A Poet's View of the Peace Movement

by Alexander Shaumyan

(written during the Gulf war of 1991)

I would like to share my feelings about the critics of the current peace movement who call it "unrealistic" or "lacking a coherent message" beyond "Give peace a chance!" As Bertrand Russell said: "All movements go too far," and this may well be true. But then we shouldn't single out the anti-war movement and also include those people who are all too eager to solve disputes with bombs and bullets. And this would then include people who shout: "No blood for oil!" on the one hand, and those who shout: "Let's kick Saddam's ass!" on the other. So let's not be one-sided here. And as the latest opinion polls show (and I'm not sure how accurate they are), most people are likely to side with the latter slogan. Whether or not the anti-war activists are a minority, they have a right to express their opinion, and not all of us feel that this war is necessary or morally justifiable.

Talking to some of my friends who support the war, I found that they don't even take the "liberation of Kuwait" pretext very seriously. After all, "liberation of Kuwait" means putting a dictator back in power who is not even well-liked by the rest of the Arab world. They don't even believe that this war is about the interests of the American oil companies. And they are well aware that it was the U.S. who sold weapons to Iraq in the Iraq-Iran war, that it was Germany who sold Saddam Hussein chemicals, and that it was Russia who supplied him with tanks and Scud missiles. What they are worried about is that if we ignore Saddam now and allow him to control 20% of the world's oil reserves, sooner or later he will become rich and powerful and use the oil profits to build up his military arsenal and develop nuclear weapons with a threat to use them against the Western world. I would argue that a lot of people may see this war not from a moral standpoint of "right and wrong," as some suggest, but rather as a "practical necessity" to tear down Saddam Hussein's power now before we have to deal with him in the future. And they know quite well that it was the Western world that gave him that power in the first place. In fact, I saw a philosophy professor from the University of Connecticut make the same argument on television. Moral or not, he argued, this is our political reality. Our friends in one war become our enemies in another. For example, Joseph Stalin was our ally in World War II.

So there is nothing "moral" about this war, although it is regrettable that a lot of Kuwaitis were killed and tortured. But this is not why we are in Saudi Arabia. Or else we would send troops to China, Lithuania, South Africa, and other parts of the world. So, if we put "morality" aside, there is nothing honorable about this war. IT'S A JOB THAT HAS TO BE DONE. But does it really have to be done? Bush has compared Saddam Hussein to Adolf Hitler, and this comparison may appeal to Israel whose position in the Middle East is threatened by Iraq and other Arab states. And Israel does have a right to defend itself. But let's not forget that Saddam Hussein did release the hostages, and it was not until the bombing of Baghdad that the Iraqis began to launch their Scud missiles at Israel (in the hope of breaking up the coalition). People who live in Israel or have relatives there may be rightly concerned, but so are the Kuwaitis who have relatives in Kuwait City, or the Iraqi Americans who have relatives in Baghdad, or anyone else who lives in or knows someone in the region of conflict. This war affects everyone.

I really don't know how "insane" Saddam Hussein is or whether or not he is another would-be "Hitler." I'm inclined to believe that there is a Hitler in all of us to some degree. We get outraged by the atrocities of Saddam Hussein, but quietly listen to the news reports of some guy killing his wife and throwing her body into a wood-chipper. We've always been a violent society--killing American Indians and taking their lands, importing slaves from Africa, and dropping two atom bombs on civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And let's not forget high-density bombing that the allies used on German civilians in World War II. I don't have a magic solution to the Persian Gulf. No one does. Perhaps the sanctions wouldn't have worked. Perhaps the Palestinian question could be addressed. After all, back in 1967 the U.N. Security Council did pass Resolution 242 calling for "withdrawal of Israeli forces from occupied territories" and it was never enforced. Not that Iraq's invasion of Kuwait is comparable to Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands. Still very few people are aware of the Middle East history or of the fact that Iraq did threaten to invade Kuwait back in 1961 or that the U.S. ambassador was aware of Iraq's intentions even before the invasion of August 2, 1990. So I still believe that we as human beings can solve our disputes without bombs or bullets, provided we are willing to find out all the facts and be a bit more flexible. "Negotiating" does not mean giving ultimatums. Perhaps "Desert Storm" sounds nice to our ear. "Desert Murder" may sound a little distasteful to some of us. But that's what war is all about. It's about killing, and the soldiers are trained to kill. I don't know what "precision bombing with minimum casualties" really means. And what is the acceptable "minimum"? And let's consider the casualties of terrorism and environmental destruction (regardless of who's responsible). No, I don't think this war is worth its cost in material and human resources. And it may be easy to wave a flag, shouting "Support the troops!", or threaten some "peacenik" with physical violence. It's another thing to actually be in Saudi Arabia. As George Orwell wrote in his novel 1984, the three slogans of the Ministry of Truth were:


Finally, there are some people who don't feel that this war should be on this government's priority list: women's rights activists, minorities, the poor, the people with AIDS (some of whom happen to be gay). So everyone has his or her own agenda beyond this war. The reason that I never liked politics is because it ignores the human factor. That's why I turned to poetry.

February 11, 1991

NOTE: This was written during the Gulf war of 1991. I'd like to say something about the current peace movement. You've heard certain folks trying to paint anti-war activists as self-loathing leftists or liberals, who want to take power in their hands and take away other people's freedoms, while forcing their world view on everyone else. Or they label the anti-war activists as "Saddam appeasers". This is complete baloney. The peace movement is a diverse group of people from all around the world. You'll find plenty of conservatives, religious groups, families of 9/11 victims, and war veterans in the peace movement as well. A lot of conservatives and libertarians believe that this war is about Israel's interests and American imperialism and hegemony. No, it's not just about oil, though oil is a big factor. As for self-loathing, there are plenty of self-loathing power-hungry warmongers in this world. Here's how one conservative site Americans Against World Empire, Americans Against Bombing describes their anti-war web site:

This site is oriented towards Conservatives for whom much of this information is suppressed in "their" media, e.g. WALL STREET JOURNAL OP-ED, NATIONAL REVIEW, FOX NEWS, WEEKLY STANDARD, RUSH LIMBAUGH, GORDON LIDDY, etc. Also, we believe that the old divisions of Right and Left are no longer applicable. The split today is between those who want freedom, limited government and economic prosperity against those wanting wars, empire, glory and ruling the world. They come from both Right and Left. Others are confused by the War Party. We try with this site to offer them information to make up their own minds.

The internet is the greatest thing that happened in the twentieth century and helped to advance the peace movement all around the world. We now have access to information from all around the world. It's up to us to get informed or to accept what someone tells us at face value. It's time for the Right and Left to unite and seek peaceful solutions to the world's political and economic problems that would advance the well-being of all human beings living on this planet.

Thank you.

Peace, Love and Freedom,

February 23, 2003

Americans Against World Empire, Americans Against Bombing