When war started in the Persian Gulf, longtime activist David Hinkley figured that the book he is writing on post-World War II genocide would have to wait. He hopped a flight from his Sonoma home to Los Angeles to speak at a large anti-war rally.
Hinkley, former chairman of Amnesty International USA, was to unveil a plan he hoped would guide the anti-war movement toward a constructive goal: calling on President Bush for an immediate cease-fire and urging the resumption of negotiations. Hinkley never got the chance. Too many other speakers had their own axes to grind.
Instead, he and a group of like-minded activists held a press conference in Los Angeles on Friday to announce their “Pause . . . A Deadline for Dialogue” plan. If a cease-fire is not ordered by Feb. 15 they say, that will be a day for massive demonstrations by anti-war protesters.
Time will tell whether other anti-warriors will get behind the notion. As the snafu last Saturday showed, a grass-roots movement is difficult to harness.
Despite polls showing that an overwhelming majority of Americans support the war effort, Hinkley and others believe that support is “a mile wide but an inch deep,” and certain to erode if the death toll--especially the U.S. death toll--mounts in the expected ground war.
The question is, activists say, how do you marshall that sentiment? How do you channel the disparate thousands who are involved in protest marches--such as those organized for today through downtown Los Angeles and in Washington--toward a common, tangible objective?
The cease-fire proposal--endorsed by anti-war activists ranging from former U.S. Atty. Gen. Ramsey Clark to a variety of Hollywood celebrities to members of Physicians for Social Responsibility, Greenpeace environmental group and SANE/Freeze anti-nuclear group--is one such effort, and is by no means unique.
Several Arab nations also have called for a cease-fire, and last Monday, so did the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. That group, which claims a membership of more than 200,000 physicians in 70 countries and won the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize, said a halt in hostilities is needed to assess and address untold casualties--military and civilian--in the war zone.
“The picture emerging from the gulf is a sanitized version of warfare in which the human tragedy has been completely obscured,” said Dr. Bernard Lown of Harvard University, the physicians group’s co-president. “Media coverage under the extreme censorship imposed by all involved governments has been focused on the high-tech wizardry of modern warfare. But a human tragedy is unfolding underneath the blanket of censorship.”
The Milwaukee-based Military Family Support Network--a group that claims more than 5,000 members, a majority of whom have loved ones participating in Operation Desert Storm--also favors the cease-fire. The group was created after Alex Molnar, a Milwaukee man with a 21-year-old Marine son in Saudi Arabia, wrote an open letter to President Bush, published in the New York Times in late August, that said he would hold Bush responsible if his son was killed in such a war.
Molnar’s article “just struck a chord. Literally hundreds of calls poured in,” said Lew Friedland, a spokesman for the group. The group describes itself as “pro-America,” not anti-war, and has waged blood drives while urging politicians to halt the combat.
“We support the troops, want the fighting to stop and want talking to start as soon as possible,” Friedland said. “Our political leadership has gotten us into this situation, and they should get us out.”
The groups also are lobbying members of Congress in hopes of exerting political pressure to make Bush reconsider his position. The President and military leaders have said the offensive will continue at least until Iraq pulls out of Kuwait or surrenders. From a military perspective, a cease-fire could allow time for supply lines to be reopened to the embattled Iraqi army.
In advancing a call for a cease-fire, Hinkley and activists suggest an olive branch exists between all-out war with heavy casualties and the radical peaceniks’ naive ravings for an immediate pull-out of U.S. and allied forces.
“I just think that’s something that will appeal to a lot of people whether they’ve supported the President’s policies up until now or not,” Hinkley said.
Now that the U.S. and allied forces have punished Iraq with awesome force and, according to the Pentagon, have destroyed facilities capable of producing nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, Hinkley argues, why not explore diplomatic options?
He argues that destroying Saddam Hussein’s regime and military machine would not necessarily achieve peace in the region. “Winning the peace” will become the problem because of Arab enmity and the likelihood that the cycle of regional conflicts would result. If the combat drags on for weeks and perhaps months, anti-war organizers and others predict Americans accustomed to instant gratification would grow weary of the conflict, particularly as casualties mount in a ground war.
Activists say President Bush would be prudent to remember a Washington Post-ABC poll published Jan. 8, eight days before combat began. In that survey, support for the war option fell from 63% to 44% when respondents were asked whether they would favor combat if it “meant 1,000 American troops would be killed in the fighting.” Only 35% said they would support a war in which the U.S. death toll reached 10,000.
Ironically, Hinkley says, such bloodshed may have another effect on Administration policy.
“A lot of us remember that after a lot of American soldiers had died in Vietnam,” Hinkley said, “there was a feeling that we had passed the point of no return, that we couldn’t let those soldiers die in vain. Well, before we cross that Rubicon, let’s take a chance to take a look at peace.”
Their fondest hope, “Pause” backers say, would be for the cease-fire idea to catch fire and encourage President Bush and Hussein to reconsider their options. More realistically, they acknowledge, the “day of dialogue” will serve as an organizing tool.
In that respect, Hinkley and fellow organizer Carl Rogers, an ex-chaplain’s aide who co-founded the Vietnam Veterans Against the War in 1968, are trying to stay a step ahead of the protesters in the streets. They are among many individuals who have tried to develop a long-term strategy while groups such as the Los Angeles Coalition Against U.S. Intervention in the Middle East--representing about 50 organizations--struggle with nuts-and-bolts logistics such as parade permits, leafleting and public address systems required of demonstrations.
An alumnus of the militant 1960s anti-war group known as the Mobilization Against the War--or simply, “the Mobe"--Rogers had more recently campaigned on a successful school bond measure before returning to the anti-war crusade.
The “Pause” strategy is lifted straight from the playbook of Vietnam protesters.
When “the Mobe” designated Oct. 15, 1969, as a day of major protest, students boycotted classes and other protesters boycotted work. That helped build momentum for another day of protests the next month. On Nov. 15, hundreds of thousands marched in Washington in what proved to be the largest anti-war protest of the era.
Rogers and Hinkley say they hope such massive demonstrations are not necessary. That would happen, they suggest, only if thousands of Americans have died.
If the war suddenly ends, what happens to their effort? “Then we all celebrate,” Hinkley said, shrugging. “The point of this effort is not to embarrass the President. . . . It’s to stop the killing.”
Later, Hinkley acknowledged a selfish interest in his crusade.
His son, a 20-year-old Lake County sheriff’s deputy, is a member of the Air Force Reserve. He could be called to duty at any moment.