Ira Chernus  
PROFESSOR OF RELIGIOUS STUDIES
UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO AT BOULDER

 

IF ITíS POLITICAL WAR, WHO IS THE ENEMY?

"No Surrender." Thatís the war cry I hear resounding in my left ear. War cries usually make me nervous. Isnít it the warmakers and the war-boosters that we are supposed to be against?

But these are unusual times. So I am ready to enlist in this progressive war for the next four years, if someone will just tell me: Who is the enemy? Exactly whom we are supposed to search out and destroy?

Is it George W. himself? I doubt it. After all, he is not a dictator. He canít decide the nationís course all by himself. In fact, from what I hear, he doesnít make very many decisions at all.

Maybe the enemy is the "secret president," Darth Cheney. But heís no dictator either. In fact, we really donít know how much power he has.

OK, so how about making it Bush, Cheney, Condie, Rummie, Wolfie, and the whole Neo-Con gang? Of course, they donít deal with taxes, environment, social security, health care, or any of the domestic issues that matter so much to us. Even in foreign affairs, they may not have as much power in the second term as they had in the first. As Iraq goes from bad to worse, theyíre feeling pressure from a dissatisfied military brass and business community to scale back their imperial dreams.

What about the top echelons of the military? For the peace movement, they are more likes allies than enemies. They resisted both wars against Iraq, and they know they are nowhere near ready to fight another war.

Ah, but the business community, the power behind the governmental throne. Isnít that the real enemy? Of course, there are lots of corporations that give tons of money to the Democrats. And plenty of them split the contributions about 50-50, just to take no chances. If we are fighting just the pro-Bush corporate elite, we may have a tough time knowing exactly who these enemies are, since their allegiances shift so quickly with the political winds.

And the CEOís canít even decide among themselves exactly what fiscal policies the government should pursue. They want their tax cuts, of course, but they are starting to worry seriously about the mounting federal deficit and the falling value of the dollar. The corporate moguls are more like a debating society than a monolithic foe.

The same goes for Congress. Republicans run the show. But get Tom DeLay and Chuck Hagel and Olympia Snowe together, and you may not get much agreement on anything. And itís never clear how much power Congress has any more, anyway.

Since Election Day, the media have encouraged us to see the enemy more broadly: those millions of abortion-hating, gay-bashing right-wing Christians who get credit for condemning us to four more years of W. The problem here is that the simple-minded media story is probably wrong. There arenít enough of those Bible-toting social conservatives to make anyone president. (More on this, with lots of stats, in a future column.)

The key to Bushís popularity is the belief (crazy as it sounds) that he is a stout shield against terrorism. As NY Times columnist Paul Krugman put it: "Without the fading but still potent aura of 9/11, when the nation was ready to rally around any leader, [Bush] wouldn't have won at all." So do we declare war on everyone who supports the war on terrorism? That would leave us a small, beleaguered minority fighting against most of America, and bound to lose.

Well, maybe the enemy is all of the above, that whole huge coalition of elites and masses who donít agree with us. Suppose we just go to war against all of them? Problems is, millions of Bush voters hold progressive positions on lots of issues. 25% of them want no restriction on a womanís right to choose. 30% think the war in Iraq was a mistake We have potential allies on a host of issues among them, and among corporate executives, Congressional Republicans, and even mid-level appointees in the administration, too.

If we want to win political victories on the war, taxes, Roe v. Wade, the environment, privatizing Social Security, or anything else, we can hardly afford to declare all-out war on all these people. That would leave us with no allies, and no prospects of victory.

If we are intent on waging war against the bad people here in the USA, we are going to have a hard time. You canít separate all the people into two simple categories: good and bad, friends and enemies. Life is more complicated than that. The people who donít understand that are usually the ones who make the wars, the ones we are supposed to be against. Why start imitating them now?

Perhaps, then, we shouldnít label any people "the enemy" at all. Perhaps we should say that we are at war, not against people, but against particular policies that shifting alliances of people support and shifting alliances oppose. Then itís only a metaphorical "war." We arenít out to destroy anybody. We simply want our government to enact policies that will be best for everybodyóyes, even for George W. himself.

Itís a nonviolent "war." Nonviolence means more than just "Donít hit." It means that we recognize, as Martin Luther King said, that we are all tied together in a single garment of destiny. We all rise or fall together. What happens to you or me happens to W. and to the most reactionary redneck in the buckle of the Bible belt.

Thatís why nonviolence requires us to separate people from policies. We go to "war" against the policies precisely because we care about the people. We certainly donít have to like them. But we donít have to hate them.

If we keep our "war" nonviolent in this way, we can talk to anyone and everyone. We can find out who our allies are and work with them whenever and however it seems best to bring our side closer to victories. We wonít write off any person as a hateful enemy. We will merely hate some of the things they do and want to do. We will fight those policies to the bitter end.

If thatís the kind of "war" we are planning to wage for the next four years, and more if need be, I am reporting for duty. No surrender.


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