The first Washington snow of the season kept falling as Daniel Ellsberg, of the Pentagon papers fame, stepped to the mike. “We are the Winter soldiers,” proclaimed Ellsberg to the cheering crowd of several hundred who besieged The White House on the chilly December 16, 2010, to demand President Obama STOP THESE WARS. The Winter Soldiers versus Sunshine Patriots theme was as dear to the crowd now as it was to George Washington whom Thomas Paine exhorted in 1776 to rely on Winter soldiers in the fight for independence.
VFP insists on Nonviolence
The rally was organized by Veterans for Peace (VFP), a country-wide organization which since its inception in 1985 has struggled to steer the USA toward peaceful resolution of international conflicts. The VFP organizers wanted a silent vigil march from Lafayette Square to the White House, and then many of us will do nonviolent civil resistance, the key word being nonviolent.
The cost of war
“We are dedicated to exposing the true costs of war and militarism,” says Mike Ferner, VFP president. “We’ve killed well over a million people. We’ve orphaned and displaced five times that number at least. And here in our own country, we’ve managed to throw millions of people out of work and out of their homes.”
The Memory of Yester Years
As the snow continued to fall, the memory of yester years came back:
I’m in my first job as editor of Moscow Radio’s foreign languages broadcast. From time to time my colleagues and I get time off to “go and demonstrate unanimity” with foreign dignitaries visiting Moscow in support of “peaceful coexistence.” Western media then echoes this propaganda of “unanimity.” Between ourselves we whisper the latest of Radio Yerevan’s black humor: “Our listener asks: Will there be a nuclear war between the United States and the USSR? Our expert replies: “No, there will be no war. But the struggle for peace will be such that no stone on earth shall remain in place.” I know that one of my former Moscow State University classmates is in prison, the other in an insane asylum. Peaceful coexistence?
University of Lund. I am a free man protected by political asylum in Sweden. Alas, the overwhelming student opinion condemns US “aggression” in South Vietnam. “US imperialism is the main obstacle to peace,” they say. I’m packing to leave for to the United States.
At the University of Chicago I learn English by reading the student newspaper, The Maroon. The Trotskyites on campus agree there is no freedom in the USSR. But when it comes to the Vietnam War, they swallow Soviet propaganda, hook, line, and sinker. Like any Leftist organizers of “antiwar” movement, they are peaceNIKs.
At the University of Washington in Seattle, I witness how the peaceniks increasingly turn the antiwar movement turns anti-American. As I advance toward a PhD, campus protests escalate. TV screens are full of noisy protests. Radicals taunt the “police pigs” to provoke violence. There are bombings on campus. “Burn, baby, burn!” is in the headlines. The antiwar movement merges with the struggle for civil rights. A popular book proclaims rape an act of insurrection. “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel” is the only context in which “patriotism” is heard. Patty Hearst joins the Symbionese Liberation Army. One professor’s car is stoned; another professor’s office is vandalized. The latter taught a course on Communist infiltration in the USA. The stench of revolution is everywhere. The country was sliding to a point when “no stone shall be left in place,” not by enemy fire but in a civil war.
Fiasco and Hope of 1975
I am Assistant Professor of Russian Studies and also teach Western civilization at the Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. As the news of US evacuation from Saigon arrives, I take it as a personal tragedy. The mood of defeatism grips the USA. The best hope for the world is now rising in the East– the dissident and human rights movement in Russia. My students proudly learn to pronounce the names of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, 1970 Nobel Prize for literature, and Andrei Sakharov, the nuclear physicist, 1975 Nobel Peace Prize. The physicist’s Peace Prize was certainly more deserved than the one Henry Kissinger and North Vietnam’s Le Duk Tho shared in 1973.
The Nik Tail of it all
The Russian suffix “nik” attached to the English “peace” seems a cute verbal invention. But I never mixed up with the crowd. The peaceniks were too violent and too vile. Most were “flower power” idealists and just silly kids who saw any crowd as an opportunity “to reach out and touch some one.” But the damage they have done to world peace was enormous.
A million “boat people” were fleeing from South Vietnam across shark-infested seas. Both US allies and many of now dissolved Vietcong guerillas whom the media portrayed as our chief opponents were now locked up by the North Vietnamese masters in “reeducation” camps. In the “Killing Fields” of Cambodia, Paris-trained “Khmer Rouge” communists exterminated a quarter of population.
Through drug addiction and indulgence in counter-culture many peaceniks hurt their own lives too. Most were just manipulated by the New Left’s hard-core communists. As a result, the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe and Russia was delayed by a decade or two, making their transition to democracy all the more difficult.
The best testimony about the manipulative doings of the New Left was left by David Horowitz and Peter Collier, two former editors of Ramparts magazine. In their 1989 book, Destructive Generation: Second Thoughts About the ‘60s, the two authors admitted their philosophy then was “we murdered to create.” Alas, Horowitz later became a right-winger, racist, and pro-war Zionist. In 2004, jointly with Collier, he published the Anti-Chomsky Reader. Horowitz’s life curve was typical of many American Jews who switched from the anti-war radicalism of the 1960s to pro-war Zionist propaganda of today.
There are huge differences between the Vietnam War and the wars US now wages. Throughout the post-WWII period, it was the USSR that was constantly on a prowl for ideological, political and military expansion. In South Vietnam, the US made an attempt to resist the world-wide Soviet expansion augmented by that of Communist China. Even though the two Communist giants did not always agree, they outbid each other in arming North Vietnam, encouraging its push to South Vietnam.
After the end of the Cold War, the US foolishly rushed to replace the USSR as an empire bent on expansion. Refusing to honor a promise to Mikhail Gorbachev to dissolve NATO, the New Empire quickly made it an instrument of aggression. This Empire loves “asymmetrical wars” because the enemy is the rag-tag peasant “terrorists.” Unlike the Communists in South Vietnam, they are not backed up by any major power. They are armed with little more than the Kalashnikovs and the Stingers that the U.S. supplied to fight Soviet aggression in Afghanistan.
As snow kept falling, speaker after speaker denounced the current US military adventures as jingoist. The speakers were Brian Becker of the ANSWER coalition (Act Now to Stop Wars and End Racism); Peace Mom Cindy Sheehan; Ray McGovern, retired CIA officer and former US Army Intelligence officer; Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges; Mike Prysner, Iraq vet, co-founder of March Forward! Code Pink Women for Peace co-founder Medea Benjamin who called on Obama to “wage” peace, not war. All were eloquent, passionate, and persuasive.
Taps were played
Then taps were played. All the uniformed officers and many civilians stood at attention. We start moving in a single file toward the White House. There are no shouts, just a solemn beat to honor the thousands of US soldiers who have given their lives in the meaningless “war on terror.” The procession is alive with signs that scorn the “Obaminable” wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the threats against Iran. Other signs demand “Hands off Wikileaks.” We reach the front of the White House. Our leaders step to the fence, ready to be arrested.
Chanting and Singing
The chanting starts: “Stop these wars—Stop these wars—Stop these wars.” We sing the familiar: “Truth shall set us free…I do believe… we shall overcome someday.” A steady beat of Buddhist drums endeavors to free Obama from the evil spell of war, to open his heart to the ways of peace. Then a simple, triple pronged chant arose “Peace—Shalom—Salam.” It’s to remind the President of the promise he made in his Cairo speech to be forceful and fair in his efforts to broker a peace between Israel and Palestine, an urgent matter because unabated hostilities in the Holy Land have inflamed passions throughout the Middle East and antagonized Muslims around the world against the US and our allies.
Planetarians of the world unite!
There is fraternization, too. People ask each other to hold their signs. Others peddle leaflets and buttons. I say “no” to one polite young woman peddling a leaflet with the Red Star and the word “REVOLUTON.” I get the newspaper Workers World in stead. I know that the workers need a break in this country, in Russia and elsewhere. But the paper’s ideology is worn out Marxist revolution. It seeks to protect the North Korean communist regime, but ignores Iraq and Afghanistan. The masthead harks back to Karl Marx’s “Proletarians of the world unite!” When the survival of the planet is at stake, one would rather want to hear “Planetarians of the world unite!” We need a unity without the distinction of class, race, religion, or nationality.
Ron Paul’s “Revolution”
I ran into supporters of Ron Paul, US Congressman from Texas and one-time presidential candidate. I had met the man in 2008 and liked him. He is a conservative Republican, but, unlike George Bush, he “has stood resolute against our government interference overseas.” So says his leaflet that proclaims what we had been chanting, “Bring the troops home, now.” Ron Paul is for “a second American revolution to restore our liberty and the Constitution.” Amen.
The clock moved past noon, but the snow kept falling. The temperature fell below freezing. The police, both mounted and on foot, were about to cordon off those ready to be arrested. I came here with a friend and former student of mine who works for the government. He cannot risk being arrested. We need to leave. Among the “chained” I see Jim whom I befriended in December 1998 when President Clinton started bombing Iraq to divert attention from the Monika Lewinsky scandal. Jim got me onboard with VFP. We went together to several rallies against the “humanitarian bombing” of Yugoslavia. In July 1999, Jim and I joined Stonewalk hauling a Memorial Stone to civilian casualties of war. The tombstone was cut in Shernburn, Massachusetts. The intention was to have it installed at the Arlington National Cemetery. In modern warfare, we reasoned, the number of innocent civilian victims has been staggering. Alas, the cemetery officials refused to accept the memorial.
The Letter to President Obama
Before we leave, we witness one more daring act of the Winter siege of the White House. Several “soldiers” throw small leaflets OVER the fence and down on the lawn of the White House. “A letter to Obama,” they shout. It’s also a provocation for arrest, for it’s illegal to litter. I asked Jim for a copy.
Dear President Obama, The “war on terror,” which has continued and expanded during your presidency, and your continued support of the Israeli military occupation of Palestine has wrought untold suffering and misery upon millions of people, as well as putting America’s hard-earned wealth into the pockets of multinational corporations.
…You have betrayed the hope that many Americans placed in you… continued the Bush policy of war, torture, suspension of habeas corpus, state secrets, and every other evil initiated by the former regime.
…These wars of aggression, the continued occupation of Iraq, support of the Israeli military machine, and the bailout of Wall Street have done nothing to make America safer, prosperous, or whole.
President Obama, you talk a good game, Now we, the people, demand you walk the walk. End these wars!”
Fall on your knees
President Obama, fall on your knees before the people who elected you on the promise of peace, civility and fairness. Pick that leaflet up. Read it alone. Don’t wait for your advisers. Don’t let sunshine patriots run your show. Let God be your only counsel. Look in the mirror. Think about your mixed racial, ethnic and religious background. Billions of people around the world, especially, in Third World countries, look up to your leadership as a peacemaker. In a letter to my Russia & America Goodwill Association (RAGA) I wrote you deserved the Nobel Peace Prize on the strength of your reset-with-Russia initiatives. You deserved it also for your promise of A New Beginning in the Cairo speech.
Make good on your promises. Take charge of Winter soldiers. Lead them to the land of peace, prosperity and justice. They are the true American patriots who are good for all seasons, unlike “the sunshine patriot [who] will, in a crisis, shrink from the service of their country.”
A Silent Majority Now and Then
One of the great differences between the antiwar movements now and then is the media coverage. Vietnam War protesters got all the coverage they wanted. I wondered why. I was told that “in democratic society, free press had to play an adversarial role lest the government becomes too strong.” Since the end of the Cold War such democratic approach is not in evidence. The media seems to be in cahoots with the government. Even when thousands marched against the bombing of Yugoslavia, The Washington Post failed to see them.
It failed to notice our rally too. Only The Huffington Post quoted Ellsberg on those who walk in his footsteps–Brady Manning and Julian Assange. “I think they provided a very valuable service,” Ellsberg said, “To call them terrorists is not only mistaken, it’s absurd.” Never was he more right than he is now.
The HuffPost’s Amanda Terkel reported that “131 antiwar protesters got themselves arrested …in one of the larger acts of civil disobedience in front of the White House in some time…to spark the country’s silent majority into action.” The reporter explained that a new poll showed “a record 60 percent of Americans now say the war in Afghanistan is not worth fighting.”
It’s a SILENT MAJORITY again. Except, THEN it was pro-war. NOW it is antiwar– and still ignored by the media. Such treatment of the majority does not bode well for democracy.
P.S. On January 4, 2011, the Anti-war military veterans and other activists celebrated a breakthrough victory in DC Superior Court, when charges were dropped, following arrests in front of the White House, on December 16, 2010. “This is clearly a victory for opposition to undeclared wars which are illegal under international law, have led to the destruction of societies in Iraq and Afghanistan, bled the US Treasury in a time of recession, and caused human rights violations against civilians and combatants…,” declared the victorious Winter Soldiers.
Their counterparts on the West Coast were less lucky. 26 of them were cited “on obstruction charges” when they lay in front of the San Francisco Federal Building and refused orders to disperse. The protest was one of several organized around the nation in opposition to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
On January 11, 2011, VFP renewed the siege of the White House. This time they joined the forces with the Witness Against Torture group, Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights and other human rights activists to demand that President Obama keeps his pre-election promise to shut down the Guantanomo Bay prison. This time even The Washington Post could not ignore the event. Once Winter soldiers start the ball rolling, they don’t give up.
W. George Krasnow (also published as Vladislav Krasnov), Ph.D., runs the Russia and America Goodwill Association, a non-profit organization of Americans for friendship with Russia. Formerly, he was a professor and director of Russian Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California.
Under the name of Vladislav Krasnov he published three books:
Solzhenitsyn and Dostoevsky: A Study in the Polyphonic Novel (University of Georgia Press, Athens, GA, 1979)
Russia Beyond Communism: A Chronicle of National Rebirth (Westview Press, 1991)
Soviet Defectors: The KGB wanted List (Hoover Institution Press, 1985)
His op-ed columns have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, International Herald Tribune, San Francisco Examiner, San Diego Union, and Dallas Morning News.
Recent articles, signed W. George Krasnow, can be found online, as well as in Johnson’s Russia List, Russia Blog, Russia: Other Points of View, OpenDemocracy (UK) and a number of Russian-language outlets.