By Dallas Darling. Axis of Logic.
Literally over night in May of 1970, President Richard M. Nixon’s ill-planned and ill-fated invasion of Cambodia revived the dwindling antiwar movement to vigorous life. Whether it was his verbal barrages of “Peace with Honor” or his “Vietnamization” euphemism that lulled pro-life protesters to sleep, when President Nixon announced he was ordering a military “incursion” into Cambodia to “clean out” bases the enemy had been using for “its increased military aggression,” a crescendo of anti-war demonstrations across America occurred. Anger at the draft, false optimism about the endless military occupation in Vietnam, and combat footage of atrocities in the nightly news all had an impact on antiwar protesters. But nothing infuriated them more than escalating the war with Cambodia.
Hundreds of thousands of antiwar protesters marched on, and then occupied, Washington DC. Millions participated in small rallies and pro-life marches on college campuses nationwide. Military rage and insanity was being met by a more peaceful and more sane and principled movement. Some protesters were willing to even sacrifice their own lives too assure the U.S.-Vietnam/Cambodia War was brought to an end and that senseless killings, killings that had cost the lives of four million Vietnamese and fifty-thousand U.S. troops, would not happen in Cambodia. On May 4, the National Guard opened fire on antiwar protesters at Kent State killing four students. Ten days later at Jackson State, police fired into a women’s dormitory with automatic weapons killing two black students.
But since the U.S.-Vietnam War, most military engagements and occupations have been measured only by the loss of American soldiers. Principles, like increasing technological savagery, psychological distress and political repression, or the disregard for murdering thousands of non-Americans, or even one, has been ignored. The preemptive wars against Iraq and Afghanistan killed hundreds of thousands of people. Millions have become refugees. Prior to these military interventions and even though very few American troops died, sanctions against Iraq killed over 500,000 Iraqis, mostly children and the elderly. Past incursions into Central America, the Caribbean and Africa have also created mass carnage, maiming and killing thousands of people while causing hardship for millions.
Instead of measuring America’s wars by how many U.S. soldiers have been killed, why not base them on universal principles that have somehow been lost. If a principle is an important rule, law and guideline which other rules or judgments are derived, why not measure wars on how many non-Americans are killed or the utter disregard for national sovereignty? Since principles denote moral decisions that are required for civilizations to thrive, even survive, should not individuals-especially in wartime-guard against the loss of democratic rights and life? And if the character of a nation is founded on principles and moral beliefs too, instead of self-interest or the tyranny of the market why not: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and “Do no harm” values?1
If U.S. wars were measured by such principles, mass protests, ones filled with righteous rage, would literally occur over night. There would be a deep sense of betrayal towards political and military leaders, including their false promises regarding ongoing military occupations that have killed thousands and left millions maimed. If “do no harm” and “right to life” values were embraced, there would be an escalation of nonviolent and civil disobedience campaigns. Congress, the White House and the Pentagon would be occupied until their military insanities were ended in foreign territories. If democratic principles were embraced, protesters would not be called “bums” or “Nazis” or have to get permits. Neither would they be accosted by security forces or their encampments destroyed.
Perpetrators, those committing war crimes and massacres like the ones that just occurred in Iraq and Afghanistan, are very sensitive to silence by other people. They interpret such silence as implicit approval.2 Some people just want to live their lives and to deal with their own problems without thinking about others. But in 1970 when President Nixon escalated the war, millions thought otherwise. In principle, they had understood and realized the importance of “right to life” and “do no harm” and “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” values. They were sympathetic to the poor working classes which pay and fight a nation’s wars. They empathized with the shocking cruelty of fleeing refugees, dead and mutilated non-Americans, and children maimed by U.S. bombs.
Anti-war protesters during the U.S.-Vietnam War understood that the real enemies of freedom were never in North or South Vietnam-two nations that were supposed to democratically vote on reunification until America intervened militarily. Sadly, the same cannot be said today, especially regarding America‘s wars and military interventions around the world. It is impossible, though, to remain morally neutral in the face of such criminality and needless death. Bystanders do have a responsibility to protest and demonstrate against evil, because it will grow unchecked if they do not.3 The U.S. and its citizens should again measure their wars by a loss of principles.
Dallas Darling is the author of Politics 501: An A-Z Reading on Conscientious Political Thought and Action, Some Nations Above God: 52 Weekly Reflections On Modern-Day Imperialism, Militarism, And Consumerism in the Context of John‘s Apocalyptic Vision, and The Other Side Of Christianity: Reflections on Faith, Politics, Spirituality, History, and Peace. He is a correspondent for World News . You can read more of Dallas’ writings at BeverlyDarling.com.
- Terkel, Susan Neiburg and R. Shannon Duval. Encyclopedia of Ethics. New York, New York: Facts On File, Inc., 1999., p. 219.
- Baumeister, Roy F. Evil, Inside Human Violence and Cruelty. New York, New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1999., p. 358.
- Ibid., p. 360.