Sunday, January 26, 2003

Deja vu

“No to Death and War. Yes to Life!”

“No War for Oil!”

“Blessed are the Peacemakers!”

These were some of the signs seen at protest gatherings across the United States last week, as tens of thousands of young people converged on Washington DC and San Francisco.

It was all deliciously nostalgic. When I was in college, I was there too. It was the beginning of the Reagan years. So we young liberals still had lots to protest about.

And yet, times have changed.

I have changed.

Living in the Middle East, it seems, has transformed my most cherished perceptions, the basic worldview I have carried with me for as long as I can remember, into something I barely recognize.

Back then, it was all so simple to be a pseudo college radical. On the heels of the Iran Hostage crisis that in part contributed to Jimmy Carter’s downfall, the incoming President was pushing for a resumption of the much hated and feared draft. Every young person under a certain age was supposed to march down to the post office and register by postcard with the draft board.

Outrageous! No way could we policitally correct college freshmen allow this. It would be tantamount to aiding and abetting our corrupt government’s insatiable desire for global domination,

Or something like that. It’s been awhile.

In protest, I produced a heavily biased documentary at the college radio station where I was working. We lambasted the draft and all those who obeyed the law and registered. My own small act of subversion.

Then I deposited my draft postcard squarely in the circular file. Now, if anyone is thinking of reporting me, let me state now for the record that a number of years later, when I was satisfied that I’d made my statement, and in any case was now living in Israel, I did send in the card. In Israel, I found it just a tad hypocritical to protest against the draft when my own sons will be going to serve in the army in not so many years.

But the real change is this: after passing my 20-year college reunion earlier this year, the latest anti-war protests now seem to me naive at best, dangerously misguided if taken too far. It’s not that I’ve suddenly become a neo-conservative power-hungry warmonger. Far from it. But times are different. The world is different. I want to shake the protesters, look them straight in the eye, and say to them: don’t you get it? We’re already at war.

3,000 people murdered in New York and Washington. 200 more in Bali. Over 700 Israelis and many more Palestinians have lost their lives in the last two years alone. And that’s not counting Kenya, Tunisia, Yemen, Kuwait. The world is on constant orange alert, with credible threats of attacks daily: shoe bombs and Ricin and gas attacks on subways.

To all of you protesting so earnestly, tell me please, what do you call this? Peace?

And of course there’s the personal element: Marla didn’t die in a car crash. She was murdered as part of the war. No, this isn’t going to stop by our sitting back and doing nothing.

Now, maybe Iraq isn’t the right target. And there are undoubtedly other ways to fight than a massive military build-up. But fight we must.

Fight to cut off the compensation to the families of the suicide bombers.

Fight to stop the funding that buys the chemicals that get transferred into the hands of terrorists and the rogue states.

Fight to put an end to the cash flow that pays for the guns and the bombs that killed Marla and many more in Israel and around the world.

If anyone would have told me when I was 20 that I wouldn't be solidly against military action when I was 42, I would have laughed in their face. But then I would never have believed that my own children would be drafted, willingly and proudly, into the army.

As for our more idealistic youth across the ocean, they should yell and scream. That’s their role: to constantly remind us that killing is a bad thing. At the same time, if we don’t fight with all our might for our survival, then I’m afraid there won’t be any idealistic youth left to protest the wars to come.

Hillel Halkin presents a similar opinion on how his earlier Vietnam protest days have evolved since he moved to Israel. Click here to read the story.

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