The Real Phantom Menace is Us

Being the home to a cou­ple of dozen peace groups, the Non­vi­o­lence Web has pub­lished a lot of press releas­es call­ing for an end to bomb­ing in Koso­vo and Yugoslavia. They’re all very fine but also all very predictable.

But as we write, the U.S. gov­ern­ment con­tin­ues pur­su­ing a war that has no clear real­is­tic goals, has led to even more killing in the region, and has seri­ous­ly dis­rupt­ed post Cold-War rela­tion­ships with Rus­sia and Chi­na (See George Lakey’s “Cold War Return­ing? — A Chill­ing Russ­ian Visit”).

At home, Amer­i­cans just watch the pic­tures on TV as they go about liv­ing a glo­ri­ous Spring. We laugh, cry, work and play; we make trips to the shore for Memo­r­i­al Day week­end; and we obe­di­ent­ly flock to a movie called Phan­tom Men­ace that tells the sto­ry of the start of cinema’s most famous Evil Empire.

A new empire is being shaped here. The Unit­ed States has been able to claim the title of “empire” for at least a hun­dred years. But some­thing new is at work here ( see my own War Time Again). We’re wit­ness­ing the birth of a new Amer­i­can order which is start­ing a new wars every three months. New kinds of wars, which bare­ly touch Amer­i­can lives, even those of the bombers wag­ing them from 20,000 feet. The Pen­ta­gon and State Department’s plan­ners are build­ing on lessons learned at the start of the decade in the Gulf War. They’re refined their mis­siles for accu­ra­cy but they’ve learned how to spin the media

Now every new vil­lain is pre­sent­ed to the media as the new Hitler. Sad­dam Hus­sein. Osama bin Laden. Milosvic. Every­one call­ing for peace is paint­ed as a neo-isolationist, a con­tem­po­rary Cham­ber­lain appeas­ing a tyrant. After­wards it’s easy to see how overly-dramatic the pro­pa­gan­da was and how inef­fec­tu­al all the Amer­i­can bombs were. But still, here we are in Koso­vo, in anoth­er Nineties war and next year we’ll be in yet anoth­er. Unless we stop the zest for these Clin­ton wars now.

What do we have to do to end this war? And what do we need to do to stop the U.S.‘s new­found zest for cruise mis­siles? How can peace and anti­war activists start act­ing beyond the press releas­es and iso­lat­ed vig­ils to think cre­ative­ly about link­ing folks togeth­er to bring new peo­ple and ideas into the peace movement?

I don’t pre­tend to know what exact­ly we need. All I know is that I’m per­son­al­ly bored of the stan­dard issue peace actions we’ve been engag­ing in and want to see some­thing new. Some of it might look like clichés from the 60s and some might look like rip-offs of McDonald’s lat­est ad cam­paign. But we need to build an anti­war cul­ture that will intrude upon a sun­ny spring and remind peo­ple that a war is on. The real phan­tom men­ace this sum­mer is an Amer­i­can Empire that is retool­ing it’s mil­i­tary and re-conditioning its cit­i­zens to think of war as a nor­mal course of affairs.