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Walk Out On War

Aimee L. Smith

Many people are deeply troubled by the Bush administration’s insistence on a full scale invasion of Iraq. Many people feel that we don’t need to go to war, that a war will make us less safe, and that a massive assault on Baghdad of the scale that has been described by some of the war planners will make Sept. 11 seem very minor in comparison. “There will not be a safe place in Baghdad,” a Pentagon official told CBS News about the plan. “The sheer size of this has never been seen before, never been contemplated before.” The campaign is called “Shock and Awe,” and is said to call for up to 3,000 cruise missiles dropped over a two-day period, with estimates of up to 500,000 civilian casualties.

Most of the American population is against the war if we do not have U.N. support, and most of the world population is strongly against it. So what to do when an unelected madman has managed to take over the White House, is instigating armageddon, and no one seems to have the guts or authority to tell him that he has no clothes on and the jig is up?

Well, we are supposed to be living in a democracy, but if the 2000 Presidential election didn’t convince you that our democracy is far from perfect, then this irrational push to war against the will of the world community ought to. But even if Bush would like to position himself as world dictator, there are still levers of power that are available so long as people are willing to work hard and muster up a shred of courage. In addition to fearless resistance and warfare by the people of Vietnam, American involvement in the invasion and conquest of Vietnam was brought to a halt by two somewhat inter-related domestic forces: massive public resistance, and the shifting perception of the worth of the war effort by the most powerful concentrations of the American business community.

The level of protest and disruption of “business as usual” created logistical difficulties for “keeping the peace” here at home. So much so, in fact, that it is said that when President Johnson requested 500,000 additional troops to send to Vietnam, the Pentagon responded that that was not possible because those troops would be needed here at home. Dissent in times of extreme moral corruption does make it more difficult for those carrying out their genocidal policies. Silence and complicity enable mass-murders.

But it wasn’t just a popular-protest-induced troop shortage that served to end the war in Vietnam. The fact that the cost/ benefit analysis of the war shifted for the people in the most powerful sectors of the business world made continuing with the war impossible. Certainly the effect of a drawn-out war on the economy is part of what shifted the sentiments of the wealthiest Americans who include among their ranks those who own controlling shares in virtually all of the broadcast networks, newspapers, and other media outlets and thereby shape our perception of world and even local events.

The other effect of popular resistance is that people start getting together, talking, organizing, and asking each other all sorts of dangerous, deep questions about how society is run. This kind of climate of critique and social revitalization is exactly what those who own and control far more than their share of the country’s resources don’t want. No single war is worth a rethinking of the status quo and injustices of the American system. Some thirty years later, the wealth disparity is drastically more extreme and the emerging worldwide social protest movements represent a deep threat to this outrageous inequality. That means that any and every sign of people coming together across borders, across color lines, across gender lines, across language lines, etc. is a deep threat to the power that the world’s wealthiest 0.1 percent holds. Walking out on war, if it does come to pass, is a great way to send the message that you will not be a tool in this machine of theft and bloodshed.

Personally, I have grave misgivings about U.S. policy in the Middle East since America took over the colonial lash from Britain after WWII. I am troubled by how Hussein treated Iranian soldiers and his own civilians with continual U.S. material support and even a nice handshake from Rumsfeld at the very time of the use of gas in the Iran-Iraq war. I am equally troubled by how America aided and armed Turkey to massacre thousands of Kurds within their borders during the 1990s. I am troubled by the first Gulf War under Bush, the subsequent imposition of a no-fly zone over much of Iraq, which was allowed to be violated by Hussein’s forces exactly once, to put down a democratic uprising from the South; the policy of the U.S. forces of deliberate targeting of civilian infrastructure such as water and power generation in violation of the Geneva accords on war crimes; the pummeling of Iraq with “low level” bombing for the last 12 years; the use of depleted uranium-cased armaments which leave a toxic oxide dust in their wake; and the crushing sanctions imposed and maintained by the U.S. that led to two career U.N. officials charged with directing the “Oil for Food” program resigning in disgust. And what of the at least 500,000 Iraqi children already killed as a result of sanctions aimed at the Iraqi regime? When asked about this in 1996, then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright conceded the following: “We think the price is worth it.”

On top of all of these concerns, there is the fact that members of Israel’s government have threatened to use a war in Iraq as a cover for the completion of their genocide of the Palestinian people. Over 187 Israeli academics have signed a letter warning the world community about the grave consequences for the Palestinian people at the hands of the IDF under the “fog of war” against Iraq. MIT students heard with our own ears as Benny Elon, a minister in the Israeli Government, spoke in 10-250 and called for a “creative solution” to the Israel/ Palestine conflict: forced expulsion of Palestinians to Jordan, and then renaming Jordan Palestine. If the worst happens, we cannot tell Palestinians that we did not know that this danger was imminent. We must not let our silence, which amounts to complicity, enable such atrocities to continue and escalate.

Many of us have been working to raise awareness about these horrendous crimes against humanity, particularly because where our government is involved and directing these policies, we who support the government through our taxes and who benefit from these abusive practices at the gas pump and elsewhere are compelled to stand and be counted in our opposition. If Bush invades Iraq, there must be no business as usual. People of conscience the world over will refuse to be cogs in the war machine; we will walk out on war.

Aimee L. Smith PhD ’02 is a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering.