Revolution #103, October 7, 2007
The “MoveOn” Controversy--From Censure to Censorship
As General Patraeus, commander of U.S. troops in Iraq, was trotted out to testify before Congress in support of that war, MoveOn.org published an ad in the New York Times titled “General Petraeus or General Betray Us--Cooking the Books for the White House.” A barrage of Republican outrage over the disparaging of a U.S. military general followed--with a media frenzy that pummeled MoveOn.org in over 500 articles. A week later George Bush denounced the ad at his news conference and challenged Democrats to do the same. The same day 70 senators passed a Republican resolution strongly condemning MoveOn for “personal attacks on the honor and integrity of General Petraeus and all members of the United States Armed Forces.” The Democrats in the Senate who did not vote for the censure passed a similarly worded bill that did not mention MoveOn by name. John McCain went on record to say that MoveOn should be thrown out of the country. Charges of treason were raised. Republican attack groups headed by Ari Fleischer, Bush’s former press secretary who delivered the famous “Watch What You Say” message after 911, ran ads that said, “Surrender to terrorists is not an option--Victory is America’s Only Choice.” A Republican congressman called for an investigation of the New York Times for running the ad at a “discount “ rate . Within the next few days the public editor of the Times ran a Sunday Times column saying that the ad “ had backfired on both MoveOn.org and fellow opponents of the war in Iraq--and on the Times” and opined that the disrespect shown to Petraeus went against the Times’ own policy. And by Monday the Times itself had gone on record admitting its “mistake.”
And what came of all this bellycrawling and appeasement of Bush’s declared intent to carry on in spite of widespread revulsion to continuing an unjust war that has claimed upward of a million lives and pulverized Iraqi society into a state of ruin while threatening a full air attack on Iran? What’s the atmosphere for dissent to the official war propaganda now? A student who dared to ask a question that challenged Senator Kerry is swarmed by security and tasered--screaming in pain as an auditorium of mentally stunned students sat and watched. A student editor of the Rocky Mountain Collegian at Colorado State that printed a cogent four-word editorial--“Taser this: Fuck Bush”--is facing calls for his firing for having the insolence to exercise the once-thought-protected rights of free speech and freedom of the press. Commercial newspapers change their advocacy ad rates for dissenting opinions; the Columbia University Spectator refuses to run World Can’t Wait ads during Bush’s UN visit!
This is a moment in time when people are going to respond with either cowardice or courage. How we respond will go to deciding the future of dissent and the prospects of a resistance that can actually stop an unjust war and the whole fascist direction being nailed down and handed onto the next administration--whether we bow down and accept endless war and a nazification of all the realms of public opinion.
If Bush and the U.S. Senate can put beyond the pale an ad that asserted that “General Petraeus is a military man constantly at war with the facts” by manipulating a public polarization that has nothing to do with whether that is even true, then we are a significant step deeper into hell. This whole sorry affair has also stipulated another requirement for acceptable public discourse: that any idea or opinion is invalid if anything you say calls into question the legitimacy of the U.S. military. The confinement and enforcement as a code of public dialogue and conduct that you have to bestow honor and respect on the institution that is raining bombs on people for no good reason, that is unjustly occupying a country and attempting to win its submission by training and ordering soldiers day after day to knock down doors and terrorize the families behind them, that trains the troops to carry out war crimes while claiming to be above international conventions. That you cannot criticize the institution that -- under the protection of laws passed by the U.S. Congress -- is detaining and torturing people with no right to due process, that considers rape a natural trophy of war and murder with impunity an acceptable sideline; that sends the young people fed into the war machine home with broken minds that cannot square being ordered to run over children who can’t get out of the road fast enough. Or that routinely shoot down civilians at checkpoints. To show honor to THAT is to have the morality befitting a good German.
Attacking the MoveOn ad, the Wall Street Journal and former Reagan speech writer Peggy Noonan claimed that "No one--no normal American--thinks a U.S. Army four-star came back from Iraq to damage our democracy by telling lies." But according to a Fox News poll only 35 % of the people polled after Patraeus’s testimony thought he was being truthful. Students got activated across the country in response to the tasering of Andrew Meyer in Florida and students at the University of Florida sat in to show their outrage and to oppose the war in Iraq. In the days after the MoveOn ad people sent them an unprecedented half million dollars with notes pleading with them not to back down. There is an abundance of evidence that the regime and all the powers complicit in its actions have lied to people repeatedly--covered it up and, when exposed, changed the subject and kept on lying. Now the regime is running out a whole new cavalcade of war propaganda and mis-information in the service of building public consent for bombing Iran--preparing people to shut up and go along with military action condoned in advance by the Democrats and every viable presidential candidate. What they really want and need is a big chill to cripple mass protest and resistance. The sudden swelling of mass dissent on the eve of the Iraq war seriously impacted their freedom to conduct the war, and there is a need to put a lid over the reservoir of mass discontent threatening to spill over the banks that have held it back.
The MoveOn ad was not even raising the legitimacy of the troop surge--only its effectiveness. MoveOn has refused to call for an immediate end to the war, instead demanding only some kind of timetable for withdrawal. It has refused to call for Bush's impeachment. And it has pinned people's hopes on getting Democrats elected in 2008 as the means to make political change, when these same Democrats refuse to demand an immediate end to the war and have passed every piece of repressive legislation Bush has demanded. MoveOn is hardly radical--but by doing something that seemed to challenge a representative of the institution that the ruling class as a whole holds sacred--the armed forces of state power that back up the system and its imperialist expansion around the world--a point is being driven home. You can, as Bush has said all along, criticize as long as it’s within the framework of how we win the war--but speech that goes to why it is unjust and intolerable will not be allowed--and especially people with authority and prestige who go beyond it--will have to weigh business, careers and reputations--if you want to play you will play by these new rules. You can have free speech as long as you are willing to parrot platitudes and the terms deemed acceptable to bourgeois debate. And by clamping down on the most timid of protest they are trying to batten down the hatches and put a chill into a society full of discontent but still gripped with passivity on the part of people who hate what’s going on have resigned themselves to the excuse of “there’s nothing you can do.”
But there is something people can do--from students who rise up, to people with positions of prominence and authority who use their voices and whatever clout they may have on the behalf of people here and around the world,who want to see the Bush regime stopped and the whole direction reversed can make a decisive difference--especially in moments like the present one. It’s high past time people put something real on the line--that’s what it takes and that’s what people of conscience do when history calls--even if you didn’t think it was going to call on you. Do we owe the people of Iraq, our children or the future of humans on this planet anything less?
As the World Can’t Wait call puts it: “History is full of examples where people who had right on their side and fought against tremendous odds and were victorious. And it is also full of examples of people passively hoping to wait it out, only to get swallowed up by a horror beyond what they ever imagined.”
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