The Second Casualty of War

The saying goes that the first casualty of war is truth. In the looming War on Terrorism, that's not quite true; the first casualties were in New York and Washington on September 11. But these are the darkest days of our democracy, and not because it was attacked from without; they are grim at the moment because democracy is being not so much attacked as willingly surrendered from within. At the very time robust debate is needed in order to better consider decisions that could change the course of world history, Congress (with the laudable exception of Barbara Lee) and national media are acting like so many vassals of the Politburo. In both cases, the results have been appalling.

Tomorrow, I'll look at the decisions being made, virtually without debate, that have little to do with Sept. 11 but that would have been unthinkable two weeks ago. But today, it's even more urgent to speak the words that our big media icons are almost entirely avoiding. For over a week now, our national media has been imitating the bad old days of Stalin or Mao, hammering home the inseparable threads of patriotism, national obedience, and the Great Helmsman's designated theme -- in this case, the logically idiotic proposition that everyone in the world who does not enthusiastically support Bush's chosen response to terrorism therefore supports terrorism and is subject to U.S. attack ("You're either with us or against us."). Meanwhile, two enormous stories emerged that were either completely ignored or badly misrepresented.

Bush's formulation is a conservative hawk's wet dream: a return to the Cold War, the glorious days when the world could be neatly divided into good and evil (another Bush formulation). Capitalism vs. the Evil Empire, the Alliance vs. Fascism, civilization vs. the savages, black and white. But the first of these major stories is that not only the world, but a large part of America isn't buying it. To quote directly from a Friday Reuters story that was almost entirely ignored in U.S. media:

"ZURICH, Switzerland (Reuters) -- International public opinion opposes a massive U.S. military strike to retaliate for attacks on America by hijacked aircraft, according to a Gallup poll in 31 countries whose results were released Friday.

Only in Israel and the United States did a majority favor a military response against states shown to harbor terrorists, the survey found. People questioned elsewhere preferred to see suspected terrorists extradited and put on trial.

`Around 80 percent of Europeans and around 90 percent of South Americans favor extradition and a court verdict...,' said Swiss polling firm Isopublic, which conducted the survey.

Seventy-seven percent of Israelis backed military action, while 54 percent of Americans were in favor, it said.

The surveys, which polled 16,231 people worldwide, were conducted from Monday to Wednesday ... Clear majorities of between 70 and 80 percent supported limiting any strike to military rather than civilian targets, the survey found."

The poll confirms foreign coverage of public, and much political, reaction overseas. At home, it also squares with the experience of the rapidly burgeoning peace movement, which is finding allies across the political spectrum from people who don't understand how a war of the sort Bush proposes can be fought, let alone won, and who see enormous possible downsides.

The astonishing news there isn't that 54 percent agreed with Bush's idea of war -- it's that only a week after thousands of us suddenly perished, nearly half of America didn't. Contrast that with a fairly typical page one peace movement profile appearing Saturday in the Seattle Times, the day of Seattle's second largest peace gathering in four days -- the first, with 5,000 people, got a photo in the back of the paper. Saturday's sub-headline describes peace activists as "...offering a dissenting -- if unpopular -- voice...," and the story mostly followed suit.

If 46 percent of America doesn't think Bush's war is a good idea -- far more people, please note, than voted for Bush in the first place -- it may be a movement some people react strongly to, but it's hardly an "unpopular" movement. And it certainly doesn't deserve the condescending, novelty treatment it's getting from media outlets which have sacrificed their vital role in a democracy in order to superglue their lips to the buttocks of power.

"By the Way, You're Fired." But the world's response to Bush was only one story. The other was the stock market, and our economy. By Friday, that should have made page one headlines. In terms of peoples' daily lives -- the benchmark editors like to use when ignoring foreign news, which is part of how we got here -- its absence, or misrepresentation, was even more inexcusable.

War, in theory, is good for business. But so far, our run-up to war emphatically has not been, and not simply because Americans aren't doing their patriotic duty (also essential to the world's economy) and going shopping in large numbers. Headlines last Tuesday screamed relief that after being closed for four days, the stock markets, upon reopening, "only" dropped about five percent of their value -- a normal first-day response for a large crisis, and not a complete collapse.

What was then ignored is that, like the World Trade Center's towers themselves, the collapse came, but gradually. Stocks kept falling, despite an emergency half-point drop in the Fed's interest rate that made no difference at all. By week's end, the Dow Jones industrials had dropped 14.3 percent, or 1,369 points in a week -- more than half again as much as the previous record. NASDAQ, which had already been hammered this year, fared even worse, losing 16 percent. The Wilshire Associates Equity Index, which measures the combined market values of all NYSE, American and NASDAQ issues, ended last week at $8.9 trillion, off $1.2 trillion in a week and down from $13.7 trillion a year ago.

The market, as I wrote two weeks ago, was still badly overvalued, and only needed a push to take all of the air out of its still mostly-inflated bubble. It got a lot more than that, and pouring money into the Pentagon (while raiding Social Security and gutting what's left of the safety net, leaving the disenfranchised to fend for themselves) won't help most of the people affected. It wasn't just the airlines and insurance companies that took hits; financial services lost big on anticipation that people will be spending far less, a harbinger of problems in other industries. Layoffs weren't confined to airlines -- Boeing, for example, announced they'd cut 30,000 jobs, jobs that, if they come back, won't be at the high union wages they were, and may not be in the U.S. at all. Eventually, the economy will stabilize, but at least in the short term -- and perhaps for much longer -- this was a big, big story.

And why wasn't it widely reported, or widely reported in its proper context? Largely, because media, just like Congress, has abdicated its role in a democracy and instead is acting as though its primary responsibilities are to line up support for Bush and make people feel good about America. Bluntly put, that's how totalitarian states operate. It's hard at this point to assess what the threat to America is from without, but we're beginning to see pretty clearly the threat from within.

Reclaim History!

Things that happened on Sep. 24 that you never had to memorize in school:

1794: President Washington orders militia to put down Whiskey Rebellion.

1900: Anarchist Congress begins, Holland.

1918: Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) labor union declared illegal in Canada.

1953: Twenty-three Korean-American prisoners of war, who have refused to be repatriated to the United States during a U.N. prisoner exchange, are turned over to India by the North Korean command. The U.S. soldiers issue this statement: "We love our country and our people...Unfortunately, under present conditions in America, the voices of those who speak out for peace and freedom are rapidly being silenced. We do not intend to give the American government a chance of silencing our voices too."

1968: Anti-war protesters destroy 10,000 draft files in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

1968: Mexican soldiers battle students at the National University in Mexico City, killing 17 and arresting at least 1,000.

1969: Beginning of the trial of the Chicago Eight, a broad conspiracy trial stemming from the 1968 Democratic National Convention protests. It sought (unsuccessfully) to imprison eight of the country's leading anti-war protest organizers: David Dellinger, Rennie Davis, Thomas Hayden, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, John Froines, Lee Weiner, and Bobby Seale.

1981: CIA Director William Casey urges "total exclusion from Freedom of Information Act for intelligence agencies."

1991: Most successful radical author of 20th century, Dr. Seuss (Theodore Giesel), dies.

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