Personal Voices: Justice in War?

Listening to the drums of war reverberate across the nation this week, I realized that it has happened once again; the conservative movement in the United States has stolen a page from the playbook of the left. We are going to invade Iraq in the name of justice.

This role reversal is nothing new. Here in California, affirmative action has been outlawed in the name of fairness, justice and civil rights. Bilingual education was banned when conservatives championed the rights of Spanish-speaking children to learn English. An alien out on Mars watching the television signals that cross the solar system might have a hard time figuring out just who is supporting what.

The upside-down state of war rhetoric dawned on me while listening to Forum, a recent local public radio talk show conversation between a veteran of the '60s anti-war movement and two organizers from the current anti-war protests. In light of how rarely anti-war voices are heard in the national media debate, it promised to be an interesting hour.

And Forum host Michael Krasny chose an interesting way to kick-start the conversation. He related an argument that has sprung up between various leftist camps about how to protest the war, and in particular the criticism that some groups are marginalizing the anti-war movement through anti-U.S. rhetoric. Krasny then turned the conversation over to the 60s anti-war movement veteran Todd Gitlin, who continued this theme.

Gitlin argued that the anti-war messages should instead center on promoting inspections and calling on the Bush Administration to honor the process, to give inspections a chance to work. Later, Richard Becker, an organizer in the current wave of protests, argued in return that the inspections process is easily manipulated by Bush who could start a war simply by ensuring that Iraq fails the inspections process.

But this did not satisfy Gitlin, who pressed for an acknowledgement that Saddam Hussein was a really bad guy. While it's hard to find anyone who would disagree with this assertion, it is a key point in the conversation, because it frames the question of war as a moral issue. For the pro-war movement, the choice to go to war is axiomatic: If Hussein is an evil ruler, than this country has the moral right, moral duty to go to war.

If this sounds familiar, it should. And not just because you've been hearing it on Rush Limbaugh. In fact, it is a long cherished ideal of the left, often represented by an old slogan: justice first, then peace will last. And yet here we are arguing for peace, while the Bush Administration is arguing for justice.

In fact, we do have a moral right, a moral duty to pursue justice around the world. It's just that over the last 50 years United States government has, for the most part, done just the opposite. This war in Iraq isn't about high-minded concepts like democracy, justice and freedom. In fact, a quick comparison with North Korea helps to highlight that the roots of this war are actually to be found in a simple equation of power, money and oil.

The pursuit of this war by the United States will make the whole world a more dangerous place. It will wreak instability and fuel the cycle of violence. And it will send the profound and Orwellian message that peace and justice are secured through war. But the truth is something else. Injustice can be overcome without resorting to crushing violence; just ask Nelson Mandela.

This march to war is unpatriotic. It defiles the ideals our country is founded upon. And we should remind everyone of this at every opportunity. It is time to reclaim the mantle of justice and liberty from those who would sully it with blood and oil. It's time to stop a war in Iraq before it starts.

Hunter Cutting is director of communications for the Independent Press Association. He is a co-founder of We Interrupt This Message, a non-profit media strategy center based in San Francisco.


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