Behind “A Call to Resist the War in Iraq”

I reviewed two recently-issued anti-war declarations (the Appeal to Global Conscience and A Call to Resist the War in Iraq) and compared them to the resolution that launched the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

The people who adopted the bus boycott resolution were making demands of themselves and of each other with the goal of eventually, through their actions, forcing their opponents to the bargaining table. The Appeal to Global Conscience, on the other hand, makes demands almost entirely of other people, as if the appealers were already at the bargaining table. But those other people aren’t listening, and this makes the appealers sound delusional or self-aggrandizing.

I thought the second of the recent declarations, however, showed promise, and so I spent a little time trying to find out more about the people behind it. It seems, in part, to have been the result of urgings from Jeremy Brecher, an American historian and leftist activist, who wrote a paper for Foreign Policy In Focus called An “Affirmative Measure” to Help Prevent the Commission of War Crimes by the Bush Administration.

He writes, in part:

All Americans have a responsibility under U.S. and international law to take “affirmative measures” to bring these crimes to a halt. This discussion paper presents one possible “affirmative measure” for consideration: A public statement pledging to encourage and support resistance to draft registration and military activities that violate international law.

At the height of the Vietnam War, thousands signed a similar statement, A Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority. Several of those involved, including Dr. Benjamin Spock and Rev. William Sloan Coffin, were prosecuted in part for their role in the Call. The Call and the subsequent trial played a significant role in the development of opposition and resistance to the Vietnam War.

(At the time, however, Brecher was taking an even more militant stand. In his critique of The Vietnam Moratorium from he called for a general strike to force the government’s hand.)

I like where he’s going with this. So many anti-war declarations are just bombastic complaints. What’s missing is the “and here’s what we’re going to do about it” clause and the

…we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Inspired in part I think by Brecher’s idea, the group Reclaiming the Prophetic Voice launched their own Call to Resist the War in Iraq, which reads in part:

Many members of the armed services are seeking ways to avoid service in Iraq or leave the military completely; some young men are refusing to register for Selective Service. Increasing numbers of enlisted men and women are risking prison sentences or forced immigration in order to avoid collaboration in an immoral war. We applaud these choices and will do all that we can to encourage others to follow their example.

More specifically, we support and will spread the word about the G.I. Rights Hotline and other efforts to support soldiers in withdrawing from the military. We will counsel young men turning eighteen on the moral obligations as well as risks inherent in a refusal to register with the Selective Service, and we will raise funds to support them in their legal defense. Should a draft be reinstituted we will encourage young men and women not to comply.

Notice all of the great “we will”s.

Another similarly-inspired declaration comes from the groups Iraq Pledge of Resistance and United for Peace and Justice. It suffers in comparison from being almost comically vague:

…we call on people to engage in acts and campaigns of noncooperation and active nonviolent resistance to the U.S. government, the military, the corporate merchants of war, and all institutions that feed the continuing conflict in Iraq.… ¶ And we cannot rest from our campaign of nonviolent resistance until our demands of peace and justice are met.

We call for expressions of nonviolent resistance that are many and varied. From the offices of Congresspersons and Senators to military recruiters and military bases, from our payment of federal taxes to the facilities where weapons are made that become the profits and sorrows of empire, we welcome each and every person who is moved to engage in or support noncooperation and nonviolent resistance, at whatever level, to take action.

So, like, whatever many and varied expressions of nonviolent resistance you’re moved to engage in or support until our demands of peace and justice are met, man, we think that they’re really cool, and, like, we totally welcome them.

But even the Call to Resist with all of it’s concrete “we will”s suffers from putting too much of the burden on other people, I think. A large part of what the declaration asks us to do is to counsel other people to change their lives and make sacrifices (to risk prosecution and financial hardship by deserting the military, to forgo financial aid for college by refusing draft registration, and so forth). Thoreau saw through this sort of thing :

See what gross inconsistency is tolerated. I have heard some of my townsmen say, “I should like to have them order me out to help put down an insurrection of the slaves, or to march to Mexico — see if I would go” and yet these very men have each, directly by their allegiance, and so indirectly, at least, by their money, furnished a substitute. The soldier is applauded who refuses to serve in an unjust war by those who do not refuse to sustain the unjust government which makes the war; is applauded by those whose own act and authority he disregards and sets at naught; as if the state were penitent to that degree that it hired one to scourge it while it sinned, but not to that degree that it left off sinning for a moment…

Those who, while they disapprove of the character and measures of a government, yield to it their allegiance and support are undoubtedly its most conscientious supporters, and so frequently the most serious obstacles to reform. Some are petitioning the State to dissolve the Union, to disregard the requisitions of the President. Why do they not dissolve it themselves — the union between themselves and the State — and refuse to pay their quota into its treasury?

As it turns out, one month after the U.S. invaded Iraq, the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee issued a call for support — using as its template the very same Vietnam-era Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority that Brecher cited. Unfortunately, this new declaration tried to straddle the line between being a call to take action and a call to applaud other people who get to actually do the heavy lifting:

[W]e, the undersigned individuals, believing that war tax refusal under the present circumstances is fully justified on moral and ethical grounds, publicly declare our encouragement of, and willingness to lend support to, those persons of conscience who choose to take this step.

Aren’t those persons of conscience over there simply wonderful! Hip hip!

Seems to me the next logical step is to combine the best ideas of the bunch, and come up with a declaration that calls on those who ratify it to commit to tax resistance. For broadest appeal, perhaps, the declaration shouldn’t demand that everyone resist all of their taxes all at once — but should instead demand that each person start practicing at least one of the many war tax resistance methods, some of which are quite practicable even by the timid, while at the same time having a “the more the better” attitude of encouraging practical resistance over symbolic resistance.