Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
October 5, 2009

Looking Back On the Long War
This Wednesday marks the eighth anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan. The American Civil War, and U.S. participation in the Second World War, each took only about half the time of this ongoing conflict.

Just as an earlier administration had overcome antiwar sentiment by rallying an indignant nation around the bombing of Pearl Harbor, understandable outrage and calls for revenge after the reprehensible 9/11 attacks gave Bush the perfect opportunity to launch a new “War on Terror.”

Part of the War on Terror was the Bush Doctrine which usurped the right of preemptive attack wherever he saw fit. Aided by his ever faithful sidekick, Tony Blair, the first implementation of the new doctrine was in Afghanistan.

This new type of war not only brushed aside the Geneva conventions regarding prisoners, and international treaties banning torture; it increasingly ignored restraints of the U.S. Constitution in arguably the greatest assault on democratic rights at home since Woodrow Wilson’s administration.

Like all associated with the labor and peace movements, this website had to make some tough choices of if or how to respond in that highly charged climate. I’ve been reviewing what we said then: our initial statement posted on the evening of 9/11; The Working Class, Terrorism and War, on 9/15; War Is a Working Class Issue, 9/21; along with selected e-mail exchanges. We were angrily denounced by a few former readers but there were others not afraid to speak up in the tradition of Debs.

We were reassured to see a statement adopted by the Labor Party Interim National Council on October 5 which concluded,

“There’s only one way for the American people to achieve true security: Workers here and around the globe must win their rights and secure their share of the world’s wealth. As Samuel Gompers said a century ago, we want more justice and less revenge.”

Our old friend Stuart Elliott, webmaster of Kansas Workbeat, started compiling progressive statements on the crisis on his personal website.

Less than a month after 9/11 U.S. and British forces invaded Afghanistan on the pretext of hunting down Osama bin Laden. While public opinion was predictable we were surprised by some stands taken.

A second-term Democrat congresswoman from California, Barbara Lee, courageously cast the sole opposing vote on the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists resolution in the House. She had to be assigned around the clock police bodyguards because of the numerous death threats she received.

On the other hand, Eric Lee (no relation to Barbara), publisher of LabourStart, shocked many of us by becoming a gung ho supporter of the Anglo-American invasion. We reprinted–and answered–two of his articles in the early weeks of the war: The case for military action Why democratic socialists and trade unionists should back this war and The War Is Over. In the second piece, posted November 16, 2001, Lee wrote,

“Humanitarian aid is already pouring into Afghanistan through the newly liberated zones in the north. Women are returning to work. Television and radio are broadcasting again. Men are even allowed to shave their beards if they wish. Children can fly kites, previously banned by the Taliban. For millions of Afghans, the nightmare is ending and new hope is born.

“And all this happened because the United States reacted with overwhelming force to the attack on New York City and Washington on September 11th. It is entirely thanks to US and British cruise missiles, B-52s, daisy cutter bombs, the CIA, and special forces troops that this is happening.”

I answered this somewhat premature bragging of victory with an article entitled, Winning Wars and White Man’s Burden. I closed with this,

“There is nothing to celebrate, nothing to recant. The War on Terror is not over. The victories that impress Eric are victories for our ruling class, not for working people anywhere. Right now those in Eric’s camp are feeling the wind in their sails. Whether their gloating will still be in order further down the road of this war is another question yet to be decided.

“But even if their cruise missiles and cluster bombs prevail in the end our position will remain unshaken. It is not based on expediency but on the principles of working class internationalism. Eugene Debs once said,

“‘Years ago I declared that there was only one war in which I would enlist and that was the war of the workers of the world against the exploiters of the world. I declared moreover that the working class had no interest in the wars declared and waged by the ruling classes of the various countries upon one another for conquest and spoils.’”

“That’s the heritage we identify with, that’s the tradition that we are proud of, that’s the principle that guides us through war today.”

Of course, a little more than a year later, the Washington/London axis launched another war that was to long overshadow Afghanistan. By then the climate of intimidation had let up a bit and opposition to the invasion of Iraq took on mass proportions. It was during the run-up to the Iraq war that the historic launching of US Labor Against the War took place.

But even many who opposed the new war in Iraq continued to have illusions about Afghanistan. This was exploited during the 2008 presidential election by the Obama campaign. The President pledged to wind down the unpopular Iraq war while also stepping up the “right war” in Afghanistan.

Escalation in Afghanistan is one promise the President has kept. In fact, he has expanded the war to Pakistan as well. More boots on the ground have been accompanied by unmanned drones. And the Canadian, French, and German governments who didn’t dare support the Iraq war have pledged to help more as well.

But the situation in Afghanistan for the war makers is worse than ever. Deaths of noncombatants and NATO troops have spiked. Even though most Afghans and Pakistanis don’t much like the Taliban–now largely confined to the south of the country--they hate the foreign invaders even more. The recent defeats suffered by U.S. forces in Nuristan province were mainly inflicted by what the Pentagon calls “tribal militias”–that is local resistance movements. The strategic NATO outposts are a bloody failure like “Vietnam without napalm” as one GI recently told a reporter.

Now there is a debate within the administration over the future of the war. The brass hats–sounding more every day like General Westmoreland, who assembled a force of a half-million in Vietnam--have been publicly campaigning for many more troops to “pacify” the countryside. Others in the West Wing, watching the polls, want to reduce American casualties by relying more on the drones.

We reject both options in the war machine tactical debate. There is only one acceptable choice for us–bring all of the troops home now from Afghanistan, Iraq, and wherever else they are not wanted.

Next Sunday there will be a vigil/rally against the Afghanistan war sponsored by AFSC in Kansas City. A National Day of Local & Regional Actions Against the Wars in Afghanistan & Iraq will be observed in dozens of U.S. cities on October 17. More information here.

In Brief...
¶ While little is heard about Ford-UAW negotiations Ford Canada is pressing the CAW hard on what it claims is a sixteen dollar per hour greater labor cost than south of the border. Lindsay Hinshelwood, a CAW rank-and-file activist writes in
The Bullet, “For the Ford workers in Canada, they have been traditionally pitted against their American UAW comrades but now they are being told they are competing against Mexico, China and India for jobs. A competition for which workers everywhere will always lose.”
¶ The annual convention of the 23,000-member Massachusetts Nurses Association has ratified leadership recommendation to affiliate with the new nurse “super union,” National Nurses United. They join the California Nurses Association/National Nurse Organizing Committee and the United American Nurses to unite a total of 150,000 working nurses in 22 states.
¶ Last week we reported on the strikes and demonstrations by students and campus employees protesting cuts at UC-Berkeley. Now the university is paying a consultant three million dollars to help them figure out even more to chop. Bain & Co is doing similar slash for cash work at the University of North Carolina and Cornell.
¶ The Obama White House is proposing language in a draft journalist shield law that would compel reporters to reveal their sources if public disclosure of the sources' information “caused or [was] reasonably likely to cause significant and articulable harm to national security.” Where have we heard this before?
¶ Eight states and the District of Columbia don't have laws that specifically bar insurance companies from using domestic violence as a pre-existing condition to deny health coverage, according to a study from the National Women's Law Center.
¶ Over 60 musicians, including Duran Duran, Lily Allen and Bob Geldof, launched the world's first digital musical petition: a re-recording of the Midnight Oil song, Beds are Burning, aimed at pressuring world leaders to make a hard-hitting deal over climate change at December's Copenhagen summit. It is also the first ever global music petition: the track is available free online and downloading it automatically adds the listener to the campaign petition: Tck Tck Tck, Time for Climate Justice. So, for an unprecedented second week in a row, I’m recommending you watch a music video which can be clicked on
¶ From a DC Central Labor Council report on this year’s Labor Film Festival: “Calling it ‘The People’s Oscar,’ Michael Moore enthusiastically accepted the Tony Mazzocchi Labor Arts Award at last night’s D.C. preview of his new film Capitalism: A Love Story. ’I knew Tony and he was a remarkable man,’ an obviously touched Moore said after being presented with the award by DC Labor FilmFest Co-Chairs Jos Williams and Mark Dudzic, ‘this really means a lot to me.’”

There was a lot more posted on our Daily Labor News Digest, updated by 7AM Monday-Friday that we urge you to check out regularly. For now,

That’s all for this week.

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