Cindy Sheehan: Still Missing the Point

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January 15, 2007

'So long as States exist, there will be no peace. There will be only more or less prolonged respites, armistes concluded by the perpetually belligerent States; but as soon as the State feels sufficiently strong to destroy this equilibrium to its advantage, it will never fail to do so. The history of humanity fully bears this point out.' ~ Mikhail Bakunin Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather (Part I) famously contains perhaps the most brilliant and chilling splicing of scenes in the history of cinema. One group of scenes details soon-to-be 'Don' Michael Corleone reciting vows to 'renounce Satan and all his works' at the Catholic baptism of his godson. The other scenes show in striking contrast the hits ordered by the Don on rival underworld kingpins. 'Satan and all his works.' Except, of course, murder-for-hire. Cindy Sheehan is, we read, still at her peace activism. The latest I've read is that she and her ostensibly Anti-War cronies are gallivanting around Castro's Cuba, trying to get their names in the papers, calling for the closing of the doors of the US prison for political threats and dissidents at Guantanamo Bay. They're certainly not wrong that shutting down Gitmo would be a good idea. But meanwhile, and maybe I'm just missing something, there seems to be not so much as a whisper from people in the Peace Movement, including Sheehan, towards taking the next logical step in the Anti-War position. Most contingents and individual associates of the broader Peace Movement are almost invariably bound up, in spite of themselves, in a self-defeating contradiction: they will renounce war, but not the originator thereof. That is to say that they are renouncing the Iraqi 'war' (or military occupation, depending on one's honesty), but not the State, with its own inborn tendency towards engaging in murder-for-hire on a mass scale. It's like some reworked, bastardized alternative ending to The Godfather. It's hard to come up with a phrase that properly describes a condemnation of war coupled with a cotemporaneous endorsement of 'our democracy' or 'our Nation' or 'our Government.' Perhaps grievous cognitive dissonance will have to suffice. Libertarians should, of course, have nothing but respect for the good faith and intentions of Sheehan and company. I for one have no doubt of the good intentions of the Peace Movement. But I similarly will often grant the same to a lot of politicians, LPers, shrinks, judges, public intellectuals, and so forth. The road to Hell, as the hackneyed but remarkably true bromide goes, hath been paved with 'good intentions.' It takes more than good intentions to win freedom. It takes sweat. It takes tireless work. Sheehan has demonstrated she is willing to engage in these and more. She has been arrested, been defamed, no doubt been called horrible names, and worse. But what she has in gusto, audacity, and a noble willingness to hoist the finger at the powers-that-be she apparently lacks in ideological consistency. It's one thing to loudly announce that one wishes to see a revolution. It's entirely another to fail to offer a consistent vision of just what the revolution is and requires. Gusto and audacity are mere noise without a good faith effort towards legitimate intellectual poise. So, while the efforts of Sheehan and company continue apace, it remains abundantly clear that politics ' along with its apotheosis, war ' has failed and will continue to fail humanity. War remains the most blatant and obvious symptom of this failure, even in the 'age of democracy.' It was not long ago that the 20th Century ushered into the forefront of the historical context the immense mass murder of two 'World Wars' and scores of other conflicts. Wars are admittedly as old as humanity. What the Peace Movement fails to collate into their arguments is the fact of the blatant silver cord running through every bloody conflict that has ever befallen man; underpinning the killing fields from Chalons to Hastings, Waterloo to Gettysburg, and from the Somme to Stalingrad has been a common denominator. The men and women who bled the ground red at these places, along with the men, women, and children who sweated to outfit the war machines with the necessary implements of bodily injury, all fought and labored underneath banners of colored cloth: the flags of 'nations,' statesmen, and tyrants. The failure of politics reveals itself in nearly every instance of conflict in human affairs, though war and battle are the most visible and almost the most dehumanizing of these conflicts. The burnt-out shells of Nagasaki and Hiroshima that laid smoldering in the wake of nuclear immolation are testament to the fact that humanity's very survival as a species rests on the abolition of war. And the abolition of war rests on the abolition of the maker of war: nothing less than the abolition of States will lead to 'perpetual peace.' The alternative is paragraphs of war broken up by the occasional punctuation of the armistice. The Peace Activists don't always present a united front with regard to how to stop this war or war in general. But it usually boils down to something like this: if only we put our faith in republican governance and 'open dialogue' between 'nations,' there will be a chicken in every pot and a red carpet rolled out for every man, woman, and child. And champagne and manna and naked women will fall from the heavens. One might as well expect the rivers to run backwards as to expect the statist demigods to stretch their hands over the lands and achieve world peace through some fiat pronouncement. For most of the history of humanity, men have sowed governments, and they have reaped in return the predictable results. Indeed, it is insanity to expect that a life without conflict in the affairs of man can be reaped if one sows institutions that are predicated by their very nature on creating and then exploiting conflict to the benefit of the ruling class and its allies in business. The logic of the State is to grow, and since war so often expands the power and influence of the State, and therefore its ability to depredate and exploit its subjects, State officials have every incentive to go to war in order to expand their power over the governed class. The solution is not to rehash the same old cruel fictions about obtaining 'good governance' or some sort of Kantian 'Perpetual Peace' model of 'open dialogue' between civilized republican nation-states. The solution is to at once free humanity from the manacles of the religion of the State and embrace freedom. If the 20th Century was anything, it was a referendum on the State itself and on all its works, including its worst: wars. But the solution is not the 'realignment' of statist solutions (such as amending or re-penning 'Constitutions,' or striving for 'good governance,' or building leagues of 'Nations') or the impeachment of the current resident gang of thugs that runs the State. The commonly recycled dogma that democracy or 'good government' prevent bloody wars neglects the fact that the Great Wars showed democratic states to be exceedingly efficient at engineering barbarity on a large scale. The real solution is nothing less radical than to ruthlessly explode every last myth that is used as apologia for the immorality of the State and all its machinations. Here's to hoping that Sheehan and company will figure that out soon. But don't hold your breath.

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Thomas Van Wyk lives in southeast Wisconsin, where he is currently an undergraduate.  He operates a blog at viewing political, economic, and cultural concerns from a radical libertarian perspective.