Letters from the Issue of December 26, 2002
Surely he doesn't think we're all commies: I have a few questions for Brett Sokol regarding his "Kulchur" column "On the Left, Off the Wall" (December 12). I wonder why his article about the November 19 antiwar gathering at the Coral Gables Congregational Church began with a quote from a "revolutionary socialist" and a reference to Cuban communism. Was he suggesting the speakers at the gathering shared her views or believed in a Castro-style government? Surely he doesn't really think that would be honest or fair. But if that's not what he meant to suggest, it's a little difficult to understand why he would open his story that way.
Also I wonder if he really believes the point of Professor Jennifer Uleman's remarks was, as he suggests (in bold type no less), to equate Bush with Hitler and the Republican Party with the Nazis. I got the impression this is what he wanted her to say so he could indulge in some self-righteous mockery. But there's another way to interpret what she said. She was saying, I think, that she senses a growing climate of intolerance in our country and a fear of expressing criticism toward the increasingly militaristic nationalism of our government. And this reminds her of the gradual intimidation of dissent as she imagined it in Germany in the early Thirties.
One could argue with the sentiment, and the analogy to Germany and the pre-Nazi period is undoubtedly rhetorical overkill, but given the Bush administration's efforts to restrict civil liberties, expand domestic surveillance, and justify all manner of policies in the name of an ill-defined, open-ended "war on terrorism," together with the near absence from the mass media of voices expressing serious doubts and arguments questioning the wisdom of invading Iraq, it seems to me the basic concern she expresses is not exactly insane.
Can Mr. Sokol in good conscience say he made an honest effort to represent the views presented by the speakers? It's difficult to avoid the impression that he was more interested in taking some cheap shots.
One of them is that we're all monsters: Despite the intimations of Brett Sokol's "On the Left, Off the Wall," I doubt many of the 300 people who attended the antiwar teach-in favor Cuban-style totalitarian rule, rock-throwing, suicide-bombing, or Saddam Hussein's brutal treatment of his opponents. Instead I and the many people I know who attended the teach-in simply question the methods the U.S. government is planning to address these problems.
The Bush administration's TIPS program (which encourages mail carriers and delivery people to spy on the homes they service) and its desire to monitor U.S. citizens' library-book checkout and credit card purchases seem to me to bear more resemblance to Castro's Cuba, Saddam's Iraq, and Hitler's Germany than they do to the free society envisioned by the framers of our Constitution. Similarly, unilateral and preemptive U.S. military action against Iraq violates the U.N. charter, goes against the wishes of many of our European democratic allies, and sets a dangerous precedent that others may follow in the future. Why not first work with the U.N. and, as Nasseer Idrisi suggested at the teach-in, lift sanctions against Iraq to strengthen internal opposition and save the lives of innocent Iraqi civilians?
While Kulchur may find these ideas kooky, he himself acknowledges that 300 people in Coral Gables and 100,000 people protesting in Washington, D.C., do not. Furthermore a recent survey by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center of 38,000 people in 44 countries finds that increasing numbers of citizens around the world share this criticism of U.S. foreign policy. (See http://people-press.org/ for more.)
Louise K. Davidson-Schmich
Brett Sokol, novelist? Kudos to New Times for covering the rising tide of dissent in South Florida regarding our government's warmongering policies regarding Iraq. Thanks also for assigning Brett Sokol to the story. What he lacked in objective reporting he made up for in imagination. I'm happy to see the timeless art of fiction-writing is not dead. Still I think his readers deserved to learn some facts about the teach-in besides Sokol's Disney World version.
This teach-in was organized to discuss the legal, moral, political, and social issues concerning our nation's impending war with Iraq. The program was designed to be a group discussion to give voice to thousands of people in our area who do not believe that attacking Iraq, with the concomitant death of thousands of Iraqi civilians, will make our world safer, prevent future terrorism, or provide Americans any greater security.
People from different points of view were invited to speak and the audience was encouraged to ask questions and engage the panel of experts. The fact that members of various organizations and individuals from many backgrounds showed up to participate or distribute their own materials was a reflection of our desire to be inclusive, which is to say they were not necessarily representative of the coalition that organized the gathering, Concerned People Opposed to War in Iraq.
Given that our government has equated dissent with giving aid and comfort to our enemies, we were not about to throw out people, even if we might disagree with some of their positions. However, any reasonably minded person (a certain reporter excepted) could have easily distinguished the difference between the coalition's position and that of the few fringe elements present.
I don't trust it, so I won't read it: Similarities between the event Brett Sokol described in "On the Left, Off the Wall" and the actual teach-in do not extend much beyond the location and the names of some speakers. Certainly his article did not accurately reflect the earnest attempt of those involved to intellectually explore the complex and dangerous near-war situation in which we all now find ourselves.
Knowing how little Mr. Sokol reflected the actual event, I now have no faith in the accuracy of the reporting in New Times. Count me as one less reader.
And it backfired on Brett: I assume Brett Sokol was trying to be cute in his sarcastic attack on those opposing Dubya's passion for invading Iraq, creating an old-fashioned wartime popular allegiance, undoing his daddy's boo-boo in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in 1991, and avenging the abortive Iraqi plot against his dad a few years later. In fact Brett only managed to display his own ignorance and prejudices.
Yes, there are kooks in the peace movement. There are also plenty of them in the pro-war movement, including quite a few in the current administration. Most of them qualify for the title "chicken hawks," having never served in the military but being oh-so-eager to send others into battle. Career military leaders are, of course, publicly muzzled by our system of civilian control.
There is a vast chasm of difference between our multilateral effort in 1991 to thwart Iraq's annexation of another sovereign state and our war against al Qaeda, the Taliban, and Islamist terrorism on the one hand, and Dubya's proposed war against Iraq on the other. The first was justified under the rules of international law and the precedents set by Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan; the second by the right of self-defense, pure and simple.
However, this administration has not produced one shred of credible evidence linking Saddam Hussein with al Qaeda and international terrorism. If they have any, why not show it? Saddam is a clever, wily, and unscrupulous old fox whose first rule is self-preservation and retention of power. He's a lot of things, but no one has ever accused him of being suicidal.
Can we afford to attack every nasty dictator in the world? There are dozens of them, including some of our current allies and also including good old Fidel, 90 miles away. The people of Iraq have to liberate themselves, and I have no problem with supporting their efforts. But if history tells us anything, it tells us that given the choice between a homegrown despot and a foreign invader, Iraqis will fight the invader. In the meantime we have more to fear from Iran, Syria, and Libya, and lots more to fear from al Qaeda and North Korea, than we have to fear from Iraq.
Asking tough questions is the American way: Brett Sokol questioned the evenhandedness of the antiwar discussion, but curiously his article failed the same test. He avoided anyone who profited from the broad range of opinions heard from the panel as well as from the floor. He also suggested that no one mentioned the world has changed since September 11, 2001. What has changed is that the murderous madness of violence as a method of "political dialogue" has been brought to American shores. Isn't an innocent death the same crime whether it's the "collateral damage" inflicted by one political regime or that inflicted by another? Is Mr. Sokol so ignorant of history he is unaware of the truth that "one man's terrorist is another's freedom fighter"? Ask King George or Yitzhak Rabin about that. Isn't an innocent death in New York or an innocent death in Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, or Palestine still an innocent death?
This right to peaceably assemble to consider American policy and its ramifications, alternatives, and options were all under discussion. Questioning American leaders and calling them to task for policies and actions done in our name is evidence of the vitality of the American way. Miami should be proud.
Richard W. Spisak, Jr.
Brett's ignorance alone justified the teach-in: I would like to make three points in response to "On the Left, Off the Wall." First, any cursory read of the ongoing debate about the Bush administration's "endless war" and current policy toward the Middle East would reveal that criticisms derive not just from the left but also from the American right. Let us also not forget that a number of the neo-conservative cheerleaders for this war (Norman Podhoretz, for example) began their political careers on the left. That Brett Sokol groups my comments and others at the teach-in under the left demonstrates two things: a profound ignorance of the issues at hand and a reason why the teach-in was organized in the first place.
Second, I did not "opine" that one war goal among some Israeli and U.S. government officials is to overthrow the Palestinian Authority, expel Arafat, and force Palestinians from their land. Rather I was citing statements from those quarters that explicitly advocate those policies. There is a difference between opinion and fact. More important, such facts should invite critical inquiry instead of glib acceptance. Is Ariel Sharon's vision of the Middle East compatible with U.S. interests? Should the Israeli military be free to use American-supplied weapons in any way it deems necessary?
Third, the murder of Israeli and Palestinian civilians in this current conflict cannot be justified under any guise, as neither a tactic of national liberation nor as an "honest" military mistake. Part of our current difficulty in the Middle East can be traced to conflicting policies and double standards. The Bush administration vigorously and rightly condemns attacks (by a minority of Palestinians) on Israeli civilians. But where is that same condemnation and outrage when a 1000-pound (American-made) bomb is dropped on an apartment building in the Gaza Strip?
Most Americans would not accept daily human-rights violations, collective punishment, and civilian killings as a tool of state policy. So why do our representatives in Washington tolerate such behavior by a supposed democratic ally? Mr. Sokol's apparent justification for why some Israelis (a minority to be sure) have come to advocate the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians embodies the kind of moral and intellectual cowardice that underlie these contradictions.
Pete W. Moore
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