WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Of the poor, it has been said, "Ye shall
always have with ye." The same might also be said of peace movements. They
are always with us, even in time of peace, and even when a Hitler or a Mao
is rattling a saber.
America did not need Saddam Hussein snarling from Baghdad to
entertain a peace movement. In fact, even before President George W. Bush
was sounding the alarm against international terrorism and Saddam's grisly
arsenal, an American peace movement was gently purring with its customary
To be sure, Saddam's insouciance toward UN resolutions and the
president's impatience with him has given our peace movement a wonderful
jump-start, as the phrase has it. Yet the American peace movement endured
after the end of the Cold War, though it was only a pale version of its old
boastful self and its melodramatic bumper stickers surely evoked rude laughs
from 1990s Americans.
There we were, a decade after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the
Pentagon budget waning, Russian arms rusting away, and out of the faculty
parking lot speeds a Volvo, its proud bumpers proclaiming, "Give Peace a
Chance." Well, now the peace movement has renewed life and a goal: "Hands
Off Iraq," "No Blood for Oil." The movement's march on Washington led by the
gaudy likes of Jessica Lange and two plump clergymen of distinctly secular
tastes, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, got me to thinking about the ironies
of peace movements.
The first irony is that peace movements almost never lead to
peace. If you can think of exceptions, let me hear from you -- but do not
include the Anti-Vietnam War peace movement. History is quite clear on the
brutal consequences for Southeast Asia of the 1970s peace movement. As it
grew in strength, war spread from South Vietnam to Cambodia and Laos; and
war has continued to this day with re-education camps for the independently
minded and tyranny wherever the communists triumphed. Reflecting on the
dismal record of most peace movements, I would suggest that a far more
successful peace movement is the 82nd Airborne and similar military
It has been widely reported, at least by conservative observers,
that the peace demonstrations of last week were populated by an assortment
of zanies, not the sober middle-class citizenry who were reputed to have
motored in from suburb and countryside. There were the environmental
hysterics, the Trotskyites, the anti-Semites, vegetarians,
anti-globalization reactionaries and -- my favorites -- the "Queers for
Peace and Justice," and the Service Employees International Union Local
1199. Those last two groups were spotted by my young colleague from the New
York Sun, Adam Daifallah, while covering the peace march at the National
Mall in Washington.
After he chronicled all the weirdoes and recorded their idiotic
speeches (from the speakers' platform former Attorney General Ramsey Clark
began an impeachment drive against Bush, Jackson sang --"The world is cold,
but our hearts are warm"), we repaired to a local Vietnamese restaurant for
dinner. What we found was amazing. The restaurant was filled with peace
Later, I found out that for some reason after their glorious day
of haranguing the "American War Machine," the marchers' favorite ethnic
eateries were Vietnamese. It is odd that the mainstream press stressed the
middle-class nature of the anti-war marchers, for our fellow diners the
other night were all right out of a late 1960s teach-in. Their children
looked pretty normal, but the parents were unreconstructed radicals, all
united by something even more profound than the love of peace -- namely, a
disdain for America.
They were also utterly oblivious of their capacity for error.
Pulling their legs was doomed to futility. When I tried by dreamily
enthusing to one of the glassy-eyed idealists that, "If it were not for the
peace movement of the 1970s we would not have this wonderful Vietnamese
restaurant here in Washington today," he completely missed the point. To the
owner of the Vietnamese restaurant, the 1970s peace movement had meant
exile. To the butt of my ridicule it had meant the spread of Vietnamese
Struck by the similarity between last week's peace marchers and
my recollection of the anti-Vietnam War marchers, I attempted to reread
Norman Mailer's supposedly journalistic account of his participation in a
famous anti-Vietnam march on the Pentagon, "The Armies of the Night." Read
today, it is a terrible book. Mailer's eyewitness accounts are utterly
unconvincing. He could not possibly remember the conversations during the
demonstrations that he claims to have recorded. He speaks of blood being
splattered and other dramatic acts that simply did not take place. And the
prose is often inscrutable.
If I had the space here, I would quote page 113 in its entirety.
It is all one sentence, possibly the most clangorous concatenation of mixed
metaphors and random nonsense ever published by a major American publishing
company. Fittingly, the book won a National Book Award. It is that bad.
Yet peace movements are not governed by orderly thought. They
are usually manifestations of self-love by people completely incapable of
self-criticism. This is because when one decides to join the peace movement
(or to become a progressive, for that matter) one does so assuming that
never again will he be wrong, probably about anything. The decision leads to
comedy and to some really infantile books.