A Little Help? Trying to Stop a War Here…
Text and Art by Nick Cooper
The US is involved in military conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel/Palestine, Syria and elsewhere, and folks in war zones (a.k.a. collateral damage) rely on activists in the US to bring pressure for peace. Whenever we step up to organize, someone seems ready to discourage us. If you’ve ever spent any time trying to stop the US or its allies from bombing, arming, incarcerating, torturing, or otherwise oppressing others, you have probably had someone tell you that you’re wasting your time. Of course when you are truly wasting your time, watching TV for example, no one seems to mind. However, when it comes to political action, you’ll find friends, family members, or even complete strangers suddenly concerned about your time management.
“Nothing You Can Do Is Going To Change Anything”
This general discouragement is easily disproven. Activists helped abolish slavery, dismantle segregation, end wars, and win all kinds of victories for workers and groups lacking access. Even the seemingly intractable, long-term conflicts in Northern Ireland and South Africa were de-escalated.
Our government gives massive financial and military support to many nations and rebel groups. When someone suggests that nothing we can do will change things, you can respond, “Doing nothing would be a big improvement!”
“That Area Will Always Be a Mess,” “It’s Religious Conflict,” and “It’s Really Complicated”
Conflicts are not caused by being in an unlucky region, or passages in holy books. Wars are generally fought over territory, control, resources, and injustice. From the American Indian wars to Iraq, religion and race are used to whip the population into a patriotic frenzy. However, the real reasons for war are revealed when you follow the money/real estate; and that’s not so complicated after all.
Oppressive policies are what foment rebellion. Shifting the blame to religion lets the guilty regimes off the hook. Israel continues illegally expanding into Palestinian territory, blocking Palestine from becoming a state, treating Palestinians as prisoners, illegally demolishing homes and enacting other forms of collective punishment, illegally denying the right of return, etc. These are real world injustices, not theological disputes. They can’t be written off simply because religious differences also exist.
“They’ve Been Fighting Each Other for Thousands of Years”
You’ll hear this one a lot when it comes to two particular conflicts-Israel/Palestine and Shia/Sunni. However, there is no such thousand years of fighting in either of these conflicts. Palestinians and Jews have been fighting each other only since the beginning of Israel, which was less than 70 years ago. Shia/Sunni relations is a long and varied history, but from WWI until the Iran Iraq War in the 1980s, Shias and Sunnis were significantly more friendly, intermarried, integrated, and peaceful with each other than Blacks and whites were in the US.
So then…imagine if in the US in the 1980s, some extremely more rich and powerful outside force had come in-one whose GDP was 100 times ours (of course, no such entity exists on the planet, so it could be from outer space). Imagine that it funded, with trillions of dollars, the most extremist, violent white and Black prison gangs it could find, giving both sides weapons as powerful or more powerful than those of the US military. Now imagine that those groups started a several-decades-long race war in the US with millions of casualties. Someone reading about it in Europe all these years later might respond, “Well, Blacks and whites in the US have been fighting for hundreds of years.” Anyone who knew their history would respond, “No. There were indeed long-standing racial conflicts, but the conflict upgraded to a war as a direct result of outside intervention.”
“You’re Siding With/Defending the Terrorists”
Terrorism is an aspect of all modern war. Instead of thinking of any conflict in terms of terrorists vs. civilized soldiers, it makes more sense to think of all modern combatants using some level of terrorism. They’re not all equal: Some parties engage more terror than others in collective punishment, mass executions, etc. Israel and the US categorize Hamas as a terrorist organization, but using any set of objective criteria, Israel is also a terrorist organization. Collective punishment, home demolitions, so-called administrative detention, assassination-all of these things are embraced openly by Israeli politicians and they are terrorism. Regardless of how terroristic the groups “in control” are, siding with the innocent people on either side is never the same as defending “the terrorists.”
“What You’re Doing Isn’t As Important As This Other Thing You Could Be Doing”
This is a common one, for some reason. You can always respond, “Ok, you go do that, I’m gonna do this.”
“All That Matters Is That We Vote”
This is really annoying because it encourages folks to limit themselves to allocating a total of one hour every other year to changing things for the better. Politicians have stopped wars in the past, but rarely without public pressure.
“Get a Job”
This is an oldie but a goodie. Nowadays most activists can respond, “I got several jobs!”
“Move To Russia/Cuba”
You don’t really hear this one anymore, but perhaps it packed a punch during McCarthyism. If it comes up, most local activists can respond, “I don’t even have enough money to move to Austin!”
We can respond straightforwardly to all these common complaints, but activists often find themselves spending too much time justifying themselves to the naysayers. Sometimes it’s best to say, “I’m trying to do something here, and if you don’t want to join me fine, but please don’t waste my time. Help out or get out of the way.”
Why do people want to discourage us when we are working for change? It’s often that they feel bad about not doing more themselves. If they can portray activism as useless, they can more easily justify their own lack of involvement.