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Trib columnist Eric Zorn tars anti-war protesters...and gets tarred back

Liberal Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn tarred anti-war protesters in his September 24 column for a range of ills -- from including an explicitly anti-racist focus in their work to being just too damned left-wing. A participant in Monday's anti-war protest responds.








9-24-01 Zorn rant #2



















Peace too vital to be an issue of left or right


By Eric Zorn


Chicago Tribune


Published September 25, 2001





Thank goodness the Chicago Ad Hoc Coalition Against War and Racism did not use the word "peace" in its name.





According to minutes of the coalition's meeting Saturday, as posted on the Internet at chicagodan.org, members considered "Chicago Peace Coalition" and "Chicago Peace and Togetherness Coalition" before making their final decision.





See, I'm big into peace. I think it's one of the best ideas going--settling our differences as nations and individuals without killing each other; learning to share the bounties of the earth fairly, ethically and without violence.





I seek peace in my home and neighborhood, and I hope for peace in my city and nation. I've been singing songs of peace to the twins at bedtime--"Peace Will Come," "Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream," "We Shall Overcome"--and fantasize about the lyrics coming true.





Yet I am not against war. War may not be healthy for children and other living things, but history shows it's sometimes the best and only way to a meaningful peace. The Civil War comes to mind. The World Wars.





A movement that reflexively and categorically dismisses military force as a response to a national crisis--a coalition against war--is not necessarily equivalent to a coalition for peace. In fact, such a coalition may be supporting an approach that will ultimately lead to more bloodshed, more destruction, more suffering and less peace.





So don't confuse anti-war sentiment with calls and prayers for peace. Don't yield the language and symbols of peace to activists with broad, left-wing agendas, or else we'll find ourselves again back in the 1960s when those opposed to an unwise war were so at odds with the flag wavers that peace and patriotism were both marginalized as ideological fetishes.





Already we're seeing signs. The name of the local coalition gratuitously includes "and racism," which only hints at the grab bag of political ideas leaders apparently hope to shove into an umbrella movement: Other causes that get their props in the minutes include "rights of workers, women, indigenous people, and health-care rights ... anti-military recruitment ... the anti-globalization movement ... the anti-capitalist movement."





At the Saturday meeting, the members could not even agree to a simple, unequivocal condemnation of the Sept. 11 attacks.





The first link under "latest news" Monday morning at local anti-war Web site chicago.indymedia.org was an essay blaming George W. Bush and "the handful of people who control the globe, called by many the Illuminati," for orchestrating the murder of nearly 7,000 in order to achieve "total control of the masses."





And here I'd been thinking Jerry Falwell had cornered the market on loony, opportunistic interpretations of the tragedy. Feh.





We must save peace from the peacemongers. We've got to narrow our sights and keep peace in the crosshairs, if you will forgive the firearms imagery. Let's tell our leaders that the goal of the international anti-terrorist coalition must above all else be a more peaceful world--a world with more freedom and less fear.





What should that coalition do? It's interesting to me how many people have strong, sure opinions about how to battle terrorism and terrorist states: Bomb them. Feed them. Starve them. Dialogue with them. Insult them. Apologize to them for our misdeeds. Kick their butts. Mend our ways.





Here we have this elusive, hate-drunk, fanatical, decentralized enemy standing on the Bouncing Betty of Middle Eastern strife, and America is filled with armchair strategists and self-styled intelligence experts who know just what to do next.





I regret to say I'm not one of them. The geopolitical, military and religious nuances are beyond me. I'm glad the Bush administration has lately given many signs that it recognizes how volatile the situation is and how easy it would to be to play into the hands of those now hoping for a holy war.





I'd just add my me-too to the National Council of Churches forceful yet vague entreaty that our nation "make the right choices in this crisis" and that we focus on "global peace, human dignity and the eradication of injustice that breeds rage and vengeance."





Peace is too important to be a left or right issue. It is the most mainstream idea of all, and the last, best hope we've got.





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E-mail:
EricZorn (at) aol.com">EricZorn (at) aol.com



A rebuttal from Chris Geovanis


HammerHard MediaWork


September 25, 2001



First, let me say for the record that I write this in the spirit of friendly criticism to a columnist who has often been willing to take up advocacy of unpopular – but principled – positions. Your many columns on the Cruz/Hernandez case come to mind, for example. On that note, re your 9/25 column, I feel compelled to write to rebut a couple of egregious factual inaccuracies and (il?)logical flights of fancy. Now that we’re done with the niceties, I’m going to kick your ass – metaphorically, of course.



You write that "A movement that reflexively and categorically dismisses military force as a response to a national crisis – a coalition against war – is not necessarily equivalent to a coalition for peace. In fact, such a coalition may be supporting an approach that will ultimately lead to more bloodshed, more destruction, more suffering and less peace."



Say, what? The Chicago Ad Hoc Coalition Against War & Racism was organized to oppose not just any military force, but the military force that this administration – the Bush administration – is proposing in response to the 9-11 attacks. As in any coalition, different members are motivated for different reasons to adopt this position. It’s a coalition, after all. Some oppose the violence of militarism in any form; others see the Bush strategy – insofar as it’s been disclosed – as being profoundly misguided and deeply dangerous. And some coalition members fear that Bush’s war strategy will resurrect some of the worst civil and human rights violations of previous administrations, from government sanctioned assassinations of democratically elected leaders who irk the administration (Patrice Lumumba and Salvadore Allende leap to mind) to government attacks on legitimate political dissent (for example, the Chicago Red Squad and COINTELPRO projects, the Palmer Raids of 1918-1921, and the McCarthy witchhunts of the 1950’s).



The Coalition does not support an approach per se; it opposes the Bush ‘approach.’ I would venture to add that many coalition partners would argue that they fear the Bush approach "will ultimately lead to more bloodshed, more destruction, more suffering and less peace," – the same concerns you raise about the Coalition’s opposition to shrub militarism.



Let me point out that it is both disingenuous and grossly irresponsible to lay down a sweeping generalization like this about peace advocates without backing it up. Cite some examples, for pity’s sake; at least make some teensy effort to transcend the ahistorical blather we’ve been bombarded with since 9-11 from bejillions of right-wing seers, war-mongers, former C.I.A. operatives and terrorism ‘experts’ showcased in the corporate media. Anything short of that is naked polemic, based not on fact but on fear-mongering, and we’ve had more than enough of that in recent weeks, thank you very much.



While only time will tell, it seems reasonable to raise questions about an administration strategy that unilaterally declares war against an undefined enemy and uses the rubric of public safety to try to force through Congress a range of new initiatives that seriously threaten due process, privacy, democracy and the rights of immigrants. Even U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft has admitted in his congressional testimony that there is NO guarantee that, were the administration’s current anti-terrorism package passed, our ability to fight terrorism would be increased – only that the 9-11 terrorist attack occurred without these law enforcement ‘improvements’ in place.



Well, duh. Last time I checked, on September 10 we didn’t have a U.S. policy in place that refuses to give aide to governments that harbor right-wing paramilitary death squads (like those in El Salvador, Turkey, Colombia, Israel, or Mexico). We also didn’t have in place legislation mandating Christian school prayer in countries that accept U.S. foreign aid, policy legalizing warrantless searches, or policy appointing Jerry Falwell the official U.S. Czar of Homeland Spirituality. Some people in this country think godlessness, sacrilege and softness on crime can explain the roots of the 9-11 terrorist attack. Others think the roots lie in the hypocrisy of a U.S. foreign policy that only carps about terrorism when it negatively impacts U.S. or western corporate interests – or when our former allies deploy the terror tactics we paid them to practice abroad on our own streets, instead.



Obviously, some in the administration think that 9-11 occurred at least in part because people in the United States just have too much damned freedom, and that by expanding the capacities of the highly principled C.I.A., the supremely competent F.B.I., and the notoriously progressive Department of Justice, all will be weller, if more restrictive, in the U.S.



Well, more than a few of us left-wingers disagree. That's why one of the Coalition's core points of unity is to oppose attacks on civil liberties. We also believe that bombing Afghanistan – which will inevitably cause even more suffering and death for an already tyrannized civilian population – isn’t a very good idea either. I'll remind you that, after ten years of bombing and sanctions in Iraq, arch enemy Saddam Hussain remains in power but his country is a few million civilians shorter on the population rolls, thanks to rampant hunger, disease and death generated by – you got it! -- U.S. bombing and sanctions.



You might recall the old adage that insanity can be defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Bush and his war-mongering cohorts propose the policy equivalent: deploying the time-honored strategy of military retribution, whether we’re certain of the targets or not …and collateral damage – also known as civilian death and destruction -- be damned. Coalition members oppose this lunacy because it hurts innocent people, just as the 9-11 attacks did, and because it won’t work. If you’re going to fire off a broadside about how opposing this rush to war could in fact produce even more dangerous outcomes, then you damned well owe it to your readers to define your terms.



Then you write "Don't yield the language and symbols of peace to activists with broad, left-wing agendas, or else we'll find ourselves again back in the 1960s when those opposed to an unwise war were so at odds with the flag wavers that peace and patriotism were both marginalized as ideological fetishes."



Oh, come on, Eric. Peace activists as ideological fetishists? I thought you were above that kind of red-baiting. Did you mean to include Dr. Martin Luther King, who had increasingly exhorted Americans to oppose the war in Vietnam before his assassination, among your gaggle of fetishists? I.F. Stone? Pete Seeger? Dr. Benjamin Spock? Furthermore, your statement above is a gross oversimplification of a movement that was much more complex, diverse – and ultimately popularly embraced than your remarks suggest. As refutation, I’ll cite Howard Zinn, that craven critic of mainstream U.S. history accounts: "In August 1965, 61 percent of the population approved of the American involvement in Vietnam. By May 1971 it was exactly reversed -- 61 percent thought our involvement was wrong. Perhaps the most dramatic evidence of the change was that veterans coming back from Vietnam organized to oppose the war."



What’s perhaps more disturbing about your little canard above is the implication that those with ‘broad, left-wing agendas’ somehow lack legitimacy in any peace or anti-war (you choose the term) movement that is building popular opposition to Bush’s war strategy. Let me get this straight. The students against sweatshops, the police brutality opponents, the affordable housing advocates, the critics of predatory capitalism, the union activists, the members of religious communities who oppose the horrors of war… all of these activists and the hundreds of others – including hands down anti-capitalists (remember, it’s still allegedly a free country, so we’re not slapping critics of capitalism into prison for thought crimes…yet) – who gathered on Monday to oppose Bush’s rush to war should just sit down and shut up because they ostensibly hail from the left or harbor broader concerns? Are you kidding? Are you daft? Have you signed a publication contract with the Washington Times?



You weren’t done grinding this axe, either. A scant paragraph later, you follow with the breathless and incredible observation that "The name of the local coalition gratuitously includes "and racism," which only hints at the grab bag of political ideas leaders apparently hope to shove into an umbrella movement: Other causes that get their props in the minutes include "rights of workers, women, indigenous people, and health-care rights ... anti-military recruitment ... the anti-globalization movement ... the anti-capitalist movement."



Er, Eric, including racism in the Coalition’s name seems particularly appropriate right now. I remind you that at least two people who had the misfortune to look ‘Arab’ have been SHOT DEAD in recent days by Americans who said they were seeking revenge for 9-11. These, Eric, are racist attacks. This, Eric, is a racist country. I don’t recall Americans rampaging in mob violence against skinny white guys after Timothy McVeigh was identified as one of the Oklahoma City bombers. But the ‘Ayrabs’ sure caught it on the cuff – in the media, from law enforcement, and from ordinary civilians – before McVeigh was publicly fingered.



And by all accounts, since 9-11 this country has been plagued by a wave of racist attacks – from beatings and shootings to threats and vandalism -- against the persons and property of brown-skinned people who look Arab.



Then there’s the local angle. Perhaps you’ve heard, for example, that people who are ‘mad at the Arabs’ have massed in mobs at the Bridgeview mosque repeatedly in the last two weeks, and their intentions hardly seem benign. You may have missed the excellent segment last Friday on WBEZ’s This American Life with Shirley Jahad, who interviewed some of the Bridgeview mob participants. Yikes.



I would be willing to bet cash money that a (warrantless) law enforcement search of these Bridgeview mobsters’ vehicles would have turned up more than one copy of the Turner Diaries, a pile of leaflets from the World Church of the Creator, and probably more than a few National Alliance membership cards. But then, I’m betting that U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft didn’t exactly have these kinds of folks in mind when he began suggesting rolling back law enforcement curbs a couple of weeks ago.



And while we’re at it, you may also have missed a moving and illuminating first-hand account from a Chicago Indymedia reader – and writer – who took the time to go down to Bridgeview herself to witness and learn about local efforts to build bridges among people of different faiths in the area. (see Notes from Bridgeview: what I found when I went looking for the roots of racism, dated 9/19, article i.d. # 4679, chicago.indymedia.org). Ah, those goofy religious tolerance types. Don’t they know that racism is beyond the purview of our discourse here?



Ant-racism as a gratuitous left-wing add-on. Oh, really. You should be ashamed of yourself.



Speaking of Chicago Indymedia, let’s debunk a few more of your misapprehensions. You say in your piece, "The first link under "latest news" Monday morning at local anti-war Web site chicago.indymedia.org was an essay blaming George W. Bush and "the handful of people who control the globe, called by many the Illuminati," for orchestrating the murder of nearly 7,000 in order to achieve "total control of the masses.""



Eric, Eric, Eric. Fact-checking is just so damned important. But then, you’re a journalist; you know that. So perhaps you should have researched a bit about the indymedia project before you tarred it as either the local anti-war website, or wrote it off as the area outlet of Conspiracy Theories R Us. First, anyone can post a story or an opinion to Chicago Indymedia’s wire, a bit of floss you could have figured out if you’d spent more than 13 seconds on the site. Think of Chicago Indymedia as a project that makes room for a full-service op ed page, instead of the constricted, carefully censored crap we typically get from corporate outlets like the Chicago Sun-Times.



While this frustrates some of us – we get tired of the goofy stuff, too – you should be used to this, given your own newspaper’s propensity to prominently feature the loopy rantings of columnists like Dennis Byrne and Bob Greene, or the guest drivel of cracker boneheads like David Martin (who argued in the Trib’s September 17 Commentary section that it was incumbent upon Muslims to prove to the rest of us that they don’t support terrorism…nothing fringe about THAT…). Then again, you can also get a lot of interesting straight news on Indymedia’s many local sites, including stuff you’re just not gonna get from Peter Jennings. Even you could post those rejected columns on our site – and if they’re good, we’ll move ‘em to center panel – and you don’t even have to pass an ideological litmus test.



Second, many local readers and posters were likely confused to read in your column that Chicago Indymedia is the local anti-war site. Actually, the site has covered a wide range of issues, from attacks on labor unions to anti-gentrification efforts. Last time I checked, it was damned difficult to find A-column headlines or stories in our vaunted local corporate press that WEREN’T about the impending war, so why misidentify – and excoriate -- a local independent project that happens to be featuring news about the same topic?



And lest you get your undies all in a bunch about the implication that local press has been dumping other topical news to showboat ‘terror’ stories, I’d like to point out to you that numerous corporate outlets told representatives of a large local Black convention this week that they likely wouldn’t be covering their forums – because those outlets were ‘focusing’ on the 9-11 terror attack.



Regarding the Coalition’s failure to "agree to a simple, unequivocal condemnation of the Sept. 11 attacks", uh, well, no Eric, you got it wrong again. But then again, if you’d actually attended the rally you would have heard that from the speakers and seen it on the signs. Why, you could have even read it – in today’s Sun-Times! And if it’s in a local corporate rag, it must be true, right?



Finally, I just can’t let your last cute truism pass. "Peace is too important to be a left or right issue. It is the most mainstream idea of all, and the last, best hope we've got."



Damned right it’s a mainstream issue. Too bad the shrub and his associates don’t see it that way. So it stuns me that you do not hesitate to tar advocates of peace with a moniker – the ‘left’ – that seems clearly designed to malign their efforts. Geez, Eric, I think you should attend the Coalition’s next meeting and initiate a purge of those you deem too ‘left’ to be permitted to voice principled opposition to a strategy that will only doom millions more to misery, and make the 9-11 horror pale in comparison.



Thousands of people have demonstrated in the last two weeks in this country to reject the tired rhetoric of militarism and to work instead for a lasting peace – with justice. If we could get our ‘leaders’ to grasp this very mainstream notion, we wouldn’t have to take it to the streets.



Instead, by belittling anti-war activists, your column ultimately undercuts the effort to organize support for the very goals of peace with justice you claim to embrace. I'm sure there were no tears shed in the White House today when one of the country's most lauded liberal columnists -- one known for his ardent support of progressive values that range from free speech to racial tolerance -- went after the budding anti-war movement. While you're singing those nostalgic 1960's peace songs to the twins, I suggest you add another one to your repertoire: the late Phil Ochs' classic, "Love Me, I'm A Liberal."



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E-mail:
EricZorn (at) aol.com">hammerhard (at) aol.com










 
 

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