PROFESSOR OF RELIGIOUS STUDIES
UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO AT BOULDER
A New Strategy For Ending The War
Every day, devotees of peace pour out tens of thousands of words. The vast majority excoriate the Bush administration’s murderous policies and the political leaders who won’t stand up against those policies. We need those words, and lots more like them. Every day, they persuade more Americans to turn against the war.
But let’s face it. They don’t persuade enough Americans to turn against the war. Bush can continue his insane “surge” plan, and the Republicans can block even the mildest Congressional rebuke, because the public’s antiwar opinion is not yet firm, deep, and wide enough.
In recent polls, 50% say the
With public opinion so mixed up, politicians have little incentive to take a clear, decisive stand against the war. We can, and should, demand day and night that they act on principle and oppose the war. But they are weathermen who always want to know which way the political wind blows. Right now, with the wind so changeable, they have every incentive to hedge, waffle, and stand on both sides of the fence.
The best way to move the politicians is to change public opinion. That means talking day and night to our friends, relatives, co-workers, and neighbors. But that’s just where peace activists and progressives need a better strategy.
Consider a typical conversation between Lefty and her (or his) politically centrist Neighbor, who feels that the war is wrong but can’t see how to sets things right.
Lefty: “Bush, Cheney, and all the others are
such liars. They claim to be fighting for democracy and a better life for
Iraqis. But we know this war is really all about (fill in the blank with your
favorite: “oil,” “corporate profits,” “
Neighbor: “How do you know that? What’s your evidence?”
Lefty responds with lots of facts and sews them together to form a patchwork quilt to “prove” that the administration’s true motives are far from what it says in public. But the thread that holds the patchwork of evidence together is a set of assumptions about Bush & Co.’s motives. They are driven by greed. They are tools of the multinational corporate capitalists. That’s why they always lie to us. Etc., etc.
Neighbor replies: “I just don’t believe your assumptions. You
can’t prove they are true. You take them on faith. I don’t share the same faith.
So why should I believe you? I think
that Bush sincerely wants to do the right thing, even if he can’t figure out
how. He certainly did the right thing in deposing Saddam Hussein.
Lefty: “No, no, no. You are swallowing Bush’s line. Don’t you see that it’s all about oil, greed, and imperialism?”
At this point, the conversation has reached a dead end. Lefty and Neighbor part ways, agreeing to disagree. Lefty has not done anything to shift the political winds.
If Lefty wants to change Neighbor’s mind, a better strategy is to take Neighbor’s views seriously, understand where they come from, and engage them directly.
Neighbor is clinging to the age-old American fantasy that, though our means may sometimes be inept, our motives are always pure. We have a higher moral vision than other nations and (usually) more practical skills to turn that vision into reality. So we are uniquely dedicated to, and capable of, bringing a better life to people around the world. Neighbor probably has a lot of emotion invested in that belief. Lefty may not ever be able to challenge it effectively.
But Lefty can get Neighbor to see how her
American values are not being implemented in
There’s every reason to believe that the
Lefty can make all these points, and more, effectively without saying anything about the Bush administration's motives.
Of course all these points already get made in left-wing speaking and writing against the war. But they are quite secondary in the overall scheme of antiwar words. They get lost amid the torrent of anti-Bush, anti-greed, anti-imperialist outbursts.
That torrent shuts Neighbor’s ears and mind.
Eventually, we need to get Neighbor thinking about the ways greed and imperialism
Right now, Neighbor is probably on the fence about the war. If logical rebuttals of her main pro-war arguments can push her off that fence, onto firmly antiwar ground, she’ll have a more open mind. Once she realizes that the arguments used to keep her on the fence were spurious, she can begin to think about whether other ideas she gleans from political leaders and he mainstream media may be spurious, too.
To get Neighbor to open her mind, a direct
assault on the beliefs she holds dear about “
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