War and Peace (Movements)

t home this spring break in Raleigh, N.C., a mere two hours from Ft. Bragg, where thousands of soldiers have shipped out overseas for combat over the past month, I wore a peace button to a local grocery store. The cashier suggested in a sweet southern drawl (that, as a fellow southerner, I know can cleverly disguise a speaker’s true feelings) that maybe I should stop protesting and start supporting the troops (as if the two were mutually exclusive). “Really honey,” she asked me, “what’s the point?”

The point is a lot harder to find now. According to Washington, the war is wrapping up quite nicely. The troops are coming home, our Traveling SUV Entourage of Restoration has descended and, thank God, the oil is secure. Doesn’t that mean the anti-war folks have lost? Perhaps we should, as many suggest, do our patriotic duty and shut our mouths, pack up our peace banners and give it another go the next time around.

As March 20 approached, the letters I wrote my congressman and the vigils I attended felt increasingly futile, the war increasingly inevitable. But at least I was doing something, however small, to prevent war.

Now, protesting a war that is over is like a basketball team practicing immediately after losing the championship. It is hard to keep from feeling completely defeated, hard to know what to do next. Do we keep protesting the war on Iraq? Or do we turn our attentions to Iran or Syria, the next most likely targets for Bush’s pre-emptive war — you know, the “let’s play dominos in the Middle East” game? On the Williams campus, should we encourage dialogue through more speakers, debates and forums? Or perhaps it is time for the “I’m gonna wear fake blood and dress up like an Iraqi casualty to show you how horrible war is” tactics?

In the middle of all of these logistical debates over how to act next while watching the carnage unfold overseas on propaganda-saturated televisions, it is easy to lose track of the point of participation in a movement that appears to be destined for failure.

Yet peace never loses relevance: there is always a point. We didn’t stop this war, but we did mobilize a substantial opposition force, setting the groundwork for addressing debates that will arise in the future.

The peace movement is crucial now as America closes a war that was neither as popular nor as smooth as Washington predicted: no weapons of mass destruction were discovered, no link to terrorism fully legitimized.

We will be there in a few months or years down the road if we decide to shock and awe Syria or Iran. We will be there to see if Operation Iraqi Freedom lives up to its name by bringing a true and lasting democracy to the Iraqi people. We will fight to ensure the promised delivery of humanitarian aid. We will work domestically to monitor the war’s implications for civil liberties and the economic consequences of the war’s whopping 78 billion dollar price tag. And we will most assuredly be around in 2004 when we will elect a Leader, not a Liberator.

War is a huge blow to the peace movement, but it doesn’t render it useless or unnecessary. I knew this war was unjustified long before March 20, and just because the war is over now doesn’t mean I have changed my mind. In fact, the more American casualties that return from overseas, the more estranged the United States becomes from the rest of the world and the more tax dollars Bush diverts from schools and health care and funnels into the already bloated military operations, the firmer I’m entrenched in my opposition.

My opposition is neither unpatriotic nor irrelevant, and I refuse to hold my tongue and take one for the American team in the name of complicity and unity.

There is a group of local folks who hold a candlelight vigil in front of the Eyes on Rt. 2 every night between 7:30 and 8 p.m. in a silent moment of both protest and prayer for peace. A vigil has been held every night since the war began. I have been to a few; some people have been out there every night. Faithfully and tirelessly they hold little flames of hope, convinced that a seemingly unfeasible peace is always better than an unnecessary and unjust war.