Why We Never Hear From the Anti-War Voices--Even Though They're (Almost Always) Right
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Here’s how, in his classic Vietnam War history, The Best and the Brightest, David Halberstam summed up Washington life via the career of Dean Rusk, the hawkish Secretary of State under presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson: “If you are wrong on the hawkish side of an event you are all right; if you are accurate on the dovish side you are in trouble.”
Wouldn’t it be wonderful, so many decades later, to be able to say that such a statement is thoroughly out of date in Washington and elsewhere in this country? Unfortunately, on the evidence of the Iraq War years, it would be a lovely lie.
Where, after all, are those who went out into the streets in their millions globally to say: don’t do it, it’s madness! And the far smaller crew who said the same about the Afghan War? Logically, they should be celebrated today. They were on target. To the extent anyone could, they saw it coming. Logically, some of the more prescient among them should be our experts of the moment. They should be the media’s go-to guys and gals as a war atmosphere builds vis-a-vis Iran that has eerie similarities to the pre-Iraq invasion period (despite the intervening decade-plus of disaster in the Greater Middle East).
The antiwar figures who protested then, who said the war hawks of the Bush administration and the many pundits beating the war drums for them were fools, and an invasion a fool’s task, should be in the Rolodexes of every journalist reporting on American foreign policy, the Iran crisis, or our wars. But when was the last time you heard from one of them or saw one spotlighted?
For years, to give a single example, on anniversaries of the Iraq invasion, my hometown paper, the New York Times, called on the very figures who had gotten it wrong or actively helped make it wrong to assess the war, to tell us just where we were. Now, the urge to surge once again seems to have parts of the polity in its grips, as 58% of Americans in a recent Pew poll favor someone using military force to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons. (Of course, in a recent CNN/Gallup poll, 71% were already convinced that Iran has a nuclear weapon!) At this very moment, the experts being called on are regularly those who were “wrong on the hawkish side.” Meanwhile, the Republican candidates (Ron Paul excepted) are all but swearing they will launch a war on Iran if elected.
In the midst of this, remind me: Is anyone in that mainstream world checking in with those who were “accurate on the dovish side”? If so, I haven’t noticed, and I’m not holding my breath waiting for them to do so either.
Perhaps because they managed to snag the more impressive bird, the hawks remain eternally wrong and triumphant when it comes to war, and the doves remarkably right and yet eternally erased from the scene. It’s a story that Adam Hochschild, author of the bestseller on World War I, To End All Wars, reminds us in his latest piece, “The Untold War Story -- Then and Now,” is anything but new.