnamese had attacked an American naval vessel. He went to Congress with this in hand and asked for authorisation "To take all necessary measures" to send in troops that "would not be advisors" and would have a blank check to actively engage in hostilities. Two Senators, Wayne Morse of Oregon and Ernest Gruening of Alaska, voted against the resolution, an act that gave a huge impetus to the anti-war movement. The stifling of the press during the Gulf War showed the lengths that the warmongers would go to in managing the information given to the public. Peter Arnett, a CNN reporter, was attacked by the right wing for giving live reports on the American bombing of Baghdad. Accused of being a traitor (he is Australian) when he detailed the "collateral damage" of our "smart" bombs, his career was derailed. The message to journalists was clear: the truth will set you free — of your job. Even so, experienced journalists and others are speaking out against these policies. "The restrictions are unprecedented and they are successful", ABC National Security correspondent John McWethy told a panel at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism about the problems of covering the events in Afghanistan. The Project for Excellence in Journalism — described as "An initiative by journalists concerned about the standards of the news media" — released a study of the press coverage of Afghanistan. The report states, "Overall, straight factual reporting dropped to 63 percent of coverage in November and December from 75 percent in mid- September. The remainder of the coverage is analysis, opinion and speculation." The report does not shy away from characterising big media, saying, "Contrary to the suggestions of Fox News executives, there is no evidence that CNN is less pro-American than Fox or has some liberal tilt. "To the contrary, there is no appreciable difference in the likelihood of CNN to air viewpoints that dissent from American policy than there is Fox. This may not be anything to boast about. Both channels tended to favour pro-administration viewpoints more than most other newscasts — even most talk shows." It is developments like these that prompted the war machine to create a truly Orwellian body called the "Office of Strategic Influence". They were quick to tell us that this office will also disseminate the truth along with the lies. Critics worried that, as in the past with CIA efforts, the American media will inadvertently pick up these lies and propagate them as the truth to the "Homeland". The arrogance of the war hawks led them to proudly reveal this propaganda machine to the public. The resulting outcry of outrage and ridicule prompted Rumsfield the Secretary of Defense to beat a hasty retreat. The New York Times reported him as saying, "The office has clearly been so damaged that it is pretty clear to me that it could not function effectively. So it is being closed down." It goes without saying that the Rumsfield and cohorts will arrange a more clandestine method of lying to the world. Again, though, as the Afghanistan war goes on, the realities of the conflict will get more and more coverage in the press. As the exposure of the civilian casualties and as the faces of the victims appear before the American public, there will be a gradual strengthening of peace sentiment and peace actions — what the war machine dreads. Despite Bush and company's efforts to keep the facts away from the American people, bits and pieces of news of the civilian deaths and hints of the true motivation for our involvement there are impacting on the public. The work of the peace forces, aided by the Internet and access to foreign news, is making an impact on attitudes toward the war.
* * *Rob Gowland is on leave
People's Weekly World paper of Communist Party, USA