On Wednesday, March 19, 2008, an estimated 100–200 people held up banners and, eventually, traffic in the Syracuse, NY rain to protest the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.1 More generally, as organizer Michael P. Pasquale announced through an electronic-megaphone to the crowd assembled in downtown’s Clinton Square, they were there to protest Truman, Eisenhower, Vietnam & Kennedy, Ford & Indonesia. “The story of the last 225 years.”
After this speech opening the afternoon’s events, protestors participated in some anti-war chants and the Syracuse Peace Council’s players performed their first in a series of well-intentioned sketches (a constant at such functions). Then demonstrators marched to the hovel outside the James Hanley Federal Building.
Outside the Federal Building were chants of, “What do we want? / Peace! / When do we want it? / Now!” Of the many people present who brought homemade drums and sticks one of them pounded a steady beat, presumably to encourage a vigorous patriotic stride and vocal exuberance. At least four television crews, by my estimate, were present and rolling; none of the cameras were marked by a logo or number. All three local television affiliates of the major networks ran stories on the demonstration at 6:00 and 11:00pm that evening. I counted, in the merchantless stoa beneath the massive building, four other people (non professionals) with cameras of different sorts recording. (And most everyone had a still camera.) Passing motorists honked their support. It was a wet, perhaps 40 (°F) afternoon in the Salt City.
Another in the series of sketches from the Peace Council’s players in which characters like War Profiteer and Congress Person and Embedded Reporter beat an Octopus, representing War and Death, to death.
On Washington Street, as marchers headed towards the military recruitment center on Salina Street, Syracuse Peace Council organizer Jessica Maxwell wondered aloud, “Maybe somebody wants to ask the men in the van who are videotaping everyone in this march who they are and who they work for.” A female marcher does stop to ask but I was unable find her later. I overhear that the men in the van claimed to be taping the march for a posting on YouTube, reason unspecified. As of this writing it has not been located there.
A number of groups are represented by the signs carried. West Point Grads Against the War. Syracuse City Neighbors. Syracuse Eagles. The march moved from the recruitment center to positions on either side of North Salina Street, hoping for the attention of the historic Syracuse Savings Bank (home to the Salt City’s first elevator), whose present tenant is the Bank of America.
As I left the men in the van and military recruitment center behind and approached the bank, a hard times looking man asked me, “So what do I need to do to join this little march?” I provided a suggestion he immediately followed.
The fourth and what I thought of as the final stop of the march was on West Genesee Street, in front of Syracuse’s Post Standard. The War Octopus was duly bludgeoned to death by the Council’s players. Jessica Maxwell declared she had, “Gotten into the habit of reading license plates” and encouraged the crowd that, “What’s important is what you do tomorrow” regarding ending the US conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Commenting on the impending November elections, she asked, “How many elections have we had?” and, “Why do we continue to ask [elected representatives] to lie to us over and over again?”
After an announcement of “Thanks” to the marchers who attended, an invitation was extended to continue the day’s proceedings if one was inclined. Several protesters began drumming on their buckets. A chant of, “End the War!” Beat, beat. “End the War!” Beat, beat. It occurred to me that there is no such thing as a free press when that press’ governance is a daily Occupier and Aggressor and this news does not make the top headline every day in explicit terms.
After a quarter-hour the protest’s participants relocated from West Genesee Street to South Salina, around the corner. Three policemen stood outside the Bank of America a block south. Perhaps 10 of the individuals in the remaining 150 protestors were wearing a face-covering garment of some sort; they appeared to be in their late teens and one displayed a badge on his backpack advertising the Northeast Anarchist Network. Several people attempted to rope off Salina Street at Fayette with very thin and flimsy rope, which several cars drove under and over before the protestors largely emptied the sidewalks and filled Salina Street. The One Way traffic stopped between James Street and Willow Street. (Later, the police would block off Salina at Herald Place two blocks further north.) Initially, a few automobiles are inconvenienced but quickly turned around and gone, leaving the rainy block to, at its largest, roughly 150 protesters.
Chants of, “1, 2, 3, 4 / We don’t want your racist war!” Police sirens sounded in the distance but none were immediately dispatched to Salina and James. Several presumably Post Standard employees stood on the large, raised patio outside the paper’s offices, peering at the crowd and speaking into phones. Some take pictures. They are joined by several policemen, one who sets about making a visual recording of everyone on the block.
The Syracuse Peace Council’s theme for the day’s protest was, “No Business As Usual During War & Occupation.” And as a Syracuse native for 20 years I could bear witness that it was not usual business when a large group of people stood in the street chanting, “Rise Up!” Beat beat beat. “Syracuse!” Beat beat beat. Organizer Rita Gabaccia said over the megaphone, “In solidarity with the people of Iraq we raise our voices.” Then announced that the police “are willing to give up the peace of Salina Street. They don’t want to arrest us.” A chant of, “Whose streets?” Beat, beat. “Our streets!” Beat, beat. My feet became literally numb from the cold and rain. A woman entered the First Niagara bank across Salina, making a face at the protestors which communicated something like, “What a bunch of dupes.” Or was it Dopes?
Many horns honked in support. Blue uniformed policemen all around; in addition to at least “two un-uniformed policemen” in the demonstrators’ midst as well, as reported loudly by Maxwell earlier. Gabaccia reiterated Pasquale’s earlier sentiments, stating, “War is terrorism.” She declares the community’s desire for the United States to end the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine, saying, “They are not just brown people on the other side of the Earth.” Perhaps directed at the Post, Gabaccia said of the war’s coverage in the mainstream media, “We don’t see coffins [of killed soldiers]. We don’t see the numbers. The soldiers who commit suicide we sure as hell don’t see.”
At 1:05pm I am convinced that the authorities are just waiting for everyone to get cold and go home. A few individuals watched the noisy Salina Street proceedings from doorways and windows. Chant of, “Who do you protect? / Who do you serve?”, apparently another jab at the Post. Early afternoon traffic was steady on James. The television reporters looked anxious but professional. Two old men held up a sign reading “Matthew 5:9.” Gabaccia announced that, “as we can see, the police have brought over the Paddywagons”, which I have heard called Honeybuckets. “We are not criminals,” Gabaccia declared. “We are not rioters.”
At 1:46pm two vehicles, one larger than the other, both reading “Syracuse Police Prisoner Transport” were parked a dozen feet beyond the protestors. Chant of, “Stop the War! / Stop the War!” The police announced from the patio of the Post that the protestors are “blocking traffic. By order of the Syracuse Police Department, clear the road or be arrested.” Chant of, “Who do you protect? / Who do you serve?”
Protestors were arrested at 1:56pm. 22 in all. Many of those not arrested, who had left the street to stand on the sidewalk, continued chants of, “What do we want? / Justice! / When do we want it? / Now!” during the arrests. Then a singing of “Solidarity Forever” while the policeman who’d been recording the crowd from the Post’s patio recorded those on the sidewalk, face-to-lens. The police lined the sidewalks as arrests were made, like a row of dikes. Off went the Paddywagons. As the Post obtusely reported later that evening, “By about 2:15 p.m., protesters who were not arrested began leaving the area. At 2:55, evidence of the day’s protest had disappeared.” And, however snide the Post, it did at least cover the story sitting right on its doorstep.
The other distinct response to the five-year anniversary of the Iraq War can be seen in the day’s coverage from the BBC, NPR, The Guardian and Agence France Presse, all of whom featured President Bush’s “Global War on Terror” speech given the afternoon of March 19 at the Pentagon to “the men and women of the defense department.”4 (Some are mentioned by name, including Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte and Secretary of the Navy Donald Winter, who know each other well from halcyon days in Honduras, kicking butts and taking names through Battalion 316.)
The decision by media outlets to feature another administration speech about “victory” in Iraq was well articulated in Guy Raz’s report for NPR.5 The speech, Raz states, “was less about marking the fifth year of an unpopular war and more about marking the first year that violence has declined and some progress has been made.” One might wonder, then, if this speech has any relevance at all in the real world. In support of “some progress” Raz cites, outside of rhetoric, only Bush’s comments about the Anbar Awakening (pro-US Sunnis armed and paid for, momentarily, by the Occupiers only because the Awakening hates Al-Qaeda more than they hate us6) before seguing into quotes of rhetoric from Barack Obama about the “Iraqis’ [need] to take responsibility for their own future.” It is evident that Raz (if not Obama) is not in the real world in which the United States is an Aggressive, Invading and Occupying force in Iraq. Also evident is that Raz (Obama, too?), a sincere chucklehead, is not only absent from but uninterested in the real world.
“The exact toll,” Raz’s report states, “in Iraqi lives, though unknown, is estimated to be many times greater [than the US toll of 4,000].” This is understatement to the point of flattery. One must assume that Raz is getting his numbers from the incorrigible Iraq Body Count Group, which is where The Guardian pulls its numbers from as well, placing Iraqi deaths at 89,322.7 The embarrassing and shameful underestimates of the death toll in Iraq used by these (and many other) media outlets was well explained by David Edwards and David Cromwell in an October 2007 essay. “IBC [Iraq Body Count],” they write, “does not monitor ‘Iraqi deaths’; it monitors media reports of Iraqi civilian deaths as a result of violence. IBC does not monitor reports of war-related deaths due to disease, lack of food, water and medicine, and so on.”8 The most recent study from the Oxford Research Bureau estimates 1.3 million Iraqi deaths.9 (For math enthusiasts, 1.3 million is 325 times greater than 4,000. “Many times” indeed, Guy!) Beyond deaths, a September 2007 UN report stated that “60,000 Iraqis are being forced to leave their homes every month by continuing violence,” claiming there were “well over 4 million displaced Iraqis”, 2.2 million of them within their native land, now home of the brave.10 And to revel in the didactic fact that Iraq is a desolate wasteland, it grabbed Silver on the Fund for Peace’s 2007 “Failed State Index”, between Sudan and Somalia, the latter taking Bronze.11
The Associated Press story covering the anti-war demonstrations on the 19th was largely reprinted by the New York Times and others. AP’s Sarah Karush wrote that, “organizers set up a 2-mile display of about 4,000 T-shirts in Cincinnati . . . while in Louisville, KY., demonstrators lined rows of military boots, sandals and children’s tennis shoes on the steps of a courthouse.”12 Just based on their merit as oddities these acts may deserve more attention than another victory speech from the White House, though I suppose if it’s not happening at the Pentagon then it just isn’t happening.
So the public is told what the powerful think. The BBC’s headline read: “Bush says Iraq invasion was right.” From AFP: “Five years on, Bush vows victory in Iraq.” The Guardian: “Bush: The battle in Iraq is noble, it is necessary and it is just.” NPR: “On War Anniversary, Bush Sees Victory in Iraq.”13
The public is also told what they themselves are thinking. The AP article claimed that the “Iraq war has been unpopular both abroad and in the United States,” then stated that an AP-Ipsos poll from December 2007 “showed that growing numbers think the U.S. is making progress and will eventually be able to claim some success in Iraq.” What “making progress” is and means is unclear, though perhaps a Los Angeles Times article from 21 January 2008 might enlighten. “In the last ten days, the military has dropped nearly 100,000 pounds of explosives . . . on the farmland of Arab Jabour south of Baghdad.”14
As per what the US population is thinking, a USA Today/Gallup Poll from February 2008 found that 53% of Americans believed the administration “deliberately misled the American public about whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction”, up from 31% in 2003. This same 2008 poll found that 60% believed the US should “stick to a withdrawal timetable” “regardless of what is going on in Iraq at the time.”15
Both Raz’s NPR story and President Bush’s speech assign to the public the dissenting opinion they are allowed to have. From Bush: “There is an understandable debate over whether the war was worth fighting, whether the fight is worth winning, and whether we can win it.” Or later he quips that, “War critics can no longer credibly argue that we’re losing in Iraq – so now they argue the war costs too much.” This latter assigns two arguments and claims to refute both, though neither objection is serious in a moral argument. Instead, opposition to “the supreme international crime” of Aggression which “contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole”16 is pedestrian and obvious. Participating in Invasion and Occupation are problems in and of themselves, and are wrong no matter who “wins” or “loses” or whatever it “costs.”
Raz claims that, “On the eve of the invasion, more than 70 percent of the American public backed the decision. But five years on, according to a Washington Post poll, most Americans say the war wasn’t worth it.” Of course “wasn’t worth it” is different from “fundamentally wrong and immoral.”29 The wording of the question in the poll itself is misleading. It implies that Aggression, Invasion and Occupation could, in other circumstances, be “worth it.” The question also implies that everyday US citizens benefit from wars of conquest as those in power do. Howard Zinn quoted Hans Koning to make the point. “For all the gold and silver stolen [from the New World] and shipped to Spain did not make the Spanish people richer. It gave their kings an edge in the balance of power for a time . . . and all that was left was a deadly inflation, a starving population, the rich richer, the poor poorer, and a ruined peasant class.”17
It seems likely Raz would have used another Washington Post poll from 2003 to support the claim that “more than 70 percent of the American public backed the decision”18 to go to war in Iraq. It is emblamatic of the whole to note this particluar poll which, the Post tells us, “was conducted Monday evening, March 17 , following President Bush’s speech to the nation.” This speech warned fearful Americans that, “The danger is clear: using chemical, biological or, one day, nuclear weapons, obtained with the help of Iraq, the terrorists could fulfill their stated objectives and kill thousands or hundreds of thousands of innocent people in our country, or any other.”19 For months Americans suffered “a propaganda campaign . . . launched to depict Saddam Hussein as an imminent threat to the United States and to insinuate that he was responsible for the 9-11 atrocities and was planning others.”20 The result, not difficult to guess, was that the campaign “soon drove American public opinion off the global spectrum.” That opinion has now somewhat settled at a comfortable 30 percent approval rating for the administration while an October 2007 Washington Post poll found that 70 percent of “Americans oppose fully funding President Bush’s $190 billion request for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”21
A January 2006 poll from Maryland University’s Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) could prove useful to those outside the Pentagon. The poll found that, among Iraqis, “The major source of urgency for [US] withdrawal [from Iraq] is the feeling, especially among Sunnis, that it is offensive for their country to be occupied.”22 This bit of common sense has an authority that cost, as Bush’s speech went, “in lives and treasure” pales beside it. The poll, helpfully, goes on to report that, “A secondary reason [for the urgency for a US withdrawal] is that US forces attract more attacks and make the violence worse.” But, to paraphrase novelist John Knowles, who ever cared what citizens thought about their country?
Another trend in the news sources who opted to cover the White House and not the people it represents were claims that both Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton “have pledged to end the war.” NPR reported that Clinton “if elected, will begin to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq within 6o days.”23 (And if she is not elected? She will, presumably, along with Obama, vote for every appropriations bill that comes her way.) It is not specified if this “withdrawal” will be a one-at-a-time operation or whether Clinton’s sentiments actually mean (though do not state) that she will end the illegal occupation of Iraq by the United States.
The Guardian’s story blithely reported, “Bush’s comments amounted to his most upbeat assessment of the war since his famous ‘mission accomplished’ speech on a US aircraft carrier in May 2003.” It is not clear whether the irony in this statement is apparent to The Guardian, though it may answer the question: Do reporters have any fun at these stuffy political speeches? Na’am! The writer of the above sentence was– as was I – absolutely enthralled with President Bush’s speech, which was often difficult to differentiate from a Social Studies textbook in many of our fine US high schools. “As they advanced,” Bush said, “our troops fought their way through sand storms so intense that they blackened the daytime sky.” Like the locusts in the plagues of Egypt who “darkened” the land?24 Or the fog (provided most presciently by the Lord) that helped General Washington and his troops escape the Battle of Long Island? Or like the “around the clock bombing raids designed to shatter the nerves and morale of the people of Kandahar” reported during the first days of bombing in Afghanistan in 2001?26
Bush continued, “Our troops engaged in pitched battles with the Fedayeen Saddam,” definitely a bad bunch of characters. The Fedayeen Saddam, Bush explains, were “death squads acting on the orders of Saddam Hussein that obeyed neither the conventions of war nor the dictates of conscience,” as we know Secretaries Negroponte and Winter have done all over Latin America and, now, the Middle East.27
In a surprising admission (yes?) to heinous crimes against civilians Bush continued, “These death squads hid in schools and hid in hospitals, hoping to draw fire against Iraqi civilians. They used women and children as human shields. They stopped at nothing in their efforts to prevent us from prevailing – but they couldn’t stop the coalition advance.” Boy, all those sandstorms and shields and the coalition still could not be stopped? Does this mean that the coalition killed the women and children shields to get to the death squads and kill them too? I suppose that when one country “has dropped nearly 100,000 pounds of explosives” in 10 days time on another country there will be no shields for anyone. There will be, what is it called?, collateral damage? Or was it extraordinary rendition? All of these euphemisms are confusing. It should suffice – for those inside and outside the Pentagon – that, as Bush claimed, the Iraq military “campaign will be studied by military historians for years to come.” And for those in Syracuse, Washington, San Francisco, Oberlin, Cincinnati, Louisville, Tampa Bay, Bangor, Chicopee, Palm Springs, Hartford, Miami, Albany, New York, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles?28 Perhaps a “disorderly conduct” charge, their picture in a government photo album and a tonic from the real real world: Bush says Iraq invasion was right; vows victory in Iraq; the battle is noble, necessary, just. Storms so intense they blackened the daytime sky. Around the clock.
1. Nneka Nwosu. “17 arrested after anti-war protest.” Time Warner Cable. News
10 Now, Syracuse, NY. 19 March 2008. ; Ramirez III, Pedro, and Michele Reaves. “About 20 protesters arrested for blocking Salina Street.” Post Standard. 19 March 2008. ; WSTM-3 News. “Anti-war protests in Syracuse.” NBC. WSTM, Syracuse, NY. 19 March 2008. ; WSYR-9 News. “Police Arrest 22 at Syracuse Iraq War Protest.” ABC. Syracuse, NY. 19 March 2008. ; WTVH-5 News. “Anti-War Protest.” CBS. WTVH, Syracuse, NY. 19 March 2008. ;
4. George W. Bush. “President Bush Discusses Global War on Terror.” The Pentagon, Washington D.C. 19 March 2008.
5. Guy Raz. “On War Anniversary, Bush Sees Victory in Iraq.” NPR, 19 March 2008.
6. Juan Cole. “Top Ten Myths about Iraq 2007.” Znet, 27 December 2007. ; or see Michael Boyle’s “A new awakening.” Comment Is Free, Guardian, 12 July 2007. A brief excerpt: “The Anbar awakening, and related movements in neighbouring regions, should be seen as a movement towards Sunni self-governance, not as an embrace of the Iraqi state.”
7. Iraq Body Count Group. ; Ewen MacAskill. “Bush: The battle in Iraq is noble, it is necessary and it is just.” The Guardian, 20 March 2008.
8. David Edwards and David Cromwell. “Iraq Body Count: ‘A Very Misleading Exercise.’” Znet, 11 October 2007.
9. See Noam Chomsky’s address stating the Oxford Research Bureau’s (ORB) early 2008 estimate of Iraqi deaths. Chomsky notes that the study excludes “two of the most violent provinces, Karbala and Anbar” and that “there are over two million displaced within Iraq. Thanks to the generosity of Jordan and Syria, the millions of refugees who have fled the wreckage of Iraq aren’t totally wiped out. That includes most of the professional classes.” After five hours of searching the internet and media databases (not exhaustive but diligent) I have been unable to locate a citation of the ORB and its findings anywhere in the mainstream press, including BBC, NY Times, The Nation, AFP, The Guardian and several others.
10. United Nations Commission on Human Rights. “Statistics on Displaced Iraqis around the World.” September 2007.
11. The Fund for Peace. “Failed States Index Scores 2007.”
12. Sarah Karush. “”Protest mark 5th Anniversary of Iraq War.” Associated Press, 19 March 2007.
13. Agence France Presse. “Five years on, Bush vows victory in Iraq.” 19 March 2008. < http://www.afp.com/english/news/stories/newsmlmmd.28698e6a9 cf4b65fe11ee976c80f73f6.51.html>; BBC. “Bush says Iraq invasion was right.” 19 March 2008. ; for NPR see note #5; for The Guardian see note #7. In an interesting contrast, Al-Jazeera covered both the President’s speech and the protests in two seperate stories. See, “Arrests made at US war protests” and “Bush says Iraq surge is ‘working.’”
; < http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/7A676D32-86DF-4AE7-B35B-E7C82553F2F6.htm>
14. Ned Parker and Saif Rasheed. “In Anbar, Sunni rivalries surface.” Los Angeles Times, 21 January 2008. This LAT quote was found by the author in the most helpful “Bombs Away Over Iraq” by Tom Engelhardt. TomDispatch.com, 29 January 2008.
15. USA Today/Gallup Poll. February 2008. < http://www.pollingreport.com/ iraq.htm>
16. The words of US Justice Jackson at the Nuremberg trials, quoted in Noam Chomsky’s “’Good News,’ Iraq and Beyond.” Znet, 16 February 2008.
17. Hans Koning. Columbus: His Enterprise. Monthly Review Press, 1 January 1992. Koning quoted in Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. Harper Perennial, 1 April 2003.
18. “Washington Post-ABC News Poll: Bush’s Speech.” Washington Post, 18 March 2003.
19. George W. Bush. “President Says Saddam Hussein Must Leave Iraq Within 48 Hours.” Remarks by the President in Address to the Nation. The Cross Hall. 17 March 2003.
20. Noam Chomsky. Hegemony or Survival. Metropolitan Books, 4 November 2003.
21. Jon Cohen and Dan Balz. “Most in Poll Want War Funding Cut.” Washington Post, 2 October 2007.
22. PIPA/World Public Opinion. “Poll of Iraqis: Public Wants Timetable for US Withdrawal, but Thinks US Plans Permanent Bases in Iraq.” 31 January 2006.
23. For AFP see note #13 ; for NPR see note #5.
24. Exodus 10:15.
26. Cheney, Peter. “U.S. attacks on Taliban stronghold ‘a nightmare’.” Toronto Globe and Mail 4 Dec. 2001.
27. See Jim Lobe. “Congress Ignores ‘Dirty War’ Past of New Iraq Envoy.” Inter Press Service, 30 April 2004.
28. As most national news sources tended to play down the number of protests by limiting the locations reported – usually three or four in each article – one has to look at local news sources for each city or county to find reporting of the myriad demonstrations on 19 March 2008. For a very small sample, see notes #1,#12 and Veterans for Peace, “Veterans March Around the Nation.” 20 March 2008.
29. See Noam Chomsky’s “On the Kent/Jackson State Killings.” Delivered at Kent State, May 4, 2000.