The first Washington snow of the season kept falling as Daniel Ellsberg,
of the Pentagon papers fame, stepped to the microphone. “We
are the Winter soldiers,” intoned Ellsberg to the cheering
crowd of several hundred who came to Lafayette Square on the chilly
December 16, 2010, morning to deliver to President Obama a simple
message, STOP THESE WARS. The Winter-Soldiers-versus-Sunshine-Patriots
theme was as dear to the crowd now as it was to George Washington
in 1776 when Thomas Paine exhorted him to rely on Winter soldiers
in the fight for independence.
Veterans for Peace Insist on Nonviolence
The rally was organized by Veterans
for Peace (VFP), which since its
inception in 1985 has struggled to steer the U.S. toward peaceful
resolution of international conflicts. The organizers had planned
a silent vigil march to the White House, to be followed by nonviolent
civil resistance. "We are dedicated to exposing the true costs
of war and militarism," said VFP President Mike
Ferner. He reminded
U.S. citizens, "We've killed well over a million people. We've
orphaned and displaced five times that number at least. And here
in our own country, we've managed to throw millions of people out
of work and out of their homes."
The Memory of Yester Years
As the snow fell, I remembered other times.
My first job was as editor of Moscow Radio’s foreign language
broadcasts. My colleagues and I occasionally got time off to “go
and demonstrate solidarity” with foreign dignitaries visiting
Moscow in support of “peaceful coexistence.” Western media
echoed this propaganda of “unanimity.” Between ourselves
we whispered the latest of Radio
Yerevan’s black humor: “Our
listener asks: Will there be a war between the United States and the
U.S.S.R.? Our political commentator replies: “No, there will
be no war. But the struggle for peace will be such that no stone on
earth shall remain in place.” I did not tell my colleagues that
one of my former Moscow State University classmates was in prison,
the other in an insane asylum. Peaceful coexistence of a sort.
University of Lund. I was a free man protected by political asylum
in Sweden. Alas, the overwhelming opinion of students condemned U.
S. “aggression” in South Vietnam. “U.S. imperialism
is the main obstacle to peace,” they said. I packed to leave
for the United States.
I was at the University of Chicago learning English by reading the
student newspaper, The Maroon. The Trotskyites on campus agreed there
is no freedom in the U.S.S.R. But when it came to the Vietnam War,
they swallowed Soviet propaganda hook, line, and sinker. Like any
Leftist organizers of “antiwar” movement, they were peaceNIKs.
I was in graduate school at the University of Washington in Seattle.
Here and elsewhere I witnessed how the New left manipulated the peaceniks.
The antiwar movement turned increasingly anti-American. As I advanced
toward a Ph.D. degree, campus protests escalated on my campus and
elsewhere. Television screens were filled with images of noisy student
protests. Demonstrators taunted the “police pigs” to
provoke violence. Campuses were bombed. “Burn, baby, burn!” was
in the headlines. The antiwar movement merged with the struggle for
civil rights. A popular book condoned rape as an act of insurrection.
The stench of revolution was everywhere. One professor’s car
was stoned; another professor’s office was vandalized. The
latter taught a course on communist infiltration in the U.S. One
colleague was denied tenure because he had served as a linguist in
Saigon. The country was sliding to a point when “no stone shall
be left in place,” not by enemy fire but in a civil war.
Fiasco and Hope 1975
I was an assistant professor of Russian Studies as well as teacher
of Western civilization at the Southern Methodist University in Dallas,
Texas, when the news of the U.S. evacuation of Saigon arrived. I
took the American defeat as a personal tragedy. The only hope for
the West was rising in the East — the dissident and human rights
movement in the U.S.S.R. My students learned to pronounce the names
Solzhenitsyn, awarded the1970 Nobel Prize for literature,
and nuclear physicist Andrei
Sakharov, awarded the 1975 Nobel Peace
The Nik Tail of It All
As a linguist, I find the Russian suffix “nik” attached
to the English “peace” a cute verbal invention. But I never
mixed up with the peaceniks.
Most were just silly kids who saw any crowd as an opportunity “to
reach out and touch some one.” Yet the damage they did to the
U.S. and to world peace was enormous. They damaged themselves, too,
through drug addiction and counter-culture indulgences. They were manipulated
by the members of the New Left, who were actually hard-core Marxist-Leninists.
The misleading “New” was a trick to distance themselves
from old-time American Stalinists because Stalin had been already discredited
The best testimony about the manipulative doings of the New Left came
from David Horowitz and Peter Collier, two former editors of Ramparts
magazine. In their 1989 book, Destructive Generation:
Second Thoughts About the ‘60s, the two admitted their philosophy then was “we
murdered to create.” Alas, Horowitz later became a right-winger,
racist, and pro-war Zionist. In 2004, he published the Anti-Chomsky
Reader. Horowitz’s life curve was typical of many American Jews
who switched from the anti-war radicalism of the 1960s to pro-war Zionist
propaganda of today.
There are important differences between the Vietnam War and current
wars that the U.S. wages. Throughout the post-World War II period,
it was not the U.S. but the U.S.S.R. that was constantly on a prowl
for ideological, political, and military expansion. The Vietnam War
was a response, inept though it may have been, to a worldwide Soviet
expansion augmented by that of Communist China. Even though the two
giants did not always agree, they outbid each other in arming North
Vietnam, encouraging its push to the South.
After the end of the Cold War, the U.S. judged it expedient to replace
the U.S.S.R. as an empire. This new empire loves “asymmetrical
wars” because the enemy consists of rag-tag peasant “terrorists.” Unlike
the communists in South Vietnam, they are not backed by any major power,
armed with little more than the Kalashnikovs and the Stingers that
the U.S. supplied to fight Soviet aggression in Afghanistan.
As the snow kept falling in December 2010, speaker after speaker denounced
the current U.S. foreign policy as expansionist, militarist, and jingoist.
The speakers included Brian Becker of the ANSWER coalition (Act Now
to Stop Wars and End Racism); Peace Mom Cindy
McGovern, retired CIA officer and former U.S. Army Intelligence officer; Pulitzer
Prize-winning journalist Chris
Hedges; Mike Prysner, Iraq vet, cofounder
of March Forward!; and CodePink Women for Peace cofounder Medea
who called on Obama to wage peace, not war. All were eloquent, passionate,
Then taps were played, and all the uniformed officers and many civilians
stood at attention. We moved in a single file toward the White House.
There were no shouts -- just a solemn military beat as if to honor
of the thousands of American soldiers who have given their lives in
the meaningless “war on terror.” The procession was colorful
with the signs scorning the “Obaminable” wars in Iraq and
Afghanistan, and the threats against Iran. Other signs demanded the
government pay attention to domestic needs. “Hands off Wikileaks.” “Afghanistan
is the Place where Empires Go to Die.” “Peace on Earth?” said
one sign with an ironic question: Would the only superpower give to
the world a gift of peace on Christmas holidays? We reached the front
of the White House. Our leaders stepped to the fence, ready to be arrested.
Chanting and Singing
The chanting started: “Stop these wars — Stop these wars —
Stop these wars.” We sang the familiar: “Truth shall set
us free…I do believe.. we shall overcome someday.” I heard
a steady beat of Buddhist drums. The drummers wanted to free Barack
Obama from the evil spell of war, to open his heart to the ways of
peace. Then a simple, triple pronged chant arose, “Peace — Shalom
— Salam.” It sought to remind the President of the promise
he made in his Cairo
speech to be forceful and fair in his efforts to
broker a peace between Israel and Palestine, an especially urgent matter
because unabated hostilities have inflamed passions throughout the
Middle East and antagonized the Muslim world against the U.S.
Planetarians of the World Unite!
People asked each other to hold their signs for a while. Others peddled
leaflets and buttons. I said “no” to one polite young
woman peddling a leaflet with the Red Star and the word “REVOLUTION.” I
got the newspaper Workers World instead. I know that the
workers need a break in this country, in Russia, and elsewhere. But
ideology is worn out — Marxist and revolutionary. It headlines the
need to protect the North Korean communist regime. But there is nothing
about Iraq or Afghanistan. Nothing about U.S. threats against Iran.
The paper’s masthead harks back to Karl Marx’s “Proletarians
of the world unite!” Now, when the survival of the planet is
at stake, I prefer to hear “Planetarians of the world unite!” We
need a unity without the distinction of class, race, religion, or
Ron Paul’s “Revolution”
I ran into supporters of Ron Paul, U.S. Congressman from Texas and
one-time presidential candidate. I had
met him and liked him. He
is a conservative Republican, but, unlike George Bush, he “has
stood resolute against our government interference overseas.” So
says the leaflet handed to me by one of his supporters. The leaflet
proclaims what we had been chanting, “Bring the troops home
now.” The Congressman is a revolutionary in a more familiar
sense: he is for “a second American revolution to restore our
liberty and the Constitution.” Amen.
The clock moved past noon, but the snow kept falling. The temperature
fell below freezing. The police, both mounted and on foot, were about
to cordon off those ready to be arrested. I came here with a friend
and former student who works for the government. He cannot risk being
arrested. We prepare to leave. Among the “chained” I see
the chiseled face of Jim whom I befriended in December 1998 when President
Clinton started bombing
Iraq. The suspicion was that Clinton needed
the bombing to divert attention from the Monika Lewinsky scandal. It
was Jim who got me onboard with VFP. We went together to several rallies
against the “humanitarian
bombing” of Yugoslavia. Later,
Jim and I took part in hauling a memorial rock to the civilian casualties
of war. The memorial was cut in Boston, Massachusetts. Our intention
was to have it installed at the Arlington National Cemetery. In modern
warfare, we reasoned, the number of innocent civilians losing lives
as collateral damage has been growing dramatically. Alas, the cemetery
officials refused to accept the memorial.
Letter to President Obama
Before we leave, we witness one more daring act of the Winter siege
of the White House. Several “soldiers” threw small leaflets
OVER the fence and down on the lawn of the White House. “A letter
to Obama,” they shouted. It was also a provocation for arrest,
for it is illegal to litter anywhere, least of all on the premises
of the White House. I asked Jim for a copy.
Dear President Obama, The “war on terror,” which has continued
and expanded during your presidency, and your continued support of
the Israeli military occupation of Palestine has [sic]wrought untold
suffering and misery upon millions of people, as well as putting America’s
hard-earned wealth into the pockets of multinational corporations.
… You have betrayed the hope that many Americans placed in you..
[as you]continued the Bush policy of war, torture, suspension of habeas
corpus, state secrets, and every other evil initiated by the former
The letter reminded Obama that he had promised to reverse Bush’s
policy of trampling on the civil rights of prisoners and combatants.
… These wars of aggression, the continued
occupation of Iraq, support of the Israeli military machine, and
the bailout of Wall Street have done nothing to make America safer,
prosperous, or whole.
…President Obama, you talk a good game, Now we, the people,
demand you walk the walk. End these wars!” [Produced by stopthesewars.org]
Fall on your Knees
President Obama, pick up that leaflet. Fall on your knees before the
people who elected you on the promise of peace, civility, and fairness.
Don’t wait for your advisers. Look in the mirror. Don’t
let Sunshine patriots run your show. Let God be your only counsel.
Think about your mixed racial, ethnic, and religious background.
Billions of people around the world, especially in third-world countries,
look up to your leadership as a peacemaker. In a letter to my Russia & America
Goodwill Association, I wrote that you deserved the Nobel Peace Prize
on the strength of your reset-with-Russia initiatives. You deserved
it for the good intentions you articulated in the Cairo speech.
Make good on your promises. Join the ranks of Winter soldiers. Lead
them to the land of peace, prosperity, and justice. Remember that Winter
soldiers are true American patriots who are good for all seasons, unlike “the
sunshine patriot [who] will, in a crisis, shrink from the service of
A Silent Majority Now and Then
One of the great differences between the antiwar movements now and
then is the media coverage. Vietnam War protesters got all the coverage
they wanted. I wondered why. I was told that “in democratic society,
free press had to play an adversarial role lest the government becomes
too strong.” Since the end of the Cold War, such a democratic
approach is not in evidence. The mainstream media seem to be in cahoots
with the government. Even when thousands marched against the bombing
of Yugoslavia, The Washington Post failed to notice them.
The Washington Post largely ignored our peace rally, too.
The Huffington Post quoted Ellsberg on those who walk in his
footsteps — Brady Manning and Julian Assange. "I think they
provided a very valuable service," Ellsberg said, "To call
them terrorists is not only mistaken; it's absurd and slanderous."
The Huffington Post found it newsworthy that “131 antiwar protesters
got themselves arrested… in one of the larger acts of civil
disobedience in front of the White House in some time….” This
was done “to spark the country’s silent
majority into action,” stressed
the reporter Amanda
Terkel. She was right. A new poll was just published
that indicates “a record 60 percent of Americans now say the
war in Afghanistan is not worth fighting.”
Today’s SILENT MAJORITY is antiwar and routinely ignored by
the media. The media’s treatment of a silent majority in either
case does not bode well for democracy.
P. S. Washington, D.C. – January
4, 2011: Antiwar military
veterans and other activists celebrated a breakthrough victory today
in D.C. Superior Court, when charges against
the 131 December protesters who had been arrested were dropped. “This is clearly a victory
for opposition to undeclared wars which are illegal under international
law, have led to the destruction of societies in Iraq and Afghanistan,
bled the U.S. Treasury in a time of recession, and caused human rights
violations against civilians and combatants…,” declared
the victorious Winter Soldiers.
Russian-American Samizdat archives
Russian-American Samizdat column is copyright © 2011
by W. George Krasnow and the Fitzgerald
All rights reserved.
W. George Krasnow (also published as Vladislav Krasnov), Ph.D., directs
the Washington-based Russia
and America Goodwill Associates,
a non-profit organization of Americans which promotes friendship with
See his biographical sketch and additional
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