My Turn: A demonstration of peaceful dissent

Posted: Friday, February 14, 2003

Over 400,000 votes have been cast so far in a Time (Europe) Magazine online poll asking which country poses the greatest danger to peace in 2003. The United States has received 85 percent of the votes for the most dangerous country, far more than Iraq (8 percent) or North Korea (7 percent). The poll is informal, but these numbers (which include many Americans) reflect a different picture of world opinion than you'd get from watching CNN.

Colin Powell's presentation before the United Nations helps explain why so many people are so worried about us. Some found his evidence persuasive, others less so, but what he failed to adequately explain is why the rush toward war over this problem, when a far less violent solution has been embraced by some of the world's most trusted statesmen.

As Jimmy Carter wrote recently in an editorial: "The most obvious answer is a sustained and enlarged inspection team. For almost eight years following the Gulf War until it was withdrawn four years ago, UNSCOM proved to be very effective in locating and destroying Iraq's formidable arsenal ... The cost would be minuscule compared to war."

Instead, our military's war plan reportedly is to "shock and awe" the Iraqi population with up to 800 cruise missiles during the first two days, knocking out power and water. A Pentagon official told CBS, "The sheer size of this has never been seen before, never been contemplated before." The architect of the policy, Harlan Ullman, said, "We want them to quit, not to fight ... so you have this simultaneous effect - rather like the nuclear weapons at Hiroshima - not taking days or weeks but minutes."

If we proceed with this plan, it is hard to believe that Iraqi people will look upon us as "liberators." The World Health Organization warns that up to half a million Iraqis will be killed or maimed. We can expect little TV coverage of the casualties, if what happened last Wednesday to Picasso's Guernica is any clue. The tapestry, hanging outside the Security Council, was covered in advance of Powell's talk. Presumably, there was some concern that Picasso's depiction of the agony of a bombed village would not be on message. But we don't need artwork to remind us; unfortunately we all know what happens to people when airplanes fly into buildings.

If we proceed, America's reputation as a peacekeeper, as a force for good, will be shattered. Many possible reasons have been offered for this war aside from the official arguments. But whatever you think the real reasons are, and even if there is some validity to them, it is important to understand how this looks from outside. Once we have overpowered Baghdad and sent our soldiers to patrol its streets, to much of the world we will look like merely the latest in a long line of bullies throughout history who have rolled their tanks over their neighbors' territory.

CIA Director George Tenet has said, "Baghdad for now appears to be drawing a line short of conducting terrorist attacks ... against the United States. Should Saddam conclude that a U.S.-led attack could no longer be deterred, he probably would become much less constrained ...."

If the United States suffers a revenge attack, it's a safe guess that in the name of security new measures will be imposed that coarsen our society. The alerts will become more numerous, the level of fear will rise, the Bill of Rights will become a luxury we can no longer afford. And we will blame "them." And they will blame "us." And our children will inherit a far different country than the one we have been fortunate enough to live in.

On Saturday, Feb. 15, all over the world massive peaceful demonstrations are planned. Juneauites will gather at the Northern Light United Church at 10:30 a.m., and walk over the Douglas Bridge and back. If you are troubled by the drumbeat for war, this gives you an opportunity to stand together with your neighbors. If you have children and want to show them that peaceful dissent is what America is all about, please join us.

This commentary was signed by Nina Mollett, David Ottoson, Mary Alice McKeen, Larry Peterson, Amy Paige, Deborah Holbrook, Mariya Lovishchuk, Angela Milligan, Jean Christian, and Bob Mitchell.

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