One of the most common accusations against those of us who are against this ‘war on terrorism’ is that we are anti-American–that we have a knee-jerk opposition to all that the US says and does because we hate the place the people and all things American.
This I find very strange, as in the various anti-war rallies and meetings I have attended, plus the wide variety of anti-war articles I have read, I have seen very little evidence of this anti-Americanism. Hostility to the Bush regime? Yes. Hostility to US foreign policy? Yes. Hostility to the large US corporations? Yes.
None of this means, however, a hostility to the people or the place. Nobody I have met in the anti-war movement was anything but horrified by 11 September. There was no ambiguity in our attitude to those killed. They were innocent victims, not deserving their appalling fate. If many Americans in their outrage and sorrow at the events have gone along with Bush’s mad campaign of revenge that is sad, but it does not make them evil. Many others (a minority, it is true) have not, and they have struggled to get their voice heard. They are no less American, and deserve nothing but our admiration and praise. Of course, there are also those in the Middle East today who hate all things American, but then they only ever get to see one side of the US. That is the US that props up the local despots, the US that fetes the rich oil sheikhs but apparently cares not at all for the hungry and destitute, or the vast inequalities, the US that would kill, starve and punish to ensure cheap oil, the US that arms Israel to the teeth, and finds little to say and even less to do in condemnation of that country’s war of terror on Palestinians.
They get little chance to see any other US. But those of us who are old enough to have been outraged and horrified by the antics of the US war machine in Vietnam also remember how we watched with admiration as young Americans took to the streets to try and stop that war.
In other words there were two Americas fighting for the hearts and minds of the people–the US of Johnson, Nixon, Kissinger, the B-52s and Agent Orange, and the US of the street protesters, draft card burners, student occupiers, anti-war veterans and black resistance fighters. Did siding with one side of this US make us more anti-American than siding with the other?
There may have been a time when some sections of the left felt that all things American were bad, and all things Russian good. But that left was already fading by the height of the Vietnam War, and it is now little more than a museum relic. Indeed in dressing up the anti-war movement in anti-American clothes, the pro-war people are merely seeing us as a reflection of themselves. In all wars governments and their supporters have always tried to dehumanise the other side, strip them of their identity, brand them as subhuman, and give them derogatory names in order to make it more acceptable to kill them.
In two world wars the language of governments hardly changed. Watch all those old Second World War films, and see if you can distinguish between the evil of Nazi ideology and the evil of Germans per se. They are still ‘Jerry, the Bosch, the Huns’–power crazy Germans with a genetic desire for world domination. The Japanese are of course not human at all, just as later ‘the Gooks’ in Vietnam were not really people at all but little yellow killing machines. Arabs today are faring little better.
We stand against such demonisation. Hitler represented the worst form of barbarism, but that did not make all Germans barbarians any more than Mussolini’s regime made all Italians fascists, the British Empire made all British people racists, or US imperialism makes all Americans bad, or any more than 11 September makes all followers of Islam mass murderers. By the same logic opposition to Israel does not make its opponents anti-Semitic. It is possible to look on the horror Israel is inflicting on the Palestinians without believing that this has anything to do with being Jewish. Many Jews do not support Israel at all. Others may be sympathetic to Israel but are horrified by Sharon’s antics. Many who will support Sharon will not be Jewish–some may even be deeply anti-Semitic.
Fascinating evidence of this is to be found in some of the Nixon-era tapes discovered as the Watergate scandal unfolded. Some more of the tapes were recently released. In one taped conversation the putrid Nixon, his loathsome henchman HR Haldeman and the disgustingly oily Christian evangelist Billy Graham shared their views on Jews–in particular Jews in the media, or more precisely the ‘Jewish domination of the US media’. This Jewish stranglehold of the media ‘has got to be broken’, Graham declares, ‘or this country is going down the drain’. ‘Oh boy,’ declares Nixon. ‘I can’t ever say that but I believe it’.
In the midst of all this anti-Semitic garbage they all agree that ‘the best Jews are actually the Israeli Jews’. The American Jews, they declare, are traitors. Why? Because a number of prominent anti Vietnam War activists are Jewish.
Nixon’s support for Israel never wavered any more than his anti-Semitism did. Israel happened to be key to US interests in the Middle East, so his foul profanities remained whispered.
No, it is not those who oppose imperialist wars who tend to hold a hatred of peoples or countries because of their governments. Rather it is the supporters of war who have to dehumanise and hate in order to justify wielding their mighty and murderous weapons of destruction. We will take no lectures on international brotherhood from them.
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