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Marching for peace is a walk in the right direction

Friday, January 24, 2003

According to warlords who always manage to rattle their sabers while safely ensconced behind protective bureaucracies, talk of peace is nothing less than the moral equivalent of the most egregious of four-letter words -- wimp.

But in the real world -- the world that won't be spared when the bellicose rhetoric of the ruling class culminates in massive bloodshed far from their reinforced bunkers, peace isn't an abstraction that can be easily trivialized by mockery.

This weekend, an army of peacemakers will converge in Pittsburgh to protest the Bush administration's plan to vanquish the exaggerated threat of Saddam Hussein's fourth-rate military.

Such a lopsided war will decimate much more of the country than the Gulf War did, leading to the kind of political and military destabilization in the region that terrifies Iraq's neighbors. Who knows? Perhaps a Greater Kurdistan will be a shining beacon of democracy in the tribal cauldron that is the Near East, but somehow I doubt it.

Taking President Bush's campaign boast about having zero interest in the legal and military tedium of nation-building at face value, our endgame in Iraq probably consists of nothing more subtle than a series of ever-escalating "ka-booms" followed by an endless stream of refugees and patriotic blather at home.

On the home front, they're surely going to have to "up" our dosage of propaganda to account for the spectacle of American soldiers baby-sitting thousands of burning Iraqi oil rigs, especially since this $2 billion-a-day conflict was originally billed as a war against terrorism.

But it doesn't have to be this way. To that end, a remnant of Americans gathering in Pittsburgh this weekend don't mind standing up for unfashionable values like peacemaking, even as our country begins an ill-advised descent into a season of imperialism.

So I applaud the various coalitions, the rag-tag peacemakers and the oft-mocked dissidents representing unpopular causes for daring to brave the coldest winter in years to protest the folly of an American invasion of Iraq.

Having the guts to protest a domestically "popular" war is the essence of what it means to be an American. Since all wars tend to be popular before the shooting begins, citizens who dare to steep themselves in the rich, dissident tradition of our republic are often cast by circumstance into dual roles as prophetic truth-tellers and seditious rabble-rousers.

It isn't fair that so much of the weight of dissent in our society is borne by a disproportionately small number of patriots. But this is in keeping with our history. The smirking majority, cursed with conventional biases and the illusion that being a good citizen means never being "disreputable," look down upon protesters as kooks and weirdos. In America, if you march under a banner that identifies your politics, your sexuality or your religion, nobody wants to take you seriously.

Such smugness has yet to advance our nation a single inch on the road to liberty. It doesn't lead anywhere because cynicism and moral complacency is the enemy of democratic innovation.

What happened to all of the passion that permeated this town a few weeks ago when it looked as if the Steelers were headed to the Super Bowl? Are we so decadent that we can only get excited about a football game with a narrowly parochial outcome? God help us if we're so far gone that nothing matters except the latest distraction while the government's lie du jour goes unexamined as usual.

Peace is nothing to be ashamed of. Striving for peace puts a person in the exalted company of mankind's better angels as far as I'm concerned. I'd rather be associated with Queers for Peace and Justice, the Felician Sisters of Western Pennsylvania and the Green Party of Allegheny County than those who feel this war makes any sense.

There are dozens of organizations and thousands of people who feel the same way. This weekend they're prepared to put their hearts and bodies on the line to stop this war. Question their motives if you want to, but it's your own patriotism you should be questioning.

Tony Norman can be reached at tnorman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1631.

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