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.

anti iraq war protest full.jpg


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.

mocking anti-war protest cartoon.png

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.

Presented by

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.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus


How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.


Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.


The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.


Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.


Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses


Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Politics

Just In