Editorial: Ending the War and Beyond

By Becky O’Malley
Tuesday March 20, 2007

Sunday was a beautiful Northern California spring day, sunny in the afternoon but not too hot for long walks out of doors. In San Francisco, as in many other cities, lots of people combined their desire to take walks with their commitment to putting a halt to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and judging by the pictures a good time was had by all. Peace marches in the springtime are an American tradition going back at least 40 years in our own subculture, and they have much to recommend them. Especially for those of us who lived in the Midwest 40 years ago, it was a genuine pleasure, in spite of the underlying reason, to go to Washington as the cherry trees were breaking into bloom and walk out of doors carrying signs and pushing the kids in strollers. And it eventually worked—Americans caught on to the waste and carnage in Vietnam and withdrew, though not nearly soon enough. 

Four years ago we were proud to have our whole immediate family, three generations, 11 strong, marching in San Francisco to tell America that we opposed the invasion of Iraq. None of us believed any of the propaganda about the weapons of mass destruction and the Saddam-al Qaeda plots which were being repeated as fact on the front pages of the reputable newspapers we all read for guidance. We thought that if Americans could only be told the truth they’d make better decisions, and we were about to launch the revived Daily Planet to help in that effort.  

One of our first big stories, soon afterwards, was about the major San Francisco daily firing one of its reporters for participating in an anti-war demonstration. We did indeed provide a forum, both locally and on the Internet, in which the truth could safely be told, but much to the chagrin of everyone who’d known the truth about Iraq from the beginning, “truthiness” continued to triumph over truth in most national media outlets. Truthiness proved to be the vehicle which ensured the re-election of George W. Bush in 2004 and the continuation of the failed war. 

Today (Tuesday), the fourth anniversary of its beginning, we and others like us are more than ever convinced of the utter folly of this war, but we are less sure what’s the best way to stop it. A quick poll of friends and family on Sunday produced no one who went into San Francisco to march this time, even though the weather was perfect. There were reports of seventy-five or a hundred thousand marchers in San Francisco in 2003, many fewer this year. But 3,000 people did show up, and, unlike in 2003, there were also substantial crowds in other parts of the country, even in places where there had been strong backing for the invasion in 2003. The San Francisco paper which had fired its reporter for joining the 2003 demonstrations had sympathetic reporters at some of the suburban demonstrations this year.  

In the Sunday New York Times, columnist Frank Rich put together a chronology of all the press reports about problems with the Iraq invasion which ran around the time the war started. Most of them were not from the Times itself. In 2003 the Times was busy spotlighting the totally bogus reports of Judith Miller and Michael Gordon about those aluminum tubes which anonymous sources said were WMD material. Not seeming to learn much from its mistakes, however, the Times allowed Gordon, just this February, to do yet another story based completely on unnamed sources, this one about what’s supposed to be going on in Iran, which might eventually be used to justify invading another country. So we still won’t count too much on the Times to print the whole truth, except for its excellent columnists. 

One problem in politically sophisticated San Francisco was that the peace march was sponsored by A.N.S.W.E.R., a complex organization which has many causes in addition to ending the war in Iraq. One friend told me that he’d seen an A.N.S.W.E.R. poster which espoused solidarity with North Korea, something he had trouble endorsing with his presence at the march. Others, even some Jews who happily criticize Israel, said they were uncomfortable with the group’s outspoken partisanship for the Palestinian cause. Many of the demonstrations in outlying areas had more broad-based sponsorship and were limited to protesting the Iraq war. 

But if marches alone no longer seem likely to change the course of events, what else can we try? Code Pink, a cheery direct action group, is camping out at Nancy Pelosi’s house this week. Die-Ins are popular. Move-On, still trying to swim in the mainstream, sponsors neighborhood vigils. Those who enjoy big bets are going for impeachments, with many available villains; the more cautious are simply hoping for indictments. It’s all good. But is it enough?  

The time for changing the hearts and minds of the American people has come and gone, thank goodness. They’ve gotten the message. Right after the war started, according to New York Times/CBS polls, 72 percent thought it was a good idea. That’s down to 39 percent now.  

Politicians are trying hard to play catch-up, but only some are succeeding. Many Democrats who should know better are tempted to lag behind the facts and even behind popular opinion because of their fear of some mythical silent majority.  

The big effort at this moment should be shoring up their resolve and looking for replacements for those who just don’t get it. That means the often tedious route of conventional party politics, but it also means not yielding to the adolescent temptation to thumb one’s nose at any and all the Democratic candidates.  

I don’t like Hillary Clinton any better than anyone else I know does, but if she’s nominated for president in 2008 I’ll support her. (And no, that YouTube video making fun of her isn’t particularly cute. I would be amazed to learn that it wasn’t fielded by Republicans.) Or any of the others, except of course Lieberman, who’s no longer a Democrat anyhow.  

My mail last week contained an envelope with Jerry McNerney’s name on it. I haven’t opened it, but I did put it in the pile with the bills to pay. That’s our most important job looking past the next election, making sure that McNerney and people like him who just squeaked through in 2006 are returned to Congress in 2008. After they end the war in Iraq, they need to get a real shot at straightening out the mess this country has become because the whole GNP has gone to paying off Halliburton and the other Bush crony corporations. That promises to be even harder than ending the war.