Behold the Hatred, Resentment, and Mockery Aimed at Anti-Iraq War Protesters

Few hawks who treated them shabbily have reflected on their behavior in reminiscences about the conflict.
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Reflecting on the apologetic Iraq War retrospectives many writers have published in recent days, Freddie deBoer observes that "one of the most obvious and salient aspects of the run up to the war" is being ignored: "the incredible power of personal resentment against antiwar people, or what antiwar people were perceived to be." As he remembers it, "the visceral hatred of those opposing the war, and particularly the activists, was impossible to miss. It wasn't opposition. It wasn't disagreement. It was pure, irrational hatred, frequently devolving into accusations of antiwar activists being effectively part of the enemy." Now, he says, it is all but forgotten.

Is he exaggerating?

Judge for yourself. And may the quotes I've assembled serve as a caution: All this is what was said about the people who protested a war that a majority of Americans now regard as a tragic mistake, that began on false pretenses, and that proved far more costly than any advocates anticipated. Keep in mind as you read that tens of millions of people in dozens of countries protested against the impending invasion of Iraq over a period lasting several years. To be sure, some behaved in ways that justified criticism. But none could discredit the cause generally, and any reductive description of "what anti-war protesters are like" is self-evidently nonsense.

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One Iraq War advocate, Glenn Reynolds*, said of Saddam Hussein that "the 'anti-war' movement is objectively on his side, and not neutral," adding in a follow-up, "When your movement is the key tool of a nasty dictator it should give you pause, shouldn't it?" Blogger Zach Barbera thought similarly, advising readers of his pro-war site, "Don't let the anti-war folks, as well as the French and Russians, tell you they are not on Saddam's side. He knows they are."

Andrew Sullivan, who has tried his utmost to be admirably forthright about what he got wrong on Iraq, defends his treatment of anti-war protesters by pointing out that some of them really were extremists spewing hateful rhetoric. But he was uncharitable even to totally innocuous anti-war protesters at the time, citing, for example, aesthetic flamboyance as if it meant they weren't earnest:

FABULOUSLY ANTI-WAR: No, I don't mean Madonna. I mean a group called Glamericans. These are drag queens, performance artists, and sundry others who form "a non-partisan group of funky Americans committed to non-violence and its promotion through glamorous, media-savvy, cultural events. We believe in America's potential to be a peaceful and powerful force in the world. We believe that war is bad for our country, bad for our environment and bad for our travel plans." Dammit. Let Saddam test nerve gas on political prisoners strapped down in hospital beds. Let him gas the Kurds. Let him protect terrorist groups.

The important thing is to look good in Tribeca.

In fairness, he also made sweeping statements to minimize the seriousness of anti-war voices who weren't into glamor: "Almost the whole academic class, the media elites, the college-educated urbanites, the entertainment industry and so on are now reflexively anti-war. Worse in fact: there is very little argument or debate going on in these sub-populations, simply an assumption that war against Saddam is wrong, and that all right-thinking people agree about this."

Here he is suggesting anti-war protesters favor giving up to the terrorists:

Suddenly, September 10 again. Friends calling from New York City, asking if I have a spare room. Nervous glances up at the TV screens in the gym. Greta van Susteren declaring a specific cyanide alert in New York City, where none existed. Duct tape jokes. Tanks at Heathrow. It is a war, isn't it? It reminds me that the anti-war protestors are not in fact trying to prevent a war. They cannot -- because one has already broken out. They merely want to give up on one critical front.

The trouble is: our enemies won't.
 

Jonah Goldberg** titled a column about anti-war protesters "Saddam's Idiots," and posited that "every day, various regimes around the globe carry out horrible acts of aggression. But, with a very few exceptions, the international peace movement seems uniquely concerned about what it perceives to be unwarranted aggression by the United States, Israel and Europe, in that order."

Soon after, he wrote about "what's so damning about the knee-jerk opposition of so many anti-war liberals -- it's based in animus, not logic. Almost every week I have to debate some opponent of the war on CNN or radio, and most of the time, I get the sense that their reasons for opposing Bush are echoed in McGrory's sentiments. They don't like war for vague, emotional reasons." Emotionally averse to war? What monsters! And it didn't take long after the invasion for Goldberg to declare, on April 2003, how he really felt about the protesters: "I want to rub it in the anti-war crowd's face so badly. I want to hear the protesters explain why it's a bad thing we released more than 100 children from an Iraqi gulag for underage political prisoners."

Brendan O'Neill opposed the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. So why didn't he join anti-war protesters? "Most of the new antiwar groups express an entirely personal opposition to war, one based more on moral revulsion than effective political opposition," he wrote. "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." Personal aversion to war for moral reasons is cast as pompous and self-centered.

That appeared in the Christian Science Monitor.

Here's James Taranto, writing in The Wall Street Journal immediately after Saddam Hussein's capture in 2003:

We don't know for sure that Saddam Hussein was directly involved with the attacks of Sept. 11, but in at least one respect his capture allows Americans to enjoy a measure of revenge. Remember how Palestinians whooped it up on that infamous day, dancing in the streets and handing out candy, unable to contain their joy over the mass murder of Americans? Well, they're pretty bummed right about now, and it serves them right... The Angry Left is America's equivalent of the Palestinians: a self-destructive political movement based on nothing but a collection of grievances rooted in a falsified, self-justifying history. These grievances so distort their view of the world that they lose the capacity for ordinary moral judgment and cannot understand something as simple as that the fall of a genocidal tyrant is a good thing. 

Here's a sentiment I came across several times: I'm all for open debate and intellectual honesty and I wouldn't question the patriotism of anyone opposing the war, but we should all recognize the damage that war protestors are doing to the war effort simply by protesting. They're not operating in a vacuum, and the more that the Iraqi government appreciates and fears our seriousness of purpose, the less likely we are to have to actually have to engage in hardcore fighting.

And I chuckled at another Instapundit-excerpted complaint about biased coverage of an anti-war rally: "The focus of the story is on the hundreds of thousands of anti-war protesters, but their presence is to be as expected as flies on a dog turd," the blogger wrote. "And considering the anti-war machine has done this exact same protest two or three times recently, how is this big news? On the other hand, 500 Iraqis show up in Washington to support the war, and this isn't big enough news to warrant more than two tiny paragraphs at the bottom of the anti-war article?"

Don't miss Andrew Stuttaford contextualizing anti-Iraq protests by blaming past massacres on peace protesters:

In a revealing slip of the tongue, one woman recalled how those protests had 'ended Vietnam'. Indeed they did. Within two years of the US withdrawal, South Vietnam had fallen to communist rule. Thousands were murdered by the new regime, an estimated 500,000-1,000,000 people (out of a population of twenty million) were incarcerated in concentration (oh sorry, 're-education' ) camps for periods of up to ten years, and hundreds of thousands of boat people took the dangerous and often fatal route into exile. Quarter of a century later Vietnam remains a communist dictatorship. Doubtless the Vietnamese are most grateful to the peace campaigners of yesteryear.

Max Boot criticized not just 1960s antiwar protesters, but peace protesters from all decades. Seriously:

The demonstrations are thereby making war more -- not less -- likely.

All this should be no great surprise, considering the ignominious history of peace protests over the last century. The record is fairly clear: When the demands of protesters have been met, more bloodshed has resulted; when strong leaders have resisted the lure of appeasement, peace has usually broken out.

The Washington Post news desk played along with this presumptuous 2003 lede: "BAGHDAD, Iraq, Feb. 19 -- President Saddam Hussein's government, apparently emboldened by antiwar sentiment at the U.N. Security Council and in worldwide street protests, has not followed through on its promises of increased cooperation with U.N. arms inspectors, according to inspectors in Iraq." By 2005, coverage of the Iraq War in the media had become more protest-like, causing Michael Barone to comment, "Then, in World War II, the press almost unanimously wanted us to win the war. Today, we have many in the press -- not most, I think, but some at least -- who do not want us to win this war and think that we don't deserve to win this war."

It would be easy to make this post 10 times as long as it is with more examples from the runnup to the Iraq invasion. Or any number of other major conflicts, for that matter. This sort of rhetoric is as old as modern war.

Doves are held up to ridicule, their patriotism disparaged, their allegiances questioned, their aesthetics mocked, and their position attacked from every rationally irrelevant angle imaginable. Humans do it again and again, even though it always seems discrediting in hindsight. Says deBoer, "I think people don't want to admit that hatred of the left-wing was part of their problem in 2002 and 2003 because they still hate the left, and recognizing the irrationality of their earlier hatred would compel them to think over their current hatred." He is right.

__
*The most guffaw-inducing spin I encountered while researching this post was the way Instapundit played the story when tens of thousands of people took to the streets in London to register their opposition to invading Iraq. "50,000 PEOPLE ARE DEMONSTRATING IN LONDON AGAINST WAR," he wrote. "Though the press accounts probably won't make a lot of this point, that's less than 1/8 as many as demonstrated against a ban on fox-hunting last weekend."

**You know the conservative account of how the media covered Tea Party rallies, heaping disproportionate attention on offensive signs and crackpot attendees, as if the least defensible elements of the protest movement represented and defined the whole? That's basically how the pro-war faction covered the protest movement that opposed the war.
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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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