Bring the Troops Home Now!

Against the Current, No. 31, March/April 1991

The Editors

ON JANUARY 16, the U.S. war machine launched the attack, pinpointing with precise technological accuracy its most sensitive targets: the living rooms of 100 million people in the United States as they watched the nightly network news and the following prime-time specials. By morning, resistance to the war seemed to be crumbling as polls indicated the pro-war majority grew overnight to eight-five percent Following the initial euphoria, it seemed that only a mopping-up operation would be needed for ultimate victory.

That day, however, the antiwar movement was already mobilizing in emergency demonstrations in the streets of dozens of cities. By January 19, a hundred thousand marched in Washington, San Francisco and Los Angeles; and the following week on January 26, the combined strength of the mass mobilization in Washington and the West Coast approached half a million.

Already there was a significant beginning of a mobilization in the unions and communities of people of color, and the potential for a new radicalization. Movements that had grown over the past decade, particularly the lesbian/gay and environmental struggles, turned out large numbers of people. Further, the Military Families Support Network—family members of the soldiers deployed banding together to oppose U.S. policy from the beginning of the buildup—has no historical precedent. Their moral authority underscores why it is critical to support the troops by insuring that they be brought home now.

Less than two weeks after the start of an imperialist war—a war in which military “victory” for the United States seemed assured—the movement against the war was already on the scale of 1968, when Washington was being defeated in Vietnam.

A crucial fact revealed by the huge, even unexpected, success of the January 19 and 26 actions is that opposition to the war is deep and intense, while support for it remains broad but shallow and uncertain. That support is particularly vulnerable to the revelations that come as the fighting unfolds: In this war of the laser-guided smart bombs U.S. Marines are killed by “friendly fire;” there are probably thousands of civilians maimed and dead in Iraq; there is still, as this letter is written, the growing certainty of a hideous ground war.

But there is also the reality of a recession, of the fact that the only remaining military superpower is quite literally bankrupt These factors—the war, the antiwar movement and the yawning economic and social crisis at home—may very well mark a “defining moment” in U.S. history, in the words of Secretary of State Baker, but with a different content than he intended.

Murder Abroad, Mass Misery At Home

The deaths visited on Iraqis are criminal and indefensible. But there is no need to go half a world away to discover the costs of this war in human misery. In our inner cities, children whose schools have no money for textbooks, let alone classroom computers, can watch televised videotape of a smart bomb carrying a ton of explosives directed to the front door of a military target.

Families without medical insurance, pregnant women without prenatal care, victims of drug addiction without treatment centers can listen as the Army Corps of Engineers boasts of its plans to rebuild Kuwait from the ground up. Months ago, the promise of a peace dividend evaporated in the sands of the Arabian desert; today, any hopes of addressing the social crisis for years to come are blown to bits over Baghdad. At home, the year of hopeful expectations that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall has given way to the year of broken dreams.

The January 19-26 success shows us that there is an already existing mass base to mobilize even broader layers of the population. We have to carry our organizing efforts deep inside the unions, the churches, the communities of working people and people of color. At the same time, we cannot be deflected from our goals: ending the war and bringing the troops home before imperialism can impose its will on the Middle East.

The very success of the January 19-26 mobilizations has strengthened a more conservative approach within the antiwar movement, an approach that says “Cease-fire, Stop the Bombing, Negotiate N but not “U.S. Out” The editors of Against the Current agree that the bombing and bloodshed must stop, immediately. We would welcome a peaceful settlement that gave the peoples of Palestine, Kuwait and the rest of the Middle East a free choice of their future. But the precondition for a just result is U.S. withdrawal. This demand must remain at the center of the movement.

A Manipulated Pseudo-Consensus

There had been deep divisions within the elites, not to mention profound opposition in the population, to launching this war in the first place. The Bush Administration won the argument for war by its skillful manipulation of the phony debate over “war versus sanctions. Sanctions against Iraq would indeed have been the most effective in history-for the simple reason that the chief sanctions-busters in most cases, the United States and Britain, were organizing them. But the “give sanctions a chance to work’ line in Congress and in some parts of the peace movement ignored what the sanctions were really about to assemble the coalition and implement the buildup toward war.

By the time of United Nations Resolution 678 and the Congressional debate, the sanctions had fulfilled their usefulness for Bush & Company. The troops and the international war coalition were in place. In fact, it is now clear that Bush had no intention of pursuing sanctions. His decision to deploy 500,000 troops-secretly made in October, according to Fortune-effectively precluded the sanctions route.

The only way to prevent the war would have been to remove the U.S. troops. The antiwar movement should remember this costly lesson If we want to stop or prevent war, we have to fight against the deployment of troops from the very beginning.

It’s not surprising, in our view, that after the deep split and long hesitation inthe U.S. capitalist class over whether to launch this war, doubts instantly gave way to an enormous surge of capitalist confidence bordering on euphoria. The knowledge that previously untested war machines performed as designed brought on a 145-point stock market rally. This obscene display of what is valued by capitalism needs to be engraved on our memories.

But the media’s hoopla about early military success, coupled with an outpouring of sheer relief-Looki Our missiles really world-cannot hide the deeper worries over what the “victory” will mean in political terms and in astL It’s far from clear that the U.S. ruling class will ultimately benefit from this war. But it’s our view that the greater the military victory of the U.S. ruling class in this war, the greater the disaster for the interests of the people of the United States and the greater the catastrophe for the peoples of the Middle East.

The Challenge Ahead

The editors of Against the Current are fully aware that we, like the entire antiwar movement, confront a very challenging new situation. A war that was deeply unpopular the day before it began gained popular support once it began (much less, to be sure, in the AMcan-American and other communities of the oppressed than among whites). Much of that support would be retained so long as the war was being won with low U.S. casualties. The Washington Post/ABC poll of January 6 indicated that sixty-three percent of the population supported the use of force after the January 15th deadline, but support would drop twenty points if 1,000 U.S. soldiers were to die and only thirty-five percent would support the war if 10,000 soldiers were to die.

Those statistics make it all the more remarkable that such a mass antiwar movement as we saw on January 19 and 26 should be in the streets before there are massive shipments of bodies in bags and before any military setbacks.

It is also profoundly encouraging that this antiwar movement was not disoriented by the semi-hysterical climate surrounding missile attacks on Israel. Indeed, Israeli atrocities without number—including 890 Palestinians killed in the first three years of the intifada and 20,000 civilian deaths during the Spring 1982 bombing of Beruit, Lebanon—have never been spotlighted like the first SCUD landing in a Tel Aviv neighborhood.

While bombing a civilian population is always a criminal act that socialists condemn, the television coverage of the trauma was predictably selective, not breaking stride to report the cutoff of food supplies to Palestinian hospitals in the Occupied Territories, the rotting of crops in the fields as Palestinian farmers face death by shooting if they step outside. That our antiwar movement stuck to its principles in this atmosphere is itself an historic advance.

The very existence of such a movement would be impossible if it did not have a pretty clear understanding of what this war is and is not about: that it is not a war against aggression, but for U.S. control of the Third World; not awar to eliminate a new Hitler, but to curb one more U.S.-sponsored thug who chose to break the master’s rules; not a war to found a “New World Order,’ but to prop up an old and rotting order. Further, most of this movement recognizes that opposing and resisting the U.S. war does not imply that there is anything progressive about the brutal regime of Iraq or its invasion of Kuwait.

This, then, is a movement that has the potential to help stop this war and to make its costs—particularly, a long-term United States occupation to reshape and police the entire Middle East—too high for the capitalist class and its policy-making elites to contemplate. The Bush Administration is fond of saying this war is “not like Vietnam.” Of course it isn’t.

Vietnam was waged during the Cold War and in a period of relative domestic prosperity—or as Lyndon Johnson used to say, with “guns and butter.” Today, while the city and state governments eliminate vital services and lay off workers, while Washington continues to cut social services that have already been slashed to the bone, they squander a billion dollars a day on the war. Currently, thirty-eight states face massive fiscal deficits, and a number call for layoffs.

Clearly there is a war at home and a war abroad. Neither is in the interests of the people of this country.

March-April 1991, ATC 31