Iraq war and civil disobedience: an introduction
On the 19th of March 2003, the US and the UK led an invasion in Iraq on claims that it was in possession of some weapons of mass destruction that posed a threat to the United States (Abrams and Wang 96). This invasion culminated in a war that has been going on for the last six years; a war that has brought Iraq to its knees and left thousands of Iraqi Civilians and American soldiers dead.
But was the invasion really justified? During the six year period in which the war has raged on, not a single accusation that the Bush administration leveled against Iraq has been found to be true. During the course of the war, it became increasingly apparent to both proponent and opponent that Iraq did not pose any immediate threat to the United States of America. It did not possess any weapons of mass destruction, did not spearhead the September 11 attacks and the Saddam government was not even linked to al- Qaeda or Osama bin Laden (Allen *).
Still, the war went on. This raises serious questions as to the real motive behind the Iraq invasion and if these weapons of mass destruction were actually believed to have existed in the first place.
The Bush administration seems to have been spoiling for war, judging from the manner in which it disregarded the views of the public and went on to invade Iraq even though most Americans were publicly opposed to it. In deed, the war in Iraq will go down in history as one which almost the entire globe was opposed to (Abram and Wang 96: Rubin, 209-210). Still, the Bush administration paid no attention. So what is the best civilian action in the face of an unresponsive government? Thousands of Americans who were opposed to the war decided to engage in acts of non- violent civil disobedience so as to pressurize the government to put a quick stop to the war. These actions have persisted for the entire duration of the war albeit with little success. Civil disobedience is perceived by many Americans to be an effective tool in getting the government to comply with the wishes of the people. The fact that it has had several success stories in the past makes it the most appropriate tool that the people can use to protest any unpopular government moves such as the war in Iraq.
American response to the war in Iraq
Most Americans did not support the war in Iraq. In deed, almost the whole world was opposed to it. From Boston to Beirut, Baghdad to Berlin, people petitioned the U.S government to seek another alternative. In America, some citizens engaged in civil resistance actions. They marched in the streets with leaflets, lobbied the government and refused to remit war taxes. Actions of civil resistance may include civil disobedience, boycotts, tax resistance, strikes, vocational withdrawal from the military or from any other occupation related to war. Civil disobedience has historically been used by Americans as an instrument of last resort and has increasingly been applied in the anti- Iraq war protest. Even before the war begun in 2003, more than 2000 Americans had engaged in civil disobedience to protest the war in Iraq and the emerging militarism or military neo-imperialism; challenging the foreign policies of the US which were viewed as tyrannical and which had in the past, caused unnecessary wars such as the Vietnam and Afghanistan wars. The invasion of Iraq denotes a scary cycle of war and bloodshed and a glorification of militarism by the federal government. Militarism represents an over reliance on the power of the military in solving difficult international relations issues. Though the Iraq war was meant to rid the world of a tyrant, it was in itself, a tyrannical action (Abrams and Wang 97; Stone 167-169).
Meyer (417) gives examples of civil disobedience which included blocking government officials from entering their offices or the military bases. Those opposed to the Iraqi war wrote letters to petition their governmental officials, talked on radio shows, wrote articles in newspapers and financially supported groups that were opposed to the war. Civil disobedience actions took place the whole world over. In Italy, the protestors blocked the trains that were ferrying US military cargo and the personnel and the dockworkers refused to load military cargo into the ships. In Germany, two American military bases were blockaded, the U.S consulate in Montreal was also blockaded as was the airbase in England in America, there were calls for radical actions such as boycotting work and schools; actions that Klein refers to as “war against the war” (Klein *).
Sherrod et al (84) assert that the movement protesting the second war in Iraq is the largest antiwar movement to ever happen. It is regarded as unique due to its international outreach and how well the antiwar efforts are harmonized. Even before Iraq was invaded, the groups publicly opposing the Iraq were larger than those protesting the Vietnam War even though the Vietnam War had taken a longer period of time to organize. The Iraq antiwar movement was organized by social movement coalitions such as ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) which formed immediately after the 9/11 attacks and which was the first to mobilize the masses. Other movements include United for Peace and Justice (UFP) which mobilized approximately 200 organizations against the war, Not in our Name and MoveOn which used the internet to mobilize individuals and organizations such as churches, religious and trade organizations (Sherrod et al 84). Within five years after the Iraq invasion, there have been around 100,000 to 500,000 protesters of the Iraq war carrying out mass demonstrations for at least eight times. At one time, the number of protesters soared to ten million globally (Hayden 116).
Several organizations in America called for civil resistance in the form of mass demonstrations and mass civil disobedience to help put a stop to the Iraq war. For instance, ARROW initiated a pledge of resistance which stated thus;
“I pledge to take part in, or to support, nonviolent civil disobedience in the event of a major US/UK attack on Iraq or any other country in the course of the ‘war on terrorism’.” (Rai and Chomsky 194).
As of 2003, this pledge had more than a thousand signatories and the numbers were still increasing, signifying just how opposed Americans were to the war. Chomsky (194) points out that civil disobedience by the masses was able to put a stop to the Vietnam War and helped prevent direct military intervention in Central America in the 1980s. Nonviolent civil resistance was also viewed as capable of hampering participation of the British in the US “war on terrorism”. The drive of Americans behind these actions of civil disobedience can be summarized into one question: What chance does Iraq stand if Americans do not take action to put a stop to the war?
Civil disobedience as a weapon of the masses
Thoreau (1) describes the best type of government as one which “governs least” or which “doesn’t govern at all.” This implies that a proper type of governance is one which acts in accordance with the wishes of the people who elected it as opposed to its own wishes- even if those wishes represent the wishes of a majority of those in government. The US government, under the Bush administration and especially in the run- up to the invasion of Iraq completely failed Thoreau’s description of a good government. Even though there was a public outcry against the Iraqi war, the government still pressed on, ignoring the cries of the men, women and children who came out in their millions to publicly oppose the war. For this reason, the Bush administration remains accountable for the wanton bloodshed that was visited upon the people of Iraq. The minute it refused to listen to the wishes of the people, it lost its integrity. Thoreau raises serious questions on the validity of the American government when it cannot bend to the will of the people. However, he reckons that it is the problem of the American government is the American people themselves. It is the American people who feel that they must be governed and who therefore visit such misery upon themselves by electing people to govern them, to impose their will on them (1).
Thoreau asserted that a government which is based on majority rule is not necessarily a just government. In fact, crucial decisions should not be based on how the majority votes but on the prick of the conscience. In the name of government, we are subjugated and we subjugate others (6). The justification for the war in Iraq cannot possibly have been based on morality and conscience because the human conscience is not willing to engage in acts of violence against fellow humans especially when the victims are innocent people (Thoreau 2). Stone (167) is from the same school of thought and he points out that it takes a struggle with the conscience and courage to participate in civil resistance. Those who steadfastly work together with the government as an obligatory aspect of the social order may find civil disobedience to be a difficult action to take.
Thoreau adds that the army which agrees to go into war, serves as an instrument of state commanding no more respect than “men of straw or a lump of dirt” even when their conscience and morality is against their actions- as did the US army when it marched to the battlefield in Iraq. There must have been those who were not in support of the war for they are also humans- but they still invaded Iraq. The government is able to use the army for both good and evil purposes and since the army is expected to obey without question, then it will inevitably comply with the government’s directive (3). This, in Thoreau’s view, is a grave mistake for when wrong decisions are made by the government, it is innocent people who must suffer the consequences.
The American people could have achieved a lot but for the government constantly getting in their way. For this reason, Thoreau posits that all men have a right to refuse to be governed; to resist, especially when they feel that the prevailing tyranny is too much for them to bear. In stating this, he calls on Americans to engage in acts of civil disobedience whenever they do not agree with the actions of the government. If the American army unjustly invades another country, conquers it and subjects it to military law, then honest people have a right, nay, a duty to revolt and rebel regardless of the cost to the country (4). If people feel strongly against a certain event such as a war which has been sanctioned by the government, then they should be more active in opposing it as opposed to simply expressing their sentiments then sitting back and saying that nothing can be done. Something can be done and that is non violent civil disobedience. Simply passing a vote against an issue such as in signing of petitions is not in itself enough to change the scenario. It does nothing to help the situation since it can go either way; the vote can win or loose. Thoreau therefore calls for a more radical form of action other than the signing of petitions or a simple expression of displeasure (5). He asserts that there are no men in America if none opposes the war, for a man should at least endeavor to wash his hands off such an issue by practically engaging in protests. These sentiments are echoed by Allen (*) who supports the antiwar movement by quoting a Hindu teaching from the Bhagavad-Gita that “inaction or non-action is an action and has consequences.” He urges Americans not to comply with the war and to engage in nonviolent civil disobedience to get the antiwar message across. As Daedalus points out, there is a spirit of civil disobedience in America which has been present for a long time and which continues to guide the people of America.
Allen gives a three pronged criterion on how to engage in acts of civil disobedience. The first one is to engage in direct action in an open manner. The relevant authorities and the media are notified of the impending action so that they can prepare themselves to handle it in a calm and non violent manner. The second standard is to act in a loving manner. The civil disobedience actions should be carried out in love, compassion and without violence but not in a passive manner. Lastly, those who are engaging in the acts of civil disobedience should be prepared to accept the consequences whatever these consequences may be for this will bring attention to the injustice that they are protesting against.
Singer (Lafollette 573) has stated that if it is in the power of the masses to prevent the occurrence of something terrible and if this action will not make them sacrifice anything “of comparable moral importance” then they ought to do it. We should not only prevent bad from happening but also promote good. This sentiment can be applied to the antiwar movement. If one has to dirty their clothes while saving a drowning child from a pond then they should do it regardless of the consequences since the child’s death is worse than muddy clothes. The principle of universality and impartiality should apply in situations where it is needed even when people who are far away are the benefactors.
Thoreau states that those in opposition of the government’s measures should not pay any allegiance to it and should instead detach themselves from the state’s activities such as through refusal to pay taxes. Whatever action that is taken should be revolutionary regardless of the consequences for it is the fault of government that such things happen. Government can be oppressive to the people and we should be ready to stand up in opposition. (7). He even states that there is no time to follow to follow the legal mechanisms put in place by the government since they take too much time (8). Many Americans share Thoreau’s sentiments and as part of their moral duty to stop the war in Iraq they have been engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience.
Has civil disobedience to protest the Iraq war succeeded?
America has always used non violent civil disobedience to protest against unpopular government decisions such as when the government makes a decision to go to war. The rights of the people to engage in acts of civil disobedience are even enshrined in the constitution (Storing 87). In deed, almost every war that has been sanctioned by the US government has been met with stiff public opposition. The War of 1812, the civil War, the 1846 Mexican American war, the 1898 Spanish American wart, the Vietnam war and the Gulf War. The movement opposing the war in Iraq has been rated as the largest to ever happen in the history of antiwar protest. While some of these protests have been very successful such as the anti Vietnam War protest, the anti Iraq war protest has not been very successful, despite its movement being the largest ever.
There are some people who feel that the movement against the Iraq war has not been very significant and this is the reason why it has not been very successful (Hayden 115) but this statement has been met with criticism. Goodwin and Jasper (417) point out that it is hard to tell whether the activism has made a difference or not because the forces that drive people to mobilize themselves are the same forces that bring about social change. However, they assert that such movements can influence the policy of the government and also shape the opinion of the people and in the long run, this can bring about change.
There is a school of thought which feels that the use if civil disobedience to protest against government policies is a flawed kind of reasoning. Storing (85), states that the most striking attribute of civil disobedience is how irrelevant it is to contemporary issues. It is an “unsuccessful attempt” at combining the rebellion with conformist political action. It is a weak resort exercised by subjects who are not willing to be law abiding citizens (86). He asserts that even though there are some civil disobedience success stories in the past, the action still boils down to disobedience; something that endangers the law as well as civil society. It is an unjust breaking of the law and those who engage in such acts disrespect the law. Markovitz concurs with this and asserts that civil disobedience breaks the law and may be counterproductive therefore it is not always a good choice.
However, Americans who oppose the war do not seem to agree with this sentiment. As Pilger points out, civil disobedience seems like the only path that is left for those who do not support the Bush- Blair war. He asserts that it is only through civil disobedience that these politicians can be made to realize the folly of their ways. Several groups have united around the globe to protest this war. Whether such protests are viable or not are an independent opinion but the fact remains that they are capable of influencing public policy. The fact that the Bush administration was not really moved by all the civil disobedience tactics and pressed on with the war is indicative of how, in governing, a government can oppress the very people who elected it.
Civil disobedience in America has a long history. In deed as Fellman points out, the future of America by constants movements shunning prejudice, and that this has largely been made possible by daring activists who were willing to go where no other man could, accept the punishments, unjust as they were, in their fight for a noble cause. The Bush administration has failed to convince America and in deed the entire world that the invasion of Iraq was justified. Even in the past, none of the wars have been truly justified, for no one can justify the loss of innocent lives due to real or perceived threats. Americans who choose to engage in acts of civil disobedience are simply following in the footsteps of their forefathers and in the tradition that has helped shape present day America. It is not right for innocent people to suffer especially if there is something that can be done. People should not be afraid to defend the rights of people even it means coming out in public opposition against the government. Such actions will invariably have negative consequences but it is these consequences that will bring about the change. Of course there are those who do not agree with the principles of civil disobedience since they feel that such actions are not only disruptive but they also endanger the well being of a country. They would prefer people to engage in other acts such as petitioning the government as opposed to disobeying it. However, it is worth noting that civil disobedience is used by Americans only ass an instrument of last resort; when all else has failed and this remains the only viable option. So long as it is non- violent, civil disobedience is an effective tool for protesting against government and the even the constitution validates it.
Maguire, Mairead Corrigan. “Iraq After First (1991) Gulf War.” The Iraq War and its consequences: thoughts of Nobel Peace Laureates and Eminent Scholars. Abrams, Irwin and Gungwu Wang. World Scientific, 2003
This book provides information on how the war in Iraq unfolded and its consequences. The cited essay is “Iraq after first (1991) Gulf War. The writer is a Nobel peace laureate who writes her own first hand experience on the Iraq the war. She writes in shockingly vivid detail, the devastation that she witnessed from the first Iraq war on a visit to Baghdad. She also documents the September 11 attacks which shocked the entire world and prompted a second Iraq invasion. She describes the invasion as immoral and against the wishes of the people. She documents the antiwar protests that she has taken part in such as the Afghan and the Iraq war. She asserts that it is not America’s role to rid the world of brutal regimes especially when they are carried out in such an evil manner. She goes ahead to give some steps towards peace building.
Rai, Milan and Noam Chomsky. War plan Iraq: ten reasons against war on Iraq. Verso, 2002
The authors of this book critically analyze the propaganda that started the war in Iraq. They use the anti- war briefings of arrow to question the Iraq invasion. They state that no evidence is given on Iraq’s possession of chemical weapons or engagement in terrorism acts. The authors insist that the war had no justification and calls on the US government to heed the cry of those who lost their loved ones in the September 11 attacks and who are persistently calling for peace. They are in support of ARROW’s actions to put a stop to the war by engaging in acts of civil disobedience and they also document these activities.
Rubin, Judith Colp. Hating America: a history. Oxford University Press, 2004
The writer of this article asserts that Anti- American sentiments have been increasing especially in the twenty first century. She cites the American Invasion of Iraq as one of the reasons for anti- Americanism but is quick to point out that most Americans were opposed to the war and were in fact engaged in public protests against it. This article is useful for this research project as it shows the effect of America’s glorification of militarism and the use of force to subdue other countries on the image of America as a country. It implies that when the government errs, it is the citizenry that bears the brunt. Thus the people of America must be ready to protect their image, even when it means rising against their government.
Sherrod, Lonnie, Constance A. Flanagan, Ron Kassimir, Amy K. Syvertsen. Youth activism: an international encyclopedia. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2006
This encyclopedia records the several activist events that the youth have engaged in. In one section, it documents the engagement of youth in the anti Vietnam War protest including why they chose to participate in it. The authors compare the participation of the youth in the anti- Vietnam War to their participation in the Anti Iraq war. They note that there are less students participating than there were in those years. They assert that antiwar activism is important because it can help influence public perception and for young people, it marks the first step of civic engagement. It contributes to answering the question by giving a perspective to the role of the youth in engaging in civil disobedience.
Thoreau, Henry David. “Civil disobedience.” Civil Disobedience and Other Essays. Courier Dover Publications, 1993
The author of this essay writes extensively in opposition to the Mexican war. He bemoans the futility of attacking and subjugating a country without any justification and reproaches the American government for not bending to the will of the American people. He also reproaches the Americans who are opposed to the war but do nothing active about it because they feel that nothing they do will be of consequence. The author calls for citizens to refuse to be government if they feel that the government is treating them unjustly; to engage in acts of civil disobedience that will make the government to take notice. Civil disobedience should not just be based on a motivation of the conscience but a call of duty.
Hayden, Tom. Ending the war in Iraq. Akashic Books, 2007
In this article, the author calls for an end to the war in Iraq, pointing out that the majority of Americans voted against it. In the first chapter, he writes on how America invaded Vietnam and how Iraq was invaded under a somewhat similar logic of the American government. He expounds on the attributes of the Iraq insurgency. In the third chapter, the author writes on how the anti- war movement has grown and expanded from 2001 to 2007. In the concluding chapters, he gives some recommendations to the movements against the Iraq war, suggesting to them the actions that can be taken to put a stop to the war.
Stone, Ronald H. Prophetic realism: beyond militarism and pacifism in an age of terror. Continuum International Publishing Group, 2005
The author of this article writes from a theological point of view. He expounds on the issue of militarism and its unpopularity with the American people. He points out how Christians all over the country are uniting to take part in protests against such policies of the government and points that some of these actions are legal while others are illegal. He gives civil disobedience as one such action though he points out that some Christians may be opposed to these actions. He points out that America has consistently been disappointed by its leadership and for this reason it has faced opposition from the public. This book is described as a double challenge to politicians and Christians alike.
Meyer, David S. “How social movements matter”. Social Movements Reader: Cases and Concepts. Goodwin, Jeff and James M. Jasper eds. John Wiley and Sons, 2009
This article provides an insight into social movements. In chapter 39, the author writes extensively on the role of social movements, citing specifically, the anti- Iraq war movement which has mobilized thousands of people. He writes on how several of them engaged in acts of civil disobedience and in doing so, invited arrest. He asserts that such movements are but continuations of usual institutional politics, giving the views of those who feel that the movement has not served its purpose. He raises questions as to whether the movement has served its purpose and acknowledges that it is difficult to tell. The writer gives a description of how movements come up and alleges that they have the power to influence hoe policy is made and to alter its substance.
Singer, Peter. “Famine, Affluence and Morality.” Ethics in practice: an anthology. Hugh Lafollette. Wiley-Blackwell, 2002
The author of this article documents how the people o East Bengal suffered from hunger and poor access to health care in 1971 and calls on people all over the world to help them since it is their duty as humans to do so. Even though this article refers to helping to put a stop to the hunger situation in Bengal, it is applicable to stopping the war in Iraq because as humans, we have a moral duty to do so, even if we are not benefiting directly from such actions. It is not just the duty of the government to help people who are suffering, but also that of civilians.
Storing, Herbert. “The case against civil disobedience.” Civil Disobedience in Focus. New York: Routledge, 2002
The author of this article is writes against the use of civil disobedience as an instrument of the masses. He views it as a wrong and illegal kind of approach to a situation and states that it is likely to cause worse damage. To him, the most striking attribute of civil disobedience is how irrelevant it is to contemporary issues. It is an “unsuccessful attempt” at combining the rebellion with conformist political action. It is a weak resort exercised by subjects who are not willing to be law abiding citizens. He asserts that even though there are some civil disobedience success stories in the past, the action still boils down to disobedience; something that endangers the law as well as civil society. It is an unjust breaking of the law and those who engage in such acts disrespect the law. This gives a different perspective on the issue of civil disobedience.
Pilger, John. “What Now? Civil Disobedience Is the Sole Path Left for Those Who Cannot Support the Bush-Blair Pact of Aggression. Only Then Will Politicians on Both Sides of the Atlantic Be Forced to Recognize the Folly of Their Ways”. New Statesman 132.4629: 8+
In this magazine article, the author calls for civil disobedience by those who are opposed to the war. He wonders how the American people can walk high when their government in conjunction with Britain’s government, has led an unjustified invasion of Iraq. He views civil disobedience as the only way to make both governments realize that their actions are wrong and calls on Americans of good will to stop the war. This article gives insight on just how disappointed most Americans were by the invasion of Iraq. It also sheds light on the unresponsive nature of the Bush’s government to the wishes of the people.
Bellah, Robert. “Civil religion in America”. Daedalus 134.4(2005).40+
In this article, the author writes that there is a certain religion that is thriving in religion, the civic religion which is responsible for their engagement in civil movements. He points out that there is a spirit of civil disobedience in America which as been present from the days of Abraham Lincoln and which continues to be persist in present day America. He echoes the sentiments of David Thoreau and asserts that Americans will be judged first of all as men before being judged as Americas. This article expresses the idea that Americans need to be aware of their responsibility towards humans and base their actions on morality and the conscience.
Fellin, Michael. “Bound for Canaan: The Underground Railroad and the War for the Soul of America.” Journal of Southern history 72.4(2006). 942+
In this article, the author analyzes two narratives which have portrayed civil disobedience in America’s past. These narratives point out that the future of America by constants movements shunning prejudice, and that this has largely been made possible by daring activists who were willing to go where no other man could, accept the punishments, unjust as they were, in their fight for a noble cause. The importance of these narratives is that they shed light on the role of the past in the present; that is, how the actions of activists in the past have influenced that of activists in the present.
Markovits, Daniel. “Democratic disobedience”. Yale Law Journal. 114.8(2005):1897+
In this article, the author starts by writing on the liberal (democratic) and republican views on democratic political authority. Under the liberal view, democracy is regarded as reason while under the republican view it is regarded as will. He then expounds on the deficits of democracy, provides a judicial review and writes extensively on the issue of democratic disobedience. He states that political protestors sometimes engage in acts of that break the law. For this reason, he states that such an action is not imprudent and for this reason may be counterproductive. However, he acknowledges that such disobedience may still be justified
Allen, Doug. Nonviolent civil disobedience and Iraq. Bangor Daily News (Maine). Published Tuesday January 9, 2007. 10.4.2009 <http://www.commondreams.org/views07/0109-27.htm>
This article provides information on how the anti-Iraq protest has been strategized. It also includes reasons why the war was unjustified.. The author of this article writes on how non- violent civil disobedience has been used by Americans to protest the war in Iraq. He has personally engaged in acts of civil disobedience and describes their plan as comparable to that of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. He asserts that the invasion of Iraq was unjust since they had established even before the war began that Iraq did not pose any threat to the United States, was not in possession of weapons of mass destruction and was not linked to Osama. For this reason, he calls for the masses to engage in acts of civil disobedience irrespective of the consequences and to do so in a manner that non- violent manner. Such actions, he feels, will help put a stop to the war.
Klein, Naomi. So Bush wants civil disobedience? 3.3.2003. 10.4.2009 <http://www.alternet.org/waroniraq/15293/?page=entire>
In this article, the author documents the various acts of civil disobedience that have been witnessed around the globe to oppose the Iraq war. She declares that since the Pentagon is convincing Iraqis to turn against their own government, then it is high time that Americans also turned against their own. The article raises doubts on the concept of the Voila moment, a military jargon referring to the realization which will prompt Iraq civilians to rise against Saddam Hussein. It contains anti- war sentiments and reproaches the US government for attacking Iraq. It concludes by calling for actions of civil disobedience.
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