By Steve Cohn

Two Saturdays ago there was a large anti war rally and march in Washington DC endorsed by a coalition of peace groups. About 20 Knox students and myself went to the rally and this is an account of what happened and why I went.

It was cold. We had driven 15 hours from Galesburg, leaving in early evening the previous day. I think the lack of sleep made it seem even colder than it was. This was fitting, as the massive release of automated violence planned by the Bush Administration was to be cold, too. On Thursday Jan 23, ABC news reported, "The Air Force is preparing to fly as many as 1,500 sorties a day…and is seriously concerned about the public relations backlash from an expected high level of collateral damage…." "Collateral Damage" is a euphemism, a deceitful word, for referring to the killing and crippling of civilians, the destruction of schools and hospitals, roads and water towers; in short, the destruction of a country.

There was a broad spectrum of people at the rally and march. The crowd did not seem dominated by students as had been the case for many Vietnam protests. There was still the chanting and raw energy of a march, and many young people, but this time the students were joined by their parents and, in some cases, grandparents. There were many people over 30 on this march.

It is hard to judge crowds, especially when you are amongst them, so I can not say very confidently how many people were at the rally and march. But it was a large crowd. My very inexpert guess would be 100,000-175,000+. This is higher than the media's reference to tens of thousands but less than the 500,000 people claimed by the march's organizers. There are at least three reasons for why the mainstream media might have underestimated the crowd. First, people kept arriving long after the beginning of the speeches. Second, people wandered in and out of buildings along the march and rally site to get warm. Thus it was hard to count all who took part in the 5+ hour event. And third, the media is basically timid when it comes to challenging the government's foreign policy and its rush to war.

I am grateful for the moderate amount of independence that the mass media asserts and admire the genuine independence of sources like the Zephyr. This is certainly more independence than attempted or tolerated in many other countries. By in large, however, the mass media normalizes and legitimizes the picture of the world painted by official government spokesmen. The media is very reluctant to report that the "emperor has no clothes." The Bush Administration has taken astute advantage of this reluctance by taking extreme positions in order to move the context of discussion in the policy direction it favors. Reference to pre-emptive wars, nuclear strikes against deep bunkers in Iraq, the redrawing of national boundaries to suit American preferences, indifference to the UN, the possibility of war in a week, are so extreme, that war in 3 or 4 weeks can seem a moderate compromise. This is madness.

There were a lot of short speeches at the rally. Most seemed exhortative rather than informative. To get a better sense of the crowd, I wandered to the back of the rally, so some of my impressions of the speakers are tainted by not being able to hear all of them that clearly. The voice of the Democratic party was weak, as it has been since Bush announced his national security posture of pre-emptive wars. Former Democratic Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney (Dem.,Georgia) was scheduled to speak. Congressman Rangel (Dem. NY) (who has suggested reinstituting the draft in order to ensure all social classes bear the burdens of fighting future wars) sent an anti-war message to the rally. Jessie Jackson spoke. As far as I could tell, the rest of the Democratic party stayed home and waited for more politically convenient times to follow rather than lead opposition to this war. For the most part, the Democrats have been a disgrace. They could try to stop the war, but seem to think it in their self-interest to debate the economy instead or wait for the war to blow up in Bush's face rather than oppose it. They also fear we may win an immoral but overwhelming military victory. This is political opportunism at its worst.

The troubling Gore/Nader choice from the last election for those opposed to Bush's policies continues. Bush is many times worse than many Gore or Nader supporters feared. On the other hand, the Democratic party is also far worse than anticipated. I don't believe the current Democratic party can be a vehicle for significant change. It will follow, rather than lead battles for humane policies at home and abroad.

"No Blood for Oil" was a popular sign at the rally. There were many different banners, most conveying the idea of "No War with Iraq." The rally had a Quixotic aspect to it. We were marching to be counted, to say no to the war, to have it not happen in our name. But it wasn't clear that we would be seen, or if counted, counted accurately, or even if seen and counted accurately, paid any attention by decision makers. The entire build up for this war, has had a troubling Orwellian quality to it, reminiscent of the politics depicted in the novel 1984. There are widespread objections to going to war in the near future in the United States and around the world. Even supporters of the war admit that the case has not been fully made for why it is necessary to unleash massive violence within a few weeks. Despite this situation, the deployment orders keep flowing, the troops keep shipping out, the weapons are assembled, and the rhetoric escalates. The President's chief of staff, Andrew Card, raised the specter of the US use of nuclear bombs last Sunday.

The Bush Administration seems to be counting on its relentless beating of the drums and repeated declarations that it will forge ahead regardless of domestic or international objections, to discourage opposition. Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld, et al. seem to think that by creating an air of inevitability for the war, they can win fatalistic acceptance from domestic critics and force foreign leaders to "make their best deal" (such as $4 billion in aid to Turkey) in exchange for support of the war.

It thus imperative that people who think US policy is on the wrong track speak up and not be silenced by doubts as to whether it matters to speak up. It matters a lot, in relationship to Iraq and the entire orientation of US foreign policy. For a long time those in favor of an American empire have lamented the Vietnam syndrome. The latter limited their ability to send American solders into new wars. Bush et al. hope to use 9/11 as an open ended justification for numerous new wars.

The "Bush Doctrine " of pre-emptive war is an imperial doctrine and empires fight wars. The war in Iraq is only partially about Saddam Hussein and even less so about Al Queda (which will probably be strengthened by the war). It is a war to define a New World Order. It is a war in the image of the British and French and other colonial empires. It is a war that violates our best traditions. If we do not stop it, it could be the opening campaign of permanent war.

It is hard to see any reason besides the goal of announcing a New World Order for the Administration's unwillingness to let the UN inspectors continue their work. The UN is effectively occupying Iraq. It is hardly possible for Iraq to attack anyone at the moment. This would continue to be true even if the inspectors found some banned weapons. We have an alternative to massive nation state violence in the UN's de facto occupation of Iraq. We can begin to build a new global order around the UN, non-violent but potent mechanisms of persuasion (like global economic isolation), and principles of global justice, or we can continue the primitive game of nation state power and self-interest.

The way Bush has framed the Iraq question is unacceptable. If the inspectors don't find anything we should support their continued search of Iraq. If they do find something, we should support removal of the weapons by the UN.

It has often been said that those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it. History suggests that the new American empire, like all empires, will flourish for a while and then invite counter military buildups and military battles. Unless we can do better than carving up the middle east to protect "our oil"; unless we can find non-military solutions to geopolitical problems, there is a good chance that the globe will eventually see a series of nuclear wars (and who knows what kinds of terrorist violence). Rather than hundreds of billions of dollars for an Iraqi war, a Korean war, an Iranian war, a Brazilian war, a Libyan war, etc., we need hundreds of billions of dollars for global economic development. The US currently gives less than 1% of our GNP to world economic development. We and the rest of the world would be a lot safer if we promoted more equal economic growth rather than military expansion.

It is likely, unfortunately, that there will be a next march, and one after that, and one after that. Perhaps for the next march we can have a large banner with signatures of the people of Galesburg who can't go on the march but want to sign their name against the rush to war. Perhaps we should hold a vigil every week for peace in the town square. Perhaps we should flood our senators and congress people with letters and phone calls. Perhaps we should sit in at military and other symbolic sites if Bush announces a timetable for war. What we need is for people who oppose the war to continue to act. Those who yearn for war are counting on us giving up.