LONDON — First things first: I opposed the bombing of Afghanistan and am against the planned attack on Iraq. I think President Bush and Prime Minister Blair should stop interfering in other states' affairs. And I'd like to see an end to war.
So why do I want nothing whatsoever to do with the modern antiwar movement?
Not a day passes without American or European newspaper coverage of an antiwar demonstration — whether it be mothers against war (Washington), or witches against war (London), or an actor sleeping in a cage with a pig for three days to better understand "why humans fight" (Belgium). Forget the antiwar lobby's complaints that the media are ignoring their protests: The coverage they get is disproportionate to their relatively small numbers.
But what is the antiwar movement actually saying?
Most of the new antiwar groups express an entirely personal opposition to war, one based more on moral revulsion than effective political opposition. Protesters voice a personal distaste for violent conflict, rather than organizing a collective stand against it. And when opposing war is about making pompous moral statements about me, myself, and I, you can count me out.
There is a distinctly personal bent to many of the antiwar groups that have emerged in the past year. Mothers Against War, founded in Washington in August, comprises worried moms who don't want their sons to be drafted into fighting a war. Gulf Veterans Against War wants to stop young American men going through what they experienced in 1991. Some of the relatives of the Sept. 11 victims have set up an antiwar campaign to express their personal disapproval of the war on terror.
Here in Britain, there are Lawyers Against War, Women Against War, Media Workers Against War — all of whom express a narrow, specific opposition to aspects of the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq. These campaigns share an antiwar stance based more on personal experience and fear than on principle. Even the traditional, left-wing antiwar brigade has put the personal over the political, adopting the "Not In My Name" slogan as its cri de coeur against invading Iraq.
"Not In My Name" is fast becoming the most popular refrain of today's antiwar movement. At the demonstrations I attended in London, thousands of placards declare that an attack on Iraq is "Not In My Name." In March, a huge variety of American antiwar groups set up an umbrella organization in New York called the Not In Our Name Project. One protester I talked to recently said: "Whatever Bush does or doesn't do in Iraq, it won't be in my name."
This slogan sums up the current antiwar sentiment. Rather than trying to stop America's and Europe's warmongers in their tracks, antiwar protesters instead wash their own hands of war.
Saying "not in my name" seems to be a way of declaring that, if and when war breaks out, we personally want nothing to do with it. This is as passive as it gets. It's almost like saying, "Do what you like, we know we can't stop you — just count us out."
Some of the recent demonstrations against war in America and Europe may have been big — though often not as big as the organizers claim — but they are less collective demonstrations of a coherent opposition to war than a collection of individuals expressing their "disapproval" of whatever their leaders decide to do.
When you attend a march of thousands and see "Not In My Name" placards bobbing everywhere, you sense a loose collection of uncertain individuals rather than a mass declaration of opposition to military conflict. And that's hardly likely to get Bush and Blair quaking in their boots.
Protesting wars today seems to be a way to cleanse one's private conscience rather than effecting public change — a case of opting out instead of getting stuck in and having the hard arguments. Going on an antiwar demonstration has become a way to declare your whiter-than-white credentials, and demonstrating to onlookers that you have cleared your own conscience.
Has it really come to this — where being antiwar is more about saving ourselves than anyone else? If so, then it's not in my name.
Brendan O'Neill is the assistant editor of spiked-online.com.www.csmonitor.com/2002/1213/p11s01-coop.htmlE-mail this article