Stand for Peace

March 3rd, 2023

I got a notice from Peace Action Wisconsin, the local anti-war organization. Tomorrow, they are holding another one of their hourlong peace demonstrations in Milwaukee. This one is of interest to me because it is the twentieth anniversary of their first “stand for peace” event. If I remember correctly, I was standing with the people from Peace Action at the first one back in 2003.

That first action was held just weeks before the United States invaded Iraq. Bush, Rumsfeld, and Cheney were gearing up to go after Saddam Hussein and his stash WMDs that apparently never existed. Despite months of protests in Milwaukee, and in many other parts of the world, the attack on Iraq took place on March 20th. I remember the date because it is my birthday. The invasion was an unwanted and unnecessary gift to the world.

I had been standing in the cold on street corners holding signs to protest the upcoming invasion for weeks prior to the attack. Once or twice, I took along my oldest son, Hans, when I went to demonstrate. Hans wasn’t really interested. He just wanted to get out of the wind and the snow and go home. He was almost sixteen at the time. He thought I was crazy, and he was probably right.

The war in Iraq initially seemed to be a smashing success. There was shock and awe, and George W. standing in front of the banner that proclaimed, “Mission Accomplished”. Then it wore on. The blitzkrieg against the Iraqis was successful, but the follow up was not. With each passing day, I worried more about Hans getting sucked into this conflict. There were murmurings of a military draft.

When he turned eighteen, Hans needed to sign up for the Selective Service. I attended a lecture at the local Quaker Meeting House about how to convince the Selective Service that a young man is a conscientious objector. To do that, there has to be a paper trail showing that the eighteen-year-old is against all wars, not just any current mayhem. I worked with Hans to establish some evidence of pacifism. Hans once again wasn’t interested. He just went along with his father’s ravings. To this day, I still have some of the paperwork that Hans and I put together to keep him from getting drafted. It was all rather pointless.

In the autumn of 2009 Hans enlisted in the Army, knowing full well that he would be going to war, either in Afghanistan or in Iraq. I know why he joined up. He did it for the same reasons I did back in 1976. The irony is bitter and sometimes overwhelming.

Hans was deployed to Iraq in the summer of 2011. He survived, but much of what I feared came to pass. He came back damaged, and for what?

The twentieth anniversary edition of the Stand for Peace is tomorrow at noon. I will know people there. Some of them will be folks who stood with me back in 2003. They are overwhelming opposed to the use of any nukes in Ukraine. So am I. Oddly, this time they will mostly be protesting against the involvement of the United States in the war in Ukraine. Somehow, they figure that the U.S. and NATO are driving the world into a nuclear war. Perhaps they are right, but they ignore the fact that Russia lit the fire.

I was opposed to the Iraqi war because I believed, and still believe, that the invasion was illegal and immoral. The protesters at that time, including myself, thought that the war would all be the fault of the U.S. It was. Many years later, other people in the United States have come to the conclusion that the war in Iraq was a mistake, but they don’t usually consider the moral aspects of the war. They generally look at the war as a strategic failure. The sin was not that we invaded Iraq. It was that we didn’t succeed.

Many, probably most, of the people at tomorrow’s demonstration are convinced that once again this war is the fault of the United States. Actually, they believe that almost all of the wars on the planet are caused by America. I got one email message that quoted a peace activist, Caitlin Johnstone. She blames the “American Empire” for the devastation in Ukraine:

“Empire apologists will frame this trajectory toward global disaster as an entirely one-sided affair, with bloody-fanged tyrants trying to take over the world because they are evil and hate freedom, and the US-centralized alliance either cast in the role of poor widdle victim or heroic defender of the weak and helpless depending on which generates more sympathy on that day.

These people are lying. Any intellectually honest research into the west’s aggressions and provocations against both Russia and China will show you that Russia and China are reacting defensively to the empire’s campaign to secure U.S unipolar planetary hegemony; you might not agree with those reactions, but you cannot deny that they are reactions to a clear and deliberate aggressor.”

What bothers me most about Johnstone’s diatribe is that she doesn’t mention the real victims of this war: the citizens of Ukraine. What about them? Don’t they have a right to defend themselves? Are the Ukrainians somehow the aggressor here?

Yes, there are self-loathing Americans, and I know some of them. Maybe I am one. The United States has numerous black stains on its record. As a nation, we have committed some heinous crimes. It is wrong to whitewash our history. It is just as wrong to blame ourselves for everything. We did not start the Ukraine war. Russia pulled the trigger on this one.

I probably won’t be at tomorrow’s protest.

4 thoughts on “Stand for Peace”

  1. Our political class can no longer think clearly about Russia. And I think Americans have become much more skeptical regarding pronouncements from the institutionalists and the national security thought-leaders — a consequence of Russian collusion allegations and Iraq/Afghanistan outcomes. That said, my hope is that cool heads prevail and that the Administration treads carefully. Russia’s brutal invasion is unjustified. I see a lot of chest-thumping on Capitol Hill, but we are ill-served by not remembering Russia’s past experiences (Napoleon, WWI, Hitler) and not understanding her perceived vulnerabilities — all of which drive her pursuit of a buffer on her western borders. It is a sad fact that wars can start quickly — which means we should use some creative diplomacy soonest.


  2. Well thought out. I never thought we agreed on so many things. Our parents were so different. Best to you.


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