The October Challenge

October 17, 2002

In the gathering gloom of this war-bent October, investment bankers hunker down like shop keepers preparing for a hurricane; lawyers, journalists, attend to office minutiae; physicians go to their patients relieved that their work is called good; soccer moms concentrate on freeway traffic. Storm clouds blacken the autumn sky and we board up the windows of our minds trying to forget that a united Republican phalanx, loyal, obedient, honorable, has drawn in a Democratic minority and together they have joined in a lock step toward war.

Not everyone is asleep. During the recent debate in Congress rallies and letters, emails and faxes poured into Washington urging critique and analysis of the war resolution but Senators Daschle, Kerry, Clinton and Domenici stayed loyal to the commander in chief rather than abide the tide of public opinion. The Senate bowed to the realities of electoral politics, the reality of the lure of oil, of military contracts, rather than to the power of the unorganized, underfunded and merely passionate people. In Rome, Italy, last month 1 million people gathered to protest the war; in Milan, Italy, 100,000; in New York City, another 20,000 and yet the New York Times reported none of these events. The Times is itself embedded in the wide corporate, networked world, where loyalty to the chief requires skepticism of the merely passionate people.

Oh, where is Thomas Paine when we need him to give courage to Democrats? What would Samuel Adams say this morning to Senator Joseph Biden who explained that his vote for war was unwise and then cast it anyway? What would Abraham Lincoln say to Senator John Kerry who years ago organized Vietnam vets against the war, but who today equivocates and votes for it? What would Dwight Eisenhower, who knew the suffering and dying of war, say to Al Gore who spoke out against the folly for one day, and one day only, as if to speak of the nation’s ideals were more unsafe than silence?

Americans who support this war stand behind their leader, loyally, even admirably, unwilling to believe the commander might be wrong and who will bring the facts to these loyal followers? Where are the Wall Street counselors who will stand up to point out the effect of endangered oil supplies on investor and consumer confidence? Where are the lawyers who will stand up for the rule of law and the constitutionally-recognized power of treaties, including the UN Charter which requires an imminent danger before exercising the right of self defense? Where are doctors who will cry out for the 500,000 babies of Baghdad who have already died of sanction-induced starvation, and the hundreds of thousands more whom in Pentagon plans are listed as collateral damage? Can any life be "collateral" to a doctor?

Where are the journalists to investigate the links between Dick Cheney’s Energy Advisory group, his unwillingness to disclose the notes of those meetings and our current policy to go to war for oil in Iraq? Where are the playwrights to lampoon buffoonery when the emperor whistles peace as he marches to battle? Where the western ranchers who stack hay as a community, not individually, not like the Lone Ranger, who built houses in community, and dances and barns and take care of each other’s cattle? Where are those who know the true stories of the west that bring shame to the fraud of the cowboy gunslinger?

Where are the accountants who will calculate the interest payments for this war, the 200 billion in indebtedness that is projected? Where the veterans who have actually been to war, lost their minds in the chaos of combat, who will speak truth to those leaders who, without experience, think killing can be surgical, painless and without horror? Where the economists who will remember the disastrous inflationary backlash for 15 years after Vietnam? Where the professors of history who will notice the Monroe Doctrine applied to the Middle East, the similarity between Dick Cheney’s Pax Americana and bald imperialism?

Where are we all, we all who value intellectual integrity, the facts, the accumulation of 20th century experience, the civilian tradition above simple loyalty to the commander in chief? If Thomas Paine was brash, why then where are today the brash Americans, the ones who will not be cowed by influence and pomp and presidential flourish? Where the tough sports heroes brash enough to tackle a president?

Wherever they are, now is their time. Now as the hurricane comes on is the hour to raise the shutters and look out. The Congress may include summer soldiers and sunshine patriots but in the midst of the storm comes the time of the people. We the people live here; we are here for the long, long haul and we the shop keepers, the farmers, lawyers, accountants, historians, doctors, veterans, students, investors of America, we will have our day. We lost one round in the Congress. We often do lose a round or two. But in the long run the people win. They always do.