Iknew all the slogans. I knew all the songs. Like a lot of kids in the ’60s, I was drawing peace signs long before I was eligible for Vietnam.
I could sing John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance.” I saw “Make Love Not War” spray painted on Volkswagen vans.
You cannot help the era in which you grow up. It infuses you. It shades you. So as someone weaned on doubting war, I was surprised to find myself interviewing a member of the “peace movement” last week and getting angry.
“We do not support killing innocent women and children,” she said.
“We topple one government, and the next one is even worse,” she said.
“You keep escalating the fighting, and you know where that leads?” she said.
“World War III.”
No one wants World War III. And yet the notion of peace, of not fighting back in this sudden war on terrorism, is so disturbing to most Americans that the same antiwar protesters who once spoke for much of the nation have now become the targets of tomato tosses.
Had I become one of the tossers?
Arguing a position
In the days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Congress voted almost unanimously to support the president in military action. Only one member, Barbara Lee of California, cast a no vote. Although she only wanted “to make sure Constitutional laws were not suspended,” she nonetheless received tens of thousands of hate-filled e-mails, as well as death threats.
There is something odd about that. Death threats for someone calling for peace? Death threats from Americans who are angry about, well, death threats to Americans?
It only points out the baby boomer’s uncomfortable posture. We have seen the folly of certain foreign wars. We hate senseless violence. Yet we have been struck. And a bleeding nation is different than one on the sidelines.
So I tried to explain to my peace movement activist that this was not Gandhi against the British. This was not North versus South Vietnam. This was not the United States against a certain country where negotiations between leaders might save us from bloodshed.
My arguments failed to persuade. Instead she reeled back and said, “Maybe we should examine our foreign policies and see why the rest of the world hates us so much.”
And that was where she lost me.
Signs of maturity
I am not so naive that I think the United States has not supported some bad guys over the years, some foolish dictatorships, some military coups. I know we swing our weight on trade and the environment, often to the dismay of other nations.
But I also know we provide more aid than anyone to the rest the world. We feed other nations. We protect them. We certainly finance them.
We support Israel, sure, but every president from Jimmy Carter on has tried to get the parties in the Middle East to sit down and resolve their problems. And even when we have conflicts with other nations, we don’t encourage American zealots to dive bomb their office buildings and kill their innocent people.
In this new war, we are dealing with an enemy that speaks only the language of death. And although no one wants World War III, you can’t sit around passively while a handful of lunatics — who, by the way, would happily blow up a peace rally if the participants didn’t believe in their religion — take over the world.
So what have I become? A hawk? A warmonger? I hope not. I still see the horror of it all. I still advocate only action directed at terrorists, not hurling bombs so we can kick some butt. And I never want peace advocates to be silenced.
But I am no longer a kid with a Magic Marker who draws symbols with no understanding of what they mean. Bloodshed is not neat and tidy. And protecting one’s country is not the same as trying to take one over. You draw a line, and you say no more. If that’s called growing up, so be it.
Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or email@example.com. Catch “Albom in the Afternoon” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760) and simulcast on MSNBC 3-5 p.m.