Friday, September 09, 2005

US: Pro-War Groups' New Tune - 'Paint It Red'

IPS News
US: Pro-War Groups' New Tune - 'Paint It Red'
Bill Berkowitz*

OAKLAND, California, Sep 1 (IPS) - Late in the evening of Aug. 24, the Drudge Report, one of the Internet's most frequented websites, featured the headline "Anti-War Protesters Target Wounded at Army Hospital", trumpeting a story from the Cybercast News Service claiming that anti-war protesters were taunting wounded soldiers returning from Iraq.

The following day, Cybercast News Service -- a subsidiary of the Media Research Centre, a conservative media watchdog group -- published a report charging that Code Pink Women for Peace was organising protests outside Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, where soldiers seriously wounded in Iraq are sent for the first stages of their recovery. reported that supporters of the Iraq war called the protests "shameless" and were conducting counter-demonstrations at the hospital.

"The anti-war protesters should not be demonstrating at a hospital. A hospital is not a suitable location for an anti-war demonstration," Bill Floyd of the Washington chapter of told CNS.

"I believe they are tormenting our wounded soldiers and they should just leave them alone," Floyd added.

Code Pink, the news service charged, "has a controversial leader, [Medea Benjamin who] has expressed support for the Communist Viet Cong in Vietnam and the Nicaraguan Sandinistas".

The vigils at Walter Reed Hospital began in late March, Ann Wilcox, an organiser with the Washington office of Code Pink told IPS. They "bring together peace activists, soldiers, military families and neighbors, and they are a peaceful vigil that is not provocative", Wilcox said.

The vigils are focused on "reminding the public that physically and psychologically wounded soldiers are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan every night".

"These are not protests, but they are vigils calling for more support for the veterans. We always do them with military families and we get extremely positive responses from the families of the wounded soldiers. In my first DC vigil, the wife of a wounded soldier took me inside to meet her husband," Medea Benjamin, a co-founder of Code Pink, told IPS.

Counter-protesters appear to be "trying to create a confrontation and make us look as if we are not supporting the soldiers", Benjamin stated. "It is a smear tactic and it is totally untrue. We are there to say that these soldiers deserve the best possible treatment when they come home."

On Aug. 22, featured a story headlined "Backlash Against Cindy Sheehan Gains Momentum", which reported that Move America Forward, the right-wing group that led a recent "Truth Tour to Iraq", was about to launch its "You Don't Speak for Me, Cindy" tour to counter the vigil that Sheehan -- the mother of Casey Sheehan, a soldier killed last year in Iraq -- maintained at Pres. George W. Bush's Crawford, Texas ranch throughout the month of August.

Whatever one thinks about comparing the chaotic occupation of Iraq with the situation during the war in Vietnam, one element is consistent: as the occupation of Iraq continues to slide into chaos, pro-war advocates are getting more vigorous and vituperative with their criticisms of the anti-war movement.

When the going gets tough for supporters of Pres. Bush's war on Iraq, they go on the attack. Typical targets have been liberal academics on U.S. college campuses, Hollywood celebrities that have dared speak out against the war, liberal talk show hosts, and of course, the anti-war movement.

Filmmaker Michael Moore, whose award-winning documentary, "Fahrenheit 9/11", set box office records last year, was the right's whipping boy for most of 2004. Cindy Sheehan became its target of choice this summer.

In the months leading-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, millions of people in cities around the world demonstrated against the impending war. Despite that outpouring of sentiment, during the pre-invasion debate, Bush administration supporters went after the anti-war movement with gusto.

Moreover, after the invasion began, those who spoke out against the war were quickly labeled anti-patriotic, anti-U.S. or sympathisers of the brutal dictator Saddam Hussein.

On Tuesday, the Washington-based Heritage Foundation, the premier think tank of the conservative movement, sponsored an event entitled, "The Politics of Peace: What's Behind the Anti-War Movement?" featuring John J. Tierney, whose book, "The Politics of Peace", was published this year by the Capital Research Centre.

In the introduction to his book, Tierney maintains that "The irony of the modern 'peace' movement is that it has very little to do with peace -- either as a moral concept or as a political ideal …. The leaders of anti-war groups are modern-day Leninists …. street revolutionaries [attempting] to use reactions to the war on Al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein as a way to foment radical political change at home."

"This appears like a real attempt to smear the peace movement," said Benjamin. "It is interesting that it is coming at a time when the peace movement is beginning to represent the feelings of the majority of the American people."

"In reality, this is the first time since the war began that the right is on the defensive. To claim that the anti-war movement is anti-American is a move fueled by desperation, and I don't think it is going to resonates with the American people who now feel that this war isn't worth fighting."

Benjamin also said that the attack on the anti-movement is coming at a time when more Republicans are seriously questioning the war.

It is significant that Tierney's book was published by the Capital Research Centre (CRC), a Washington-based outfit, which for the past 20 years has steadfastly dedicated itself to defunding and disempowering the progressive non-profit sector and "exposing" the foundations that fund them.

Through its four flagship publications -- Organisation Trends, a monthly analysing the activities of advocacy organisations; Labour Watch, a monthly tracking "the increasing activism of labour unions that are trying to achieve through political coalition-building the goals they have failed to achieve at the bargaining table"; Foundation Watch, a monthly "examin[ing] the grantmaking of private foundations"; and Compassion & Culture, a monthly "highlighting the work of small, locally based charities that help the needy" -- CRC staff does the grunt work of the right-wing movement.

In an introduction to an excerpt of "The Politics of Peace" published in the March issue of Organisation Trends, Robert Huberty, the executive vice president and director of desearch at CRC, maintained that, "Many leaders of the principal anti-war organisations today are members of Communist splinter groups."

"They have ties to North Korea, Cuba and Maoist China. Some have political roots in radical anti-Vietnam war groups like Students for a Democratic Society … Others trace their origins to the heyday of the U.S. Communist Party."

Huberty argues that these facts "have been obscured by false media depictions of a grassroots and idealistic anti-war movement".

"On the face of it," Benjamin said, "it is ridiculous to characterise United for Peace and Justice as anti-American. This is an organisation that is comprised of more than 1,000 local organisations, and whose membership includes a fair share of religious leaders, military families, and veterans."

"The way they tried to smear Cindy Sheehan was despicable and didn't work very well; they way they are trying to position politicians calling for an exit strategy also reflects that. We in the peace movement feel like we are turning a corner and that we have greater possibilities of reaching and convincing the American people," she said.

*Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His WorkingForChange column "Conservative Watch", documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the U.S. Right. (END/2005)