War Whore Mea Culpa? Check the fine print!

With the 1oth anniversary of the beginning of the Rape of Iraq, a few of the war whores are trying to distance themselves from the war and the witchseason that preceded it. I would have thought suicide a more fitting form of penance, but I realize that this is after all an imperfect world, so it comes as no surprise…

I was surprised that a right-wing anti-war publication would publish self-serving gibberish like this column. I know that punching hippies will always be a favorite pastime among right-wingers and veal pen liberals, but this article in The American Conservative is absurd.

The realignment brought about during the Vietnam era is now cracking up, and that’s the thrust of my cover story. But a crackup doesn’t happen all at once, and as recently as a decade ago the skids to the war in Iraq were greased by an antiwar movement that, as Rod Dreher notes, looked and sounded all too much like the movement against the Vietnam War. The protesters brought back bad memories for much of the public, and they fit neatly into the caricatures warhawks had drawn—of radical leftists who might have sat beside Hanoi Jane on the NVA’s anti-aircraft guns if they’d had chance.

That’s certainly not a fair description of all anti-Iraq War protesters. It’s not even a fair description of most anti-Vietnam War protesters. But in mass politics perception counts. Vietnam protesters had a bad reputation with much of the public, and Iraq protesters who aped their activism naturally came in for the same rep. And even beyond those associations, what was a normal person meant to think about protesters with puppets? For “Sesame Street,” puppets may be an effective education tool, but adults aren’t accustomed to thinking about foreign policy—to the extent they think about it at all—in terms of following whomever demonstrates the most impressive papier-mâché skills.

When I make this argument to left-wingers, I’m typically met with one of the following responses. 1.) “We have to do something!”—as if doing something that’s ineffective or counterproductive earns brownie points. 2.) “That’s a smear!”—you bet it’s a smear, but what are you doing to establish a more sympathetic image in the public’s mind instead? 3.) “Well, what do you suggest?”—what I suggest is not something any “activist” wants to hear: don’t take any action until you understand public opinion in some detail and can relate every individual tactic you propose to a specific, demonstrated mechanism that gives it a chance to be effective.

I’ve attended a lot of right-wing political workshops, incubators for the Future Karl Roves of America. The point I would make to right-wing political pros is that the best technology and most tested field techniques in the world won’t help you once your imprudent, unprincipled politics have wrecked the middle class and launched a few Asian land wars that a Democratic president has to end for you. The right learned how to win very, very well over the last 40 years, but completely forget why it was fighting in the first place. (Even getting power for its own sake became incoherent as a goal: Nixon may have wanted power for its own sake, but he understood that in order to get and keep it, one has to have a certain basic competence—though he let his paranoia outstrip it.)

The antiwar left has the opposite problem, it’s all heart and no brain. Except that lets the left off too lightly: there’s brain enough in keeping the old networks of financial support for the same futile kinds of activism going and going and going. It’s a job, right? Or it’s a habit: I don’t know how much of the activist reflex is cynical, how much is naive, and how much is sheer inertia—but usually it’s a mistake to underestimate the last.

No doubt about it, Middle America has had a decades-long distaste for DFHs (Dirty Fucking Hippies), who may have inadvertently prolonged the Vietnam War and helped bring about overwhelming support for the Iraq War.  But what this article leaves out is that anti-war protestors who behaved and dressed nicely were hated every bit as much as their long-haired comrades, just as the Civil Rights protesters were.

If you wear your Sunday best and sing gospel songs while protesting for your right to vote or for and end to the war, you will still get hassled by cops, beaten, mauled by police dogs and in some cases shot. To add insult to injury, smug journalists and opinion writers will gloat and say that you got what was coming to you, and that you’re a self-righteous buffoon anyway.

In other words, if you oppose the government (or other powerful institutions) when it is hell bent on doing something evil, odds are that you’re going to be hated by the cud-chewing herd no matter how you dress, what kind of signs you wave, what kind of music you play or whether you have puppets.

Don’t believe me? Take a look at Cindy Sheehan, a middle-aged church lady whose son was killed in Iraq. She protested in about as dignified a manner as a grief-stricken mother could. Yet she was vilified in every way imaginable. First, right-wing radio hosts bused in yahoos to heckle her with chants of “We don’t care!” and “Bitch in the ditch!”. These miscreants were so hell bent on attacking someone -anyone!- that they soon engaged in fisticuffs among themselves:

When that backfired, a whiskey-drenched Holocaust “revisionist” started peddling a forged e-mail, claiming that (a) Sheehan wrote it, (b) it was “anti-Semitic” and therefore (c) Sheehan was a Jew-hater. Rod Dreher, who started this latest bit of concern-trolling about the Dirty Hippies, passed along this half-baked slander in the Dallas Morning News and when I confronted him over it via telephone (I asked if he normally got his material from known Holocaust deniers), he immediately hung up on me.

The point of this is not how much of a loathsome, cowardly smear artist Rod Dreher* was (and still is, considering how much he still relishes punching hippies even as he dons his hair shirt), but to point out that anti-war types weren’t attacked and marginalized because of their style, but because of their position on the war. After all, pro-war demonstrators were much worse during Vietnam and Iraq.

*Dreher isn’t the only one who owes the anti-war movement a genuine apology, and not the kind of “Waaah, the anti-war protesters were mean!” special pleading he’s offered so far. Andrew Sullivan, for example, only pretends to apologize for writing this about the anti-war movement:

The decadent left in its enclaves on the coasts is not dead -and may well mount a fifth column.

There was little difference between Sullivan’s unsubtle call for anti-war activists to be rounded up and/or shot and the ravings of Ann “thrax” Coulter. To be fair, Coulter is the less annoying of the two since she is constitutionally incapable of pearl-clutching (something Sullivan does like a Rotary wife) and is a little more coy with her racism.

The most galling part of this (aside from the war, obviously) is that those who were pro-war and want everyone to think they have misgivings a decade late and a million dead Iraqis short write and speak about their wickedness as though it were an honest mistake, or that cheering for so much death and destruction is like rooting for the losing side in the Super Bowl or picking the wrong actress to win the Oscar.

Too many decent people were defamed, harassed, fired, publicly humiliated, threatened or otherwise abused by the war whores for this kind of puny mea culpa to mean anything.

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