Why Radicals Need Not Lose Hope





Ms. Solnit is a regular columnist for Orion magazine. Her most recent book is River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West. This article first appeared on OrionOnline.org, the website of Orion magazine (http://www.oriononline.org). The original illustrated version of this article can be viewed at: http://www.oriononline.org/pages/oo/sidebars/Patriotism/index_Solnit.html.

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On January 18, 1915, six months into the first world war, the first terrible war in the modern sense -- slaughter by the hundreds of thousands, poison gas, men living and dying in the open graves of trench warfare, tanks, barbed wire, machine guns, airplanes -- Virginia Woolf wrote in her journal, "The future is dark, which is on the whole, the best thing the future can be, I think." Dark, she seems to say, as in inscrutable, not as in terrible. We often mistake the one for the other. People imagine the end of the world is nigh because the future is unimaginable. Who twenty years ago would have pictured a world without the USSR and with the Internet? We talk about "what we hope for" in terms of what we hope will come to pass but we could think of it another way, as why we hope. We hope on principle, we hope tactically and strategically, we hope because the future is dark, we hope because it's a more powerful and more joyful way to live. Despair presumes it knows what will happen next. But who, two decades ago, would have imagined that the Canadian government would give a huge swathe of the north back to its indigenous people, or that the imprisoned Nelson Mandela would become president of a free South Africa?

Twenty-one years ago this June, a million people gathered in Central Park to demand a nuclear freeze. They didn't get it. The movement was full of people who believed they'd realize their goal in a few years and then go home. Many went home disappointed or burned out. But in less than a decade, major nuclear arms reductions were negotiated, helped along by European antinuclear movements and the impetus they gave Gorbachev. Since then, the issue has fallen off the map and we have lost much of what was gained. The US never ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and the Bush administration is planning to resume the full-fledged nuclear testing halted in 1991, to resume manufacture, to expand the arsenal, and perhaps even to use it in once-proscribed ways.

It's always too soon to go home. And it's always too soon to calculate effect. I once read an anecdote by someone in Women Strike for Peace, the first great antinuclear movement in the United States in 1963, the one that did contribute to a major victory: the end of aboveground nuclear testing with its radioactive fallout that was showing up in mother's milk and baby teeth. She told of how foolish and futile she felt standing in the rain one morning protesting at the Kennedy White House. Years later she heard Dr. Benjamin Spock -- one of the most high-profile activists on the issue then -- say that the turning point for him was seeing a small group of women standing in the rain, protesting at the White House. If they were so passionately committed, he thought, he should give the issue more consideration himself.

Unending Change

A lot of activists expect that for every action there is an equal and opposite and punctual reaction, and regard the lack of one as failure. After all, activism is often a reaction: Bush decides to invade Iraq, we create a global peace movement in which 10 to 30 million people march on seven continents on the same weekend. But history is shaped by the groundswells and common dreams that single acts and moments only represent. It's a landscape more complicated than commensurate cause and effect. Politics is a surface in which transformation comes about as much because of pervasive changes in the depths of the collective imagination as because of visible acts, though both are necessary. And though huge causes sometimes have little effect, tiny ones occasionally have huge consequences.

Some years ago, scientists attempted to create a long-range weather forecasting program, assuming that the same initial conditions would generate the same weather down the road. It turned out that the minutest variations, even the undetectable things, things they could perhaps not yet even imagine as data, could cause entirely different weather to emerge from almost identical initial conditions. This was famously summed up as the saying about the flap of a butterfly's wings on one continent that can change the weather on another.

History is like weather, not like checkers. A game of checkers ends. The weather never does. That's why you can't save anything. Saving is the wrong word. Jesus saves and so do banks: they set things aside from the flux of earthly change. We never did save the whales, though we might've prevented them from becoming extinct. We will have to continue to prevent that as long as they continue not to be extinct. Saving suggests a laying up where neither moth nor dust doth corrupt, and this model of salvation is perhaps why Americans are so good at crisis response and then going home to let another crisis brew. Problems seldom go home. Most nations agree to a ban on hunting endangered species of whale, but their oceans are compromised in other ways. DDT is banned in the US, but exported to the third world, and Monsanto moves on to the next atrocity.

The world gets better. It also gets worse. The time it will take you to address this is exactly equal to your lifetime, and if you're lucky you don't know how long that is. The future is dark. Like night. There are probabilities and likelihoods, but there are no guarantees.

As Adam Hochschild points out, from the time the English Quakers first took on the issue of slavery, three quarters of a century passed before it was abolished it in Europe and America. Few if any working on the issue at the beginning lived to see its conclusion, when what had once seemed impossible suddenly began to look, in retrospect, inevitable. And as the law of unintended consequences might lead you to expect, the abolition movement also sparked the first widespread women's rights movement, which took about the same amount of time to secure the right to vote for American women, has achieved far more in the subsequent 83 years, and is by no means done. Activism is not a journey to the corner store; it is a plunge into the dark.

Writers understand that action is seldom direct. You write your books. You scatter your seeds. Rats might eat them, or they might just rot. In California, some seeds lie dormant for decades because they only germinate after fire. Sharon Salzberg, in her book Faith, recounts how she put together a book of teachings by the Buddhist monk U Pandita and consigned the project to the "minor-good-deed category." Long afterward, she found out that when Burmese democracy movement's leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, was kept isolated under house arrest by that country's dictators, the book and its instructions in meditation "became her main source of spiritual support during those intensely difficult years." Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Walter Benjamin and Arthur Rimbaud, like Henry David Thoreau, achieved their greatest impact long after their deaths, long after weeds had grown over the graves of the bestsellers of their times. Gandhi's Thoreau-influenced nonviolence was as important in the American South as it was in India, and what transpired with Martin Luther King's sophisticated version of it has influenced civil disobedience movements around the world. Decades after their assassinations they are still with us.

At the port of Oakland, California, on April 7, several hundred peace activists came out at dawn to picket the gates of a company shipping arms to Iraq. The longshoreman's union had vowed not to cross our picket. The police arrived in riot gear and, unprovoked and unthreatened, began shooting wooden bullets and beanbags of shot at the activists. Three members of the media, nine longshoremen, and fifty activists were injured. I saw the bloody welts the size of half grapefruits on the backs of some of the young men--they had been shot in the back -- and a swelling the size of an egg on the jaw of a delicate yoga instructor. Told that way, violence won. But the violence inspired the union dock workers to form closer alliances with antiwar activists and underscored the connections between local and global issues. On May 12 we picketed again, with no violence. This time, the longshoremen acted in solidarity with the picketers and -- for the first time in anyone's memory -- the shipping companies cancelled the work shift rather than face the protesters. Told that way, the story continues to unfold, and we have grown stronger. And there's a third way to tell it. The picket stalled a lot of semi trucks. Some of the drivers were annoyed. Some sincerely believed that the war was a humanitarian effort. Some of them -- notably a group of South Asian drivers standing around in the morning sun looking radiant -- thought we were great. After the picket was broken up, one immigrant driver honked in support and pulled over to ask for a peace sign for his rig. I stepped forward to pierce holes into it so he could bungee-cord it to the chrome grille. We talked briefly, shook hands, and he stepped up into the cab. He was turned back at the gates --they weren't accepting deliveries from antiwar truckers. When I saw him next he was sitting on a curb all alone behind police lines, looking cheerful and fearless. Who knows what will ultimately come of the spontaneous courage of this man with a job on the line?

Victories of the New Peace Movement

It was a setup for disappointment to expect that there would be an acknowledged cause and effect relationship between the antiwar actions and the Bush administration. On the other hand... • We will likely never know, but it seems that the Bush administration decided against the "Shock and Awe" saturation bombing of Baghdad because we made it clear that the cost in world opinion and civil unrest would be too high. We millions may have saved a few thousand or a few hundred thousand lives.

• The global peace movement was grossly underreported on February 15th. A million people marching in Barcelona was nice, but I also heard about the thousands in Chapel Hill, NC, the hundred and fifty people holding a peace vigil in the small town of Las Vegas, NM, the antiwar passion of people in even smaller villages from Bolivia to Thailand.

• Activists are often portrayed as an unrepresentative, marginal rabble, but something shifted in the media last fall. Since then, antiwar activists have mostly been represented as a diverse, legitimate, and representative body, a watershed victory for our representation and our long-term prospects.

• Many people who had never spoken out, never marched in the street, never joined groups, written to politicians, or donated to campaigns, did so; countless people became political as never before. That is, if nothing else, a vast aquifer of passion now stored up to feed the river of change. New networks and communities and websites and listserves and jail solidarity groups and coalitions arose.

• In the name of the so-called war on terror, which seems to inculcate terror at home and enact it abroad, we have been encouraged to fear our neighbors, each other, strangers, (particularly middle-eastern, Arab, and Moslem people), to spy on them, to lock ourselves up, to privatize ourselves. By living out our hope and resistance in public together with strangers of all kinds, we overcame this catechism of fear, we trusted each other; we forged a community that bridged all differences among the peace loving as we demonstrated our commitment to the people of Iraq.

• We achieved a global movement without leaders. There were many brilliant spokespeople, theorists and organizers, but when your fate rests on your leader, you are only as strong, as incorruptible, and as creative as he -- or, occasionally, she -- is. What could be more democratic than millions of people who, via the grapevine, the Internet, and various groups from churches to unions to direct-action affinity groups, can organize themselves? Of course leaderless actions and movements have been organized for the past couple of decades, but never on such a grand scale. The African writer Laurens Van Der Post once said that no great new leaders were emerging because it was time for us to cease to be followers. Perhaps we have.

• We succeeded in doing what the anti-Vietnam War movement infamously failed to do: to refuse the dichotomies.We were able to oppose a war on Iraq without endorsing Saddam Hussein. We were able to oppose a war with compassion for the troops who fought it. Most of us did not fall into the traps that our foreign policy so often does and that earlier generations of radicals did: the ones in which our enemy's enemy is our friend, in which the opponent of an evil must be good, in which a nation and its figurehead, a general and his troops, become indistinguishable. We were not against the US and for Iraq; we were against the war, and many of us were against all war, all weapons of mass destruction -- even ours -- and all violence, everywhere. We are not just an antiwar movement. We are a peace movement.

• Questions the peace and anti-globalization movements have raised are now mainstream, though no mainstream source will say why, or perhaps even knows why. Activists targeted Bechtel, Halliburton, Chevron and Lockheed Martin, among others, as war profiteers with ties to the Bush administration. The actions worked not by shutting the places down in any significant way but by making their operations a public question. Direct action seldom works directly, but now the media scrutinizes those corporations as never before. Representative Henry Waxman publicly questioned Halliburton's ties to terrorist states the other day, and the media is closely questioning the administration's closed-door decision to award Halliburton, the company vice-president Cheney headed until he took office, a $7 billion contract to administer Iraqi oil. These are breakthroughs.

The Angel of Alternate History

American history is dialectical. What is best about it is called forth by what is worst. The abolitionists and the underground railroad, the feminist movement and the civil rights movement, the environmental and human rights movements were all called into being by threats and atrocities. There's plenty of what's worst afoot nowadays. But we need a progressive activism that is not one of reaction but of initiation, one in which people of good will everywhere set the agenda. We need to extend the passion the war brought forth into preventing the next one, and toward addressing all the forms of violence besides bombs. We need a movement that doesn't just respond to the evils of the present but calls forth the possibilities of the future. We need a revolution of hope. And for that we need to understand how change works and how to count our victories.

While serving on the board of Citizen Alert, a Nevada nonprofit environmental and antinuclear group, I once wrote a fundraising letter modeled after "It's a Wonderful Life." Frank Capra's movie is a model for radical history, because what the angel Clarence shows the suicidal George Bailey is what the town would look like if he hadn't done his best for his neighbors. This angel of alternate history shows not what happened but what didn't, and that's what's hardest to weigh. Citizen Alert's victories were largely those of what hadn't happened to the air, the water, the land, and the people of Nevada. And the history of what the larger movements have achieved is largely one of careers undestroyed, ideas uncensored, violence and intimidation uncommitted, injustices unperpetrated, rivers unpoisoned and undammed, bombs undropped, radiation unleaked, poisons unsprayed, wildernesses unviolated, countryside undeveloped, resources unextracted, species unexterminated.

I was born during the summer the Berlin Wall went up, into a country in which there weren't even words, let alone redress, for many of the practices that kept women and people of color from free and equal citizenship, in which homosexuality was diagnosed as a disease and treated as a crime, in which the ecosystem was hardly even a concept, in which extinction and pollution were issues only a tiny minority heeded, in which "better living through chemistry" didn't yet sound like black humor, in which the US and USSR were on hair-trigger alert for a nuclear Armageddon, in which most of the big questions about the culture had yet to be asked. It was a world with more rainforest, more wild habitat, more ozone layer, and more species; but few were defending those things then. An ecological imagination was born and became part of the common culture only in the past few decades, as did a broader and deeper understanding of human diversity and human rights.

The world gets worse. It also gets better. And the future stays dark.

Nobody knows the consequences of their actions, and history is full of small acts that changed the world in surprising ways. I was one of thousands of activists at the Nevada Test Site in the late 1980s, an important, forgotten history still unfolding out there where the US and UK have exploded more than a thousand nuclear bombs, with disastrous effects on the environment and human health, (and where the Bush Administration would like to resume testing, thereby sabotaging the unratified Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty). We didn't shut down our test site, but our acts inspired the Kazakh poet Olzhas Suleimenov, on February 27, 1989, to read a manifesto instead of poetry on live Kazakh TV -- a manifesto demanding a shutdown of the Soviet nuclear test site in Semipalatinsk, Kazakhstan, and calling a meeting. Five thousand Kazakhs gathered at the Writer's Union the next day and formed a movement to shut down the site. They named themselves the Nevada-Semipalatinsk Antinuclear Movement.

The Soviet Test Site was indeed shut down. Suleimenov was the catalyst, and though we in Nevada were his inspiration, what gave him his platform was his poetry in a country that loved poets. Perhaps Suleimenov wrote all his poems so that one day he could stand up in front of a TV camera and deliver not a poem but a manifesto. And perhaps Arundhati Roy wrote a ravishing novel that catapulted her to stardom so that when she stood up to oppose dams and destruction of the local for the benefit of the transnational, people would notice. Or perhaps these writers opposed the ravaging of the earth so that poetry too -- poetry in the broadest sense -- would survive in the world.

American poets became an antiwar movement themselves when Sam Hamill declined an invitation to Laura Bush's "Poetry and the American Voice" symposium shortly after her husband's administration announced their "Shock and Awe" plan, and he circulated his letter of outrage. His e-mail box filled up, he started www.poetsagainstthewar.org, to which about 11,000 poets have submitted poems to date. Hamill became a major spokesperson against the war and his website has become an organizing tool for the peace movement.

Not Left But Forward

The glum traditional left often seems intent upon finding the cloud around every silver lining. This January, when Governor Ryan of Illinois overturned a hundred and sixty-seven death sentences, there were left-wing commentators who found fault with the details, carped when we should have been pouring champagne over our heads like football champs. And joy is one of our weapons and one of our victories. Non-activists sometimes chide us for being joyous at demonstrations, for having fun while taking on the serious business of the world, but in a time when alienation, isolation, and powerlessness are among our principal afflictions, just being out in the streets en masse is not a demand for victory: it is a victory.

But there's an increasing gap between this new movement with its capacity for joy and the old figureheads. Their grumpiness is often the grumpiness of perfectionists who hold that anything less than total victory is failure, a premise that makes it easy to give up at the start or to disparage the victories that are possible. This is earth. It will never be heaven. There will always be cruelty, always be violence, always be destruction. There is tremendous devastation now. In the time it takes you to read this, acres of rainforest will vanish, a species will go extinct, women will be raped, men shot, and far too many children will die of easily preventable causes. We cannot eliminate all devastation for all time, but we can reduce it, outlaw it, undermine its source and foundation: these are victories.

Nearly everyone felt, after September 11, 2001, along with grief and fear, a huge upwelling of idealism, of openness, of a readiness to question and to learn, a sense of being connected and a desire to live our lives for something more, even if it wasn't familiar, safe, or easy. Nothing could have been more threatening to the current administration, and they have done everything they can to repress it.

But that desire is still out there. It's the force behind a huge new movement we don't even have a name for yet, a movement that's not a left opposed to a right, but perhaps a below against above, little against big, local and decentralized against consolidated. If we could throw out the old definitions, we could recognize where the new alliances lie; and those alliances -- of small farmers, of factory workers, of environmentalists, of the poor, of the indigenous, of the just, of the farseeing -- could be extraordinarily powerful against the forces of corporate profit and institutional violence. Left and right are terms for where the radicals and conservatives sat in the French National Assembly after the French Revolution. We're not in that world anymore, let alone that seating arrangement. We're in one that for all its ruins and poisons and legacies is utterly new. Anti-globalization activists say, "Another world is possible." It is not only possible, it is inevitable; and we need to participate in shaping it.

I'm hopeful, partly because we don't know what is going to happen in that dark future and we might as well live according to our principles as long as we're here. Hope, the opposite of fear, lets us do that. Imagine the world as a lifeboat: the corporations and the current administration are smashing holes in it as fast (or faster) than the rest of us can bail or patch the leaks. But it's important to take account of the bailers as well as the smashers and to write epics in the present tense rather than elegies in the past tense. That's part of what floats this boat. And if it sinks, we all sink, so why not bail? Why not row? The reckless Bush Administration seems to be generating what US administrations have so long held back: a world in which the old order is shattered and anything is possible.

Zapatista spokesman Subcommandante Marcos adds, "History written by Power taught us that we had lost.... We did not believe what Power taught us. We skipped class when they taught conformity and idiocy. We failed modernity. We are united by the imagination, by creativity, by tomorrow. In the past we not only met defeat but also found a desire for justice and the dream of being better. We left skepticism hanging from the hook of big capital and discovered that we could believe, that it was worth believing, that we should believe -- in ourselves. Health to you, and don't forget that flowers, like hope, are harvested."

And they grow in the dark. "I believe," adds Thoreau, "in the forest, and the meadow, and the night in which the corn grows."


This article first appeared on the website of OrionOnline.org and was subsequently reprinted by www.tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news and opinion from Tom Engelhardt, a long time editor in publishing, the author of The End of Victory Culture, and a fellow of the Nation Institute.


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More Comments:


J. Merrett - 6/1/2003

You say that "The nuclear freeze movement sought to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Your statement here is ridiculous, and is redbaiting."

You exemplify the problem with the sort of activism the original article praised. It is short-sighted, emotionally driven, and unconcerned with consequences. A nuclear freeze, circa 1985, would by definition have left the US and the USSR exactly where they were in terms of relative nuclear power. The freeze movement looked no further than the unobjectionable idea that "nukes are bad" and concluded that that means that fewer nukes are better, without examining the consequences. I am not suggesting that the nuclear freeze people were sophisiticated enough to be intentionally pro-Soviet, or to intend to support the communist regime by their actions; quite the opposite. I am saying that the consequence of their juvenile handwringing, had they succeeded, would have been perpetuation of the regime that gave us Chernobyl, manufactured genocidal famines, Hungary '56, et c. et c. Unless you are willing to agree that the state of nuclear confrontation in 1985 created a situation better than that now extant, you have to admit that the nuclear freeze movement either intended (unlikely) to perpetuate cold-war nuclear terror, or that they were blind to the fact that their "solution" would write that terror in stone.

I'll skip a lot of what you say, and perhaps come back to it later, but since you incorrectly accused me of red-baiting, I want to accommodate you.

You wrote "And your description of the Soviets as "crypto-Nazis" is simply insane. Look at their dealings with the REAL Nazis during WWII."

Tell me, comrade, does the phrase "Molotov-Ribbentrop" mean anything to the folks at your collective?

NOW, I'm red-baiting, and suggesting that, if you truly believe that there is ten cents worth of difference between the Soviet and the Nazi systems, you need to head to the library, pronto. Look for an author named Robert Conquest. That's a good place to start.


Josh Greenland - 6/1/2003

"More to the point, in her discussion of the nuclear freeze movement, the writer overlooks the transparent fact that their success in the eighties would have contributed to perpetuation of the Soviet regime."

What is transparent only to politicos of one stripe is not transparent. This point is extremely arguable.

"What the freeze movement sought was, quite literally, to maintain the balance of nuclear power at a level which would allow the survival of the Soviet Union."

The nuclear freeze movement sought to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Your statement here is ridiculous, and is redbaiting.

"The USSR was evil, totalitarian, genocidal, totally unconcerned with protection of the environment and minorities"...

"Evil" is an opinion, worth nothing. How was it genocidal? And it did concern itself at times with protection of minorities.

"it in fact had all the attributes latter-day hysterics attribute to the US Government, compounded with a doctrine which prohibited the return of any state within the Soviet orbit to independence or participatory democracy."

This also sounds very much like the United States.

"Whatever their motives, the hope of the freeze movement was that this abomination remain sufficiently well-armed relative to the US to allow it to hold its people and its neighbors in an iron grip forever."

What a bizarre statement. How can you separate hope and motive like that? This is another redbaiting lie that the freeze movement doesn't deserve.

"Even more perversely, she attributes the eventual lessening of nuclear tensions to the comfort Gorbachev purportedly drew from the irrational left in the west, rather than to the bankruptcy inflicted on the crypto-Nazis of the USSR by the arms race pursued by the American government."

You're perpetrating a false dilemma here. The bankrupting of the USSR by Reagan-Bush policies doesn't preclude positive effects from a lessening of nuclear tension under Gorbachev. And your description of the Soviets as "crypto-Nazis" is simply insane. Look at their dealings with the REAL Nazis during WWII. Both sides had EXTREME ideological differences with the other, and were very explicit at great length about it. BTW, the Soviets did the majority of the fighting against Nazi Germany.

"The other thing that occurs to me is that, like the left before the fall of the USSR, the modern antiwar left seems to ignore the realities of life for the people of the enemy state."

What "enemy state" are you talking about? We've made no declaration of war.

"The Soviet-era left insisted that the Soviet system was just another form of government -- as if people had actually chosen that system with its attendant oppression and genocide in preference to, say, a parliamentary republic. The current antiwar movement seems to have no qualms mewling about Iraqi sovereignty and self-determination, as if (prior to mid-April) that meant anything other than the personal sovereignty of Saddam Hussein. Are Russians, Iraqis, Syrians, and North Koreans unworthy to exercise the right to gather in crowds to shriek misguided political views? If not, why don't their interests in things like not being boiled alive by their governments count in the calculus of the left?"

Have you noticed that all these countries have one thing in common: none of them are or were US proxy states. And left people do work against the problems in most or all of these countries, too, though they aren't going to get any positive press for this from mainstream media that hope to marginalize or vilify them. Anti-left people who are too lazy to actually seek information from the left will never know what all the left does. The most malicious of those people choose to be ignorant so they can more placidly let fly their anti-left falsehoods.

But why should "the left" have its attention drawn by non-US proxy countries away from those US proxy states which are as bad as or worse then the non-US controlled examples you name? "The left" sees it as morally imperative not to be responsible as voters, taxpayers and citizens for foreign countries perpetrating horrors at the behest or with the protection of our own country. Virtue begins at home.


J. Merrett - 5/29/2003

More to the point, in her discussion of the nuclear freeze movement, the writer overlooks the transparent fact that their success in the eighties would have contributed to perpetuation of the Soviet regime. What the freeze movement sought was, quite literally, to maintain the balance of nuclear power at a level which would allow the survival of the Soviet Union.

The USSR was evil, totalitarian, genocidal, totally unconcerned with protection of the environment and minorities -- it in fact had all the attributes latter-day hysterics attribute to the US Government, compounded with a doctrine which prohibited the return of any state within the Soviet orbit to independence or participatory democracy. Whatever their motives, the hope of the freeze movement was that this abomination remain sufficiently well-armed relative to the US to allow it to hold its people and its neighbors in an iron grip forever.Even more perversely, she attributes the eventual lessening of nuclear tensions to the comfort Gorbachev purportedly drew from the irrational left in the west, rather than to the bankruptcy inflicted on the crypto-Nazis of the USSR by the arms race pursued by the American government.

The other thing that occurs to me is that, like the left before the fall of the USSR, the modern antiwar left seems to ignore the realities of life for the people of the enemy state. The Soviet-era left insisted that the Soviet system was just another form of government -- as if people had actually chosen that system with its attendant oppression and genocide in preference to, say, a parliamentary republic. The current antiwar movement seems to have no qualms mewling about Iraqi sovereignty and self-determination, as if (prior to mid-April) that meant anything other than the personal sovereignty of Saddam Hussein. Are Russians, Iraqis, Syrians, and North Koreans unworthy to exercise the right to gather in crowds to shriek misguided political views? If not, why don't their interests in things like not being boiled alive by their governments count in the calculus of the left?


James Thornton - 5/28/2003

There was an anti-war movement prior to WW2 led by Isolationist Republicans. It is speculative whether or not they would have supported war against Nazi Germany if the Holocaust had been exposed. Krystal Nacht and the Nuremburg Laws should have privided ample warning, but it wasn't until death camps were liberated that the full horror was known to all. If the Holocaust or the intent to perpetrate it had been public knowledge in 1939 could a moral argument be made against declaring war on Nazi Germany? If not then does that same argument not apply to every case in which genocide is involved to include the Ba'ath genocide against Kurds and Shia in Iraq?


Julie Leininger Pycior - 5/26/2003

Thank you!


NYGuy - 5/25/2003

Josh said:
"My partial criteria for a troll is that they never or almost never say anything that might further a good discussion. My partial solution is to not read the posts of known trolls or respond to them (in most cases). I've been saddened to see good discussions taken over by trolls, who eventually stop posting once the last non-troll gives up."

This is the Field Guide to Trolls, which I've found useful in identifying and dealing with their infestation of HNN:
http://philelmore.com/profiling/fieldguidetotrolls.htm"

Glad you exposed these trolls, it should help make this a better board and stop trying to intiminate those who want to express their free speech on this board.

Josh Said:
"I don't think you can truly say that all anti-Iraq war left-wing radicals believe that "war is never an option." I'm sure many of them have no trouble with our having fought the Nazis, fascists and Japanese imperialists in WWII. And many of them would have no trouble with defensive wars of states that they believe deserve to exist, or with what they might term "wars of liberation."

So we now find out that the anti-war movement are trolls and believe that war is necessary.

Sounds like a bankrupt philosophy that can't make up its mind, but as Dave Thomas suggested is just looking for power.

I support their free speech, however, since it shows what a great country we live in.

I am happy to see that some have come to their senses and realized that their hero Adolph caused the greatest misery in world history because no one was prepared to stop him. Of course their are still those true believers who follow in the footsteps of men such as Chamberlain. But, your comments are a good start to understaning what GW is doing and why the great majority of citizens support his efforts.


Josh Greenland - 5/25/2003

"And in all these wonderful rallies and protests actual Iraqis were not allowed to speak."

I think that's complete hogwash. Can you support this assertion?

"... the Revolutionary Vanguard .... no matter many of the "proletariat" have to die...."

The great majority of anti-war "radical" organizations and people in them are not "vanguardist" or working toward a "dictatorship of the proletariat." So your generalizations about these political tendencies don't apply to anti-war "radicals."

"We know EXACTLY what the radicals will do with power--KILL, rob, rape, and KILL."

How can you rationally claim to know this? The anti-war radicals have fundamental political disagreements with one another. Again, your blanket statement doesn't work, even if you are right about any one political tendency (which I seriously doubt).

"Nobody hates like a radical, whether Nazi, socialist, progressive or green." Your post is hateful, so what kind of radical are you?


Josh Greenland - 5/25/2003

"The Radicals complete embrace of "War is never an option" renders their position completely untenable in the world of Real Politik."

I don't think you can truly say that all anti-Iraq war left-wing radicals believe that "war is never an option." I'm sure many of them have no trouble with our having fought the Nazis, fascists and Japanese imperialists in WWII. And many of them would have no trouble with defensive wars of states that they believe deserve to exist, or with what they might term "wars of liberation."

I agree with your admiration of those who are seriously and intelligently working toward a world without war.


Dave Thomas - 5/25/2003

Let's just outlaw war and millennia of human nature will change overnight. Didn't we do that in the Kellogg-Briand Pact. There is no effective peace unless there is the threat of war. The Radicals complete embrace of "War is never an option" renders their position completely untenable in the world of Real Politik.


James Wilson - 5/24/2003

And in all these wonderful rallies and protests actual Iraqis were not allowed to speak. Their lives and opinions were not important because the Revolutionary Vanguard had bigger fish to fry. There is a reason why radicals around the world have killed so many millions. They have that visionary goal to accomplish, no matter many of the "proletariat" have to die in the meantime.
There's hope for the future, but if radicals have their way, the future is indeed dark, and I don't mean unknown. We know EXACTLY what the radicals will do with power--KILL, rob, rape, and KILL. Which makes all this pious anti-violent rhetoric all the more cynical. Nobody hates like a radical, whether Nazi, socialist, progressive or green.
Try again, you're not a very good liar.


Josh Greenland - 5/23/2003

"A good essay, but Ms. Solnit forgets to mentioned the bad campaigns along with the good. It does not take a historian to realize that it is far too soon to see what will become of the current anti-globalization and anti-war movements."

This reads as if you want activists like Ms. Solnit to immobilize themselves with worry over the far future consequences of their own actions.

"For example, the temperance movement was both powerful and successful, but did it do any good. They saw themselves as great activists in the abolitionist tradition. They succeeded in outlawing alcohol, but only at a great cost. We still are suffering with the fallout of their activism."

Good example, except that the temperance movement had more than its share of self-righteous zealots who didn't practice much introspection, and who often saw people who opposed their efforts as completely evil. Such activists are not good at looking for unintended consequences. (An excellent modern parallel is the gun control movement.) The US contained many thoughtful, intelligent people in the early 1900s, some of whom I would think would have predicted the growth of organized crime under prohibition. (Now this is a good question for historians: were there public warnings before Prohibition of the rampant criminality it would cause?) With Prohibition, the problem may not be that its problems were unpredictable, but that concern over them was bulldozed by pro-Prohibition zealotry.

"Ms. Solnit and her fellow radicals should keep that in mind when they oppose "globalization" and other supposed evils. War is easy to oppose, but other so-called evils may be easier to live with than ban."

I don't see the anti-globalization movement as an angry, thoughtless and zealous one in the mold of the temperance movement. I'm sure its most conscious members have done a lot of thinking about the consequences of its actions. In calling globalized a "so-called" evil, it sounds like you would like the anti-globalization movement to second-guess itself into total paralysis. I'm sure the conscious element of that movement knows very well what it's doing, and knows it must act in real time, and not wait 30 years before deciding on what might have been.


Josh Greenland - 5/23/2003

"This piece is articulate, thoughtful and inspiring. I hardly think this displays an end to the "storied tradition of radicalism" as one individual claims. Thank you, Ms.Solnit for your careful, measured thoughts on the past and future of the left."

I concur.


Garry Perkins - 5/21/2003

A good essay, but Ms. Solnit forgets to mentioned the bad campaigns along with the good. It does not take a historian to realize that it is far too soon to see what will become of the current anti-globalization and anti-war movements.

For example, the temperance movement was both powerful and successful, but did it do any good. They saw themselves as great activists in the abolitionist tradition. They succeeded in outlawing alcohol, but only at a great cost. We still are suffering with the fallout of their activism.

Ms. Solnit and her fellow radicals should keep that in mind when they oppose "globalization" and other supposed evils. War is easy to oppose, but other so-called evils may be easier to live with than ban.


J. Bartlett - 5/20/2003


Good point, except about the "two sides". That paradigm died many soft-money ads ago.

The biggest radicals today are in power in Washington destroying American traditions and American democracy in the name of oxymorons like "war on terrorism". They sometimes like to call themselves "compassionate conservatives", but they are actually unwitting radicals. Not unwitting because they actually care about real conservative ideals and are subverting them only by mistake, but because they are unwitting about almost everything except the next election cycle and the next set of quarterly financial reports.


Jonathan Dresner - 5/20/2003

As much as I enjoy being reminded of the historical value of individual protest and principle, as a practical matter the hope Ms. Solnit offers comes with a big caveat. All of her examples are on the left, which is fine, but there have been and are movements on the right as well, which have been effective over long stretches of time and which are active today.

For example, the European racialist movement gets its start in the mid-19th century, with people like Herbert Spencer and de Gobineau and H.S.Chamberlain, which gathers adherents and steam until it achieves political expression and practical application in Nazi Germany.

The anti-abortion movement is a current example of a movement which has been working against great opposition and legal barriers for decades, but which persists in its mission and which shows every sign of being set for a very long-term struggle.

Jonathan Dresner


V.A. - 5/20/2003

This piece is articulate, thoughtful and inspiring. I hardly think this displays an end to the "storied tradition of radicalism" as one individual claims. Thank you, Ms.Solnit for your careful, measured thoughts on the past and future of the left.


V.A. - 5/20/2003

This piece is articulate, thoughtful and inspiring. I hardly think this displays an end to the "storied tradition of radicalism" as one individual claims. Thank you, Ms.Solnit for your careful, measured thoughts on the past and future of the left.


Bob Greene - 5/20/2003

You are absolutely right. The original article was a diatribe written by a political hack with a small angry mind. It betrays the usual left wing arrogance that assumes anyone who disagrees with them is stupid, insincere and evil. The Soviet Union was not ended by peaceniks singing Kum Ba Ya. It was the hard nose reality of the right which reconize the Soviet system for what is was and defeated it. The bit about DDT is rich also . What that has accomplished is to bring back malaria and consign millions of third worlders to suffering and death. But what the heck we have a few more bald eagles.


NYGuy - 5/19/2003

Herodotus great going, four for four. The play book is always the same, start with some type of introduction and then cheapen the author and insult the audience by betraying a small angry mind. Keep up the good work. Maybe someday we will get some respectable writing on history, not a diatribe by politically motivated hacks.


Herodotus - 5/19/2003

to quote:
"It was a setup for disappointment to expect that there would be an acknowledged cause and effect relationship between the antiwar actions and the Bush administration. On the other hand... ? We will likely never know, but it seems that the Bush administration decided against the "Shock and Awe" saturation bombing of Baghdad because we made it clear that the cost in world opinion and civil unrest would be too high. We millions may have saved a few thousand or a few hundred thousand lives. "

It's too bad that for all her activism and radicalism she never bothered to pay attention (1) to the news (where the shock and awe campaign took on its own life) and (2) to how the modern military fights its wars today.

To those who paid attention from the beginning, and to the campaign in Afghanistan, it has been patently and unalterably clear from the beginning that there was not going to be carpet bombing of Baghdad, as the radical fringe would have had us believe. The continued recitation of these canards suggests willful ignorance or malicious disinformation. In either case, it is a sad, sad end for the storied traditions of radicalism in America, whose ranks were so often filled with knowledgable intelligencia.

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