by Mel G.
Last night, I dreamt of bombs dropped on babies. I woke to the echoes of screaming children in my ears, nearly an hour before my alarm. It’s hard to accurately describe the violent combination of rage and dismay that I felt this morning, the images of broken bodies of innocents fading away in the dark of pre-dawn.
We’ve entered 2020 in the midst of a global crisis. 30,000 people were displaced from their homes due to catastrophic flooding in Jakarta, Indonesia. A violent fire season has reduced the continent of Australia to ash, forcing thousands into the sea as they try to escape the suffocating smoke and flames. In the United States, historic flooding in 2018 turned key portions of the American breadbasket into sand. Internationalist fighters in Rojava continue to fight back against a bloody, U.S.-backed Turkish invasion that has caused a resurgence of ISIS in the region. To top it off, the U.S. just successfully assassinated a high-ranking Iranian official and others outside of a civilian airport in Iraq. The drone strike was carried out late last week, sending ripples of shock through social media and the wider global community.
Almost immediately after news of the drone strike broke, stock prices for weapons manufacturers jumped and crude oil prices topped out at nearly $70 a barrel. The warhawks who lied their way through the coverage of the Iraq war in the early 2000s straightened their ties hastily, pulled out the old rhetorical handbook, and began their tirades at the CNN desk. The grotesque spectacle of such immediate and naked war profiteering was just one of many stomach-churning displays of warmongering bravado and justification over the weekend.
On Twitter and amongst my local community, shock melted into despair, before finally settling into a deep-seated anger. The prospect of another forever war in the Middle East led quickly to enraged talks about what to do next. It is clear to me that there is only one viable path: a gloves-off anti-war movement is the only step forward.
A gloves-off anti-war movement is the only step forward.
For many of us, including all of us at Protean, war in the Middle East, especially Iraq, has been raging in some form for most of our lives. We have grown up in the shadow of a forever war. United States imperialist aggression has decimated vast swaths of the Middle East. Trillions of dollars poured into a bloated military budget over the last 30 years has led to the continuous occupation of various parts of the Middle East and hundreds of thousands, by some estimates millions, of civilian casualties in the region. The U.S. justified its violent aggression in Afghanistan by selling the American public absolute lies. The Obama administration carried out hundreds of drone strikes, leaving numerous dead and broken in its wake.
The Trump administration, desperate for a war that might distract the public from his impeachment and help push him into a second term, has put for the absurd rationale that the airstrike that killed Qasem Soleimani was justified defense. The supposed American blood on Soleimani’s hands (a dubious number reached by tallying vague estimates of where IEDs might have been manufactured) was the exact justification that they needed to recklessly escalate tensions in a region that is bathed in the blood that U.S.-led coalitions have spilled since 2003. The irony is not lost on us. A war with Iran would put hundreds of thousands of already battered citizens at risk all over the region… again.
Let’s put this into perspective. According to Airwars.org, a “not-for-profit transparency project aimed at tracking, assessing and archiving international military actions and related civilian harm claims in conflict zones,” there have been nearly 15,000 U.S.-led coalition strikes in Iraq since 2014. These strikes have led to an estimated 13,151 civilian deaths—and those are just the locally reported deaths that the group has been able to find and assess the credibility of. In both Iraq and Syria, we’re looking at nearly 40,000 strikes that have lead to the deaths of nearly 30,000 civilians in just the last five years. In stark contrast with those numbers, the coalition estimate vastly underplays the number, claiming somewhere around 1,300 civilian deaths.
This disparity in reporting, while absolutely, blood-boilingly infuriating, is no accident. Reporting low civilian casualties is a well-worn tactic used by the military to sell a more palatable narrative to the American public: “We’re not indulging in reckless slaughter—their regime’s aggressions demand a response, and their civilians will welcome us as liberators!” As Iran begins to respond militarily, this fatuous propaganda narrative will continue to solidify. The Middle East is not a playground for U.S. war games. Thousands of innocent civilian lives are at risk from a conflict thrust upon them by warmongering politicians and selfish, hypocritical capitalist elites braying psychotically about democracy and freedom. People will continue to die so a select few can make a bloody buck.
The people of the Middle East are trapped between warring states, fighting for their survival. We anti-imperialists are stuck between warring factions of warmongering elites, within a culture that fetishizes bloodshed. But we are not helpless. We can no longer sit idly by and watch as the United States reaches out to seize the resources of another land, leaving destruction in its wake. Western imperialism is a stain on humanity and deserves to be stamped out. We must do what we can to destroy it at its root, from within the empire.
In the timeless words of Major General Smedley Butler, “War is a racket.” In his popular publication of the same name, he outlined the ways in which anti-war movements could fight effectively against the warmongering capitalist class: “A few profit—and the many pay. But there is a way to stop it. You can’t end it by disarmament conferences. You can’t eliminate it by peace parleys at Geneva. Well-meaning but impractical groups can’t wipe it out by resolutions. It can be smashed effectively only by taking the profit out of war.” We must take up the fight again and build an anti-war movement that rivals and exceeds the strongest movements of the last 100 years.
A robust American anti-war movement is necessary in the fight against US imperialism abroad. We should be taking lessons from anti-war movements of the past, and seeking out ways to create an anti-war movement that goes beyond symbolic objection at rallies and marches. First written in 2003, Craig Rosebraugh’s Hit ‘Em Where It Hurts is just as prescient today as it was 18 years ago:
“The only possibility of stopping this current military action is to engage in strategies and tactics which severely disrupt the war machine, the U.S. economy, and the overall functioning of U.S. society; particularly how it relates to consumerism and the economy. Marches, picketing, rallies, parties, benefits, civil disobedience and even property destruction are pointless, and perhaps even counterproductive, unless they serve to severely disrupt the functioning of the political system and its economy. An atmosphere of severe unrest, if manufactured properly, will force the U.S. government to place military resources in the streets of the United States, will threaten the economy (the chief motive behind this military excursion) of the United States, and ultimately create a political atmosphere unfavorable [for the war to continue].”
These disruptions—strikes, sabotage, and other tactics—should be designed specifically to fuck shit up. Movements of the past, including the historically large 2003 protests against the Iraq War, failed to truly disrupt the imperialist war machine. They did not target the churning industrial mechanisms that allow it to continue unabated. Weapons manufacturers like Raytheon and Northrop Grumman, media conglomerates like CNN and NBC that push festering pro-war propaganda, military recruitment offices in small towns, cities, college campuses and elsewhere, and the financial centers of this rotting imperial metropolis are all fair game in the fight against violent imperialism abroad. We must organize to threaten their profits—the only language they understand. A general strike could correct this dangerous course.
Do not stop at rallies, prayer vigils, and marches. Do not be afraid to challenge the barbarity of the capitalist ruling class as it rains down suffering and violent, horrific death on the innocent civilians trapped between warring states. Doing nothing is no longer an option. Start somewhere—join your local Food Not Bombs, create a group that builds international solidarity with those most affected by this violence, take the fight to the capitalists who use your towns as a home office for war profiteering and propaganda. Do not stand by and watch as the United States continues its destruction across the globe.
In the fight against U.S. imperialism abroad, we must go gloves-off at home and remind the empire that not everyone who lives within its borders will permit this to take place. We will no longer grease the wheels for the imperialist war machine. This is the only way forward as we teeter on the edge of yet another endless war. If we do nothing, we are complicit in the ongoing annihilation of people across the world for the sake of profit. Do you want that blood on your hands? ♦
This essay in the first in an urgent series, Against the Forever War: Conversations on U.S. Imperialism from Inside the Empire. If you would like to contribute an essay, poetry, or fiction to this series, send pitches or full drafts to Mel G. at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @coldbrewedtool.
Cover image: “War in Iraq” by Natalie Sklobovskaya is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0