February 15, 2003 demonstration against War on Iraq in downtown San Francisco, on Market Street seen from roof of Grant Building at 7th Street
Photo: Chris Carlsson
Last week, at American insistence, the copy of Picasso's Guernica in the anteroom to the UN Security Council Chamber was curtained over—not “an appropriate backdrop,” it was explained, for official statements to the world media.
WE HAVE NO WORDS FOR THE HORROR TO COME,
for the screams and carnage of the first days of battle, the fear and brutality of the long night of occupation that will follow, the truck bombs and slit throats and unstoppable cycle of revenge, the puppets in the palaces chattering about “democracy,” the exultation of the anti-Crusaders, Baghdad descending into the shambles of a new, more dreadful Beirut, and the inevitable retreat (thousands of bodybags later) from the failed McJerusalem.
WE HAVE NO OLYMPIAN PREDICTIONS.
We do not know what happens next.
We shall not ape the ludicrous certainty of the CIA hacks on the news, trotting out tonights “analysis” (tonights excuses for a half-million dead and wounded in a single laser-guided week).
THE BEST WE CAN OFFER IS NEGATIVE WISDOM,
addressed to comrades in a dark and confusing time.
• The answer to War is not Peace. “War is the health of the state,” as Randolph Bourne indelibly put it, but so is the so-called Peace that the state stage-manages for us the peace of cemeteries, the peace of “sanctions” and “containment,” the peace of the “Peace Process” (photo-opportunities on the White House lawn plus gunships and bulldozers in Jenin), the decade of Iraqi deaths unseen on your TV screens. “Neither their War nor their Peace” should be our slogan.
• It is time to make War on the Warmongers. Which means a struggle waged across long years, a campaign of attrition and demoralization. It matters greatly that already, before the war begins, millions of people are in the streets. But marching is no substitute for Mario Savio's call to “put your bodies upon the gears, and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus.” Don't mistake the elation of the stroll down Market Street for the painful, dangerous, month-by-month business of sapping the will of the political-military machine. We know that its will can be broken. We know that a time can come when the customary ignoring of the ruled by the rulers becomes dysfunctional, and leads the state to catastrophe. “Vietnam” is the word for that twilight of the gods. Cheney and Rumsfeld blurt it out every night in the small hours, and wake with their pacemakers knocking.
• Terror too is the health of the state. Underneath the absurdity of the duct tape and plastic sheeting advisories lies a serious policy, which our present leaders seem poised to pursue to the bitter end—the fomenting of a permanent culture of Terror, sealing each of us into a pod of fear and isolation, and feeding our every movement into the Total Information Awareness databank. We are already in a spiral, where Terror and the State embrace more tightly each day. And the target is us our freedoms, our common resources, our possibilities of invention and ease.
• Don't put your faith in the blood-stained “international community.” Remember the U. N.'s record through the years as hand-wringing frontman for any and every initiative of power. Remember Kofi Annan's role as chief blind eye to the Rwandan genocide. Don't think that Swiss banker Blix will fail to do his masters bidding in the end. Don't mistake the German government, which happily goes on hosting 100,000 American troops, for a real opponent of the U. S. Reich. The dogs will all want their share of the spoils. And even if, at the last minute, a nauseous “diplomatic solution” is cobbled together, have we any doubt who will go on paying the costs? The curtain could be rolled back again to reveal Guernica, the suits could make speeches congratulating themselves on the triumphs of military humanism, and still the shit-smeared 3-year-olds in the hospital beds in Baghdad would be writhing in agony under Blix's well-fed gaze. For such is the price of containment.
• Look through the mind-numbing speeches in the Security Council to the real pressure, the mass disaffection, that is making the present prewar scenario unlike any other. This is the real ground for optimism, we believe—limited optimism in an otherwise nightmarish situation. The dreary ghost of “public opinion,” which the states of the world are normally so adept at conjuring and pretending to obey, has suddenly become a destabilizing factor in the final arrangements for war. Schroeder thought he could call the pacifist beast into the streets strictly in order to take the Reichstag, and then retreat gracefully to the usual politics of “meeting our international obligations.” Blair thought the eternal British love affair with “their finest hour” would steer him past the familiar shoals of anti-Americanism. It has all turned out to be more difficult than Straw and Chirac ever dreamt. Let us keep up the crude pressure of refusal. Let us keep on setting the diplomatic lapdogs at each others throats.
• This is a war for Global Capitalism, not for Oil alone. The annals of oil are an uninterrupted chronicle of violence, genocide, and the cynical lawlessness of the corporate frontier. Iraq itself was born from this vile trinity. Now oil men parade the corridors of the White House. All five permanent members of the UN Security Council speak obediently for oil companies that have proved themselves specialists over the years in “regime change,” whenever it suits their interests. Nobody, not even Bush, contests the fact that the US industrial-military machine is a hopeless oil junkie. War is inevitable, it is said, not because of American imperialism but because of its addiction to the automobile. Dirty mobility is what America means by freedom. All of which is true. Petroleum is global capitalism's great lubricant, its key means of production. But the case is not proven that Iraqi oil, specifically, is a necessary part of the world picture. In hard cash terms, the Iraqi embargo matters little for corporate profits. Pay heed to the yearly reports and “position papers” churned out by Haliburton and Shell. What they truly covet is not sabotaged wells in the desert, but the deep-water fields beneath the warm seas of the Bight of Benin, the Gulf of Mexico, and coastal Brazil. So let us not see in the slaughter of Iraqi civilians only the murderous logic of the S.U.V.. It is not oil capital but capital in general that we must confront. Look around as you march up the Boulevard of Shame, at the bland headquarters of Bechtel, Esprit, and Chevron. Which of the three has the cleaner hands worldwide? To fixate on a single commodity and its detritus obscures the full horror and ruthlessness hidden by the word “globalization”: primitive accumulation, predatory and profligate, careering forward on a planetary scale.
• In the destruction of Baghdad resides the logic of empire. Oil is a metaphor for something more lethal, more destructive. What is at stake is the true madness of the world market, the hubris of an imperial “grand design” intended to make the world safe, once and for all, for capital. The map of the oil-rich Middle East will be redrawn, but that will be only the beginning. “American internationalism reflects….our national interests….a single sustainable model for national success”: such is the breathtaking monism of the new National Security Strategy. Is it any wonder that the costs of empire mount? More than half of all Federal funds flow to the military. American “bases” metastasize across the planet in 130 countries by the last count, and rising steadily. The homeland economy is bloated and debt-ridden.
• As for the miserable fantasy of the war as a blow struck in the name of the Iraqi people against their oppressor -- the “mercy by any means necessary” thesis -- the best we can do in the face of such Looking Glass politics is go back to Edmund Burke. Long ago he had this to say about the sudden discovery of human wickedness that regularly precedes an invasion: “It is not with much credulity I listen to any, when they speak evil of those whom they are going to plunder. I rather suspect that vices are feigned or exaggerated, when profit is looked for in their punishment. An enemy is a bad witness: a robber is a worse.” These are words for the times. The earth is crammed full of atrocities, and tyrants are always the true humanitarians.
• What matters on a march is speech, not speeches, the centrifuge of voices, rhythms, and banners, not the hectoring of stale celebrities. Least of all does it matter what CNN makes of the occasion. We recognize that, whether we like it or not, part of whats happening here is a numbers game, a counting of heads. But don't expect the stenographers of power to do anything else than traduce what you see.
• Trust your senses. A march, among other things, materializes the dead percentages in the polls, and takes life for a moment off the flickering screen. It is a reminder a fleeting and artificial one, but nonetheless welcome of what the public realm could be.
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