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On the Question
of Protest in Time of War
by Greg Moses
March 27, 2003

I've been in a few email skirmishes already over the question of protesting the war. I am reminded of civil war, when families find themselves fighting on opposing sides.

Already, there is a ritualistic rhetoric in the war about war. One side represents those who are willing to die for freedom. The other side represents those who are being killed. In both cases, righteousness overflows.

In terms of the ritualistic debate, I want to say that freedom is something you use or lose, and to insist on this freedom, to denounce this war, in this climate of intimidation, is a way of fighting for freedom, too.

If we live in a free country, where people in times of peace can speak openly about the need to start war, then we should also live in a free country where people in times of war can speak openly about the need to start peace. That seems fair to me.

Peace protesters, too, have been willing to suffer for their freedoms, although they are much less willing to kill. I mean, that's the sort of fist-swinging argument I feel like punching back with.

But then I think that this brand new General Brooks offers an interesting conceptual terrain when he talks about war. At his press briefing from Qatar, he talks about a war plan being composed of three elements: time, space, and purpose. That's subtle.

And when confronted by an irate question as to why reporters should attend to his briefings at all, General Brooks cooly replies that the choice is up to them.

Furthermore, when pressed about what the so-called coalition is going to do next, he replies, as if he studied very carefully in his philosophy classes, that the strategists will analyze the particular circumstances of cases as they arise and will respond more with art than science.

For General Brooks, war is a decidedly philosophical art. And so we may raise the level of debate upon terms that he offers.

As philosopher William James argued in his classic essay on the Moral Equivalent of War, there is something compelling for a pacifist when studying the arts of war. War presents us with a concentrated sense of purpose to which we willfully bend all space and time, organize every last drop of perspiration, and apply our courage to a mission into which various selves merge into sacrificial battles for truth. It is difficult not to be moved by such courage under fire. So why not be moved?

For William James, all these qualities need not be dismissed, in fact they may be embraced and transformed by just the slightest change of choice. Instead of organizing space and time completely to the purpose of war, is it not possible to do all this, but for peace instead?

Is it not possible to say to voices for war, hush now, you are deflecting our concentration of collective will. We are organizing for peace. We will have every possible resource, every possible technology, every possible science, and every possible heart enlisted to this battle. Peace is not a time or space emptied of purpose, but a universe filled with a strenuous organization of purposeful events.

And, following the example of General Brooks, we might say to irate questioners, that's your choice. You fill time and space with purposes of war. It is not treason to deploy our enormous collective powers, immediately and unconditionally, for peace.

Yes, it is true that the war you started has made it more difficult to change the entire organization of time and space to the purposes of peace, so forgive us if we can't share with you our plan. We can only do what generals do after all--survey each bewildering circumstance in all its particularity, and respond with more art than science.

Timetables, as everyone now agrees, are not the key issue. We, too, will campaign for as long as it takes.


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