Readers respond to "Why Are These People Smiling?" by Michelle Goldberg.

Published March 25, 2003 10:44PM (EST)

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I'm confused by Michelle Goldberg's piece. If the U.S. military can impose a true democracy in Iraq, why would we want to continue protesting? Shouldn't we rally around our country's new policy of transformation and support the invasions of Iran and Syria?

If it was right to protest the war last week, it is right to protest it this week. Nothing has materially changed except that the United States has actually begun its invasion. It is too soon to abandon beliefs.

I won't be sorry to admit that I was completely wrong -- when U.S. occupation forces leave Iraq after an untroubled year of building democracy and the rest of the Islamic world is not radicalized by the invasion.

In fact, there will be the small consolation of Charles Taylor having to thank me for making this all possible by voting my conscience and voting for Nader.

Until then I will keep protesting and enjoying the company of others whose opinions aren't so easily swayed.

-- Randy Belknap

First of all, celebration in the face of horror is a long-standing tradition and a powerful means of affirming life in the midst of death. Eros and Thanatos always dance with each other, through many cultural histories. Why shouldn't the New York protesters celebrate a beautiful spring day as a way of kicking against the darkness that's happening halfway around the world?

Second of all, Goldberg's envisioning of a "Bush wins" scenario assumes that the only way that the Iraqis' situation can be improved is through a violent invasion from America and Britain. How arrogant. Seeing war as the only viable option demonstrates a lack of imagination and vision.

It is possible that this American and British invasion will improve the lives of Iraqis in the short term. But the long-term impact on the world will not be good. Violence will always breed more violence. This too is evident throughout history. Even World War II, held up as an example of justified war, helped lead to the Cold War, the nuclear arms race, and to the possibility of the human race wiping itself out.

Somewhere along the line it has to stop.

-- David van Belle

I was among the protesters on the streets in New York before the war started. I have not been involved with the protests since, however -- in fact, I think that if the protesters actually "won" now, and troops were spontaneously withdrawn from Iraq, the results would be disastrous -- compounding rather than alleviating our policy errors.

Now that we have lost the struggle over whether to begin the war, the best thing that those of us who were skeptics can do is to put pressure on the administration to do right what would have been better not done at all. This certainly does not mean stifling our dissent or masking criticism of the president.

But it may, in fact, mean pressuring this administration, with its short attention span, not to withdraw troops too early and not to leave the majority of Iraq as a lawless land of warlords the way we have in Afghanistan.

Now that we are in Iraq we are stuck. And we are better to have the courage and fortitude to stick around, and to strive to improve the lives of the Iraqis, than to withdraw leaving chaos in our wake.

-- Andrew Larrick

Goldberg accepts the Bush administration propaganda that the war in Iraq is for the liberation of the populace, and then attempts to confront the antiwar demonstrators with this false premise.

The 12-year war in Iraq isn't about the Iraqis. If it were, we wouldn't use depleted uranium in our weapons, and we would have ended the sanctions long ago. Maybe Goldberg buys the proposition that Saddam Hussein is responsible for the million-plus people who have died there since 1991 of these causes. But it is not clear to me that any viable indigenous government could have saved the Iraqis from that fate.

We continue to demonstrate, during the high point of Bush's poll numbers about Iraq, because Iran, Korea, Syria, Yemen, are next on the list of coming wars. I, for one, want writers like Goldberg to relieve their minds of administration propaganda and focus on the immoral, unworkable foreign policy it purveys.

-- Bob Shields

Michelle Goldberg's article on the antiwar movement's desperate denial was exactly right. I went to Ann Arbor's antiwar protest on Thursday, and I was shocked to hear people call for immediate, unconditional withdrawal from Iraq. Meanwhile, I was marching with a sign that said, "Please, Bush: Prove Us Wrong!"

We lost this round. The war isn't going away. I'm not calling for cowardly retreat; I'm calling for the peace movement to bear down on Bush and make sure he doesn't get away with any behind-the-scenes human rights abuses or handouts to oil business cronies. We need to make sure that every single American remembers our history of setting up bloody puppet dictators, and screams "Never again!" if Bush starts moving that way with Iraq. We need to rub Bush's nose in Afghanistan (not to mention New York) and make sure he lives up to his grand promises of aid, sovereignty and democracy.

Now is our chance to put down roots and become a permanent part of America's political discourse. But first, we need to stop marginalizing ourselves with impossible demands and exaggerated doomsaying. Let's put down the tired old chants. Let's change history instead.

-- Michael Cohn

Although I greatly admire Michelle Goldberg's pieces, she seems to have a blind spot when it comes to the antiwar movement.

The antiwar movement has already achieved great victories. The non-U.N. vote is a direct result of the millions of people in the streets. The fact that leaders of the world are willing to stand up to U.S. hegemony is already an important political victory.

People weren't joyous -- they were feeling uplifted by the positive energies of over 200,000 good people speaking out for peace. Given how depressing the news is, there is nothing unseemly in that positive feeling.

Bush will conquer Iraq, no one doubts that. At this point we all hope and pray it is a short war with as little bloodshed as possible. But if Bush couldn't even win the hearts and minds of his own allies, does Goldberg really believe he will win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people?

If they do positively transform Iraq and with this war manage to curtail terrorism and stabilize the region, you have my public promise that I will vote for Bush in the next election. I'm not too worried that I will have to deliver on this promise. I am worried about what is more likely to happen -- which is why I was marching today.

-- Aron Trauring

Michelle Goldberg's article about the supposed futility of the antiwar movement missed the point of antiwar demonstrations entirely. The best sign I saw in the crowd yesterday said, "Just Because It's Easy Doesn't Make It Right."

My sign read, "What Will Become of International Law?" And the reason I was smiling all the way down Broadway was that media reports like hers, as well as those on the TV networks, make it seem like you're crazy or naive if you object to the dangerous turn that U.S. policy has taken into unilateral action and preemptive war. As another sign I saw in the crowd read, "War Is Terrorism on a Bigger Budget."

The point of the demonstrations is to get a couple hundred thousand like-minded people together and remind ourselves that we are, in fact, not crazy for thinking that what has happened in our country is calamitous.

I'm not under any illusion that Bush will change his policy because of us. But if I didn't get out in the street and see that other people agree with me about this war, I'd be sitting home watching TV, tearing my hair out in frustration.

-- David Franklin

This article advances what seems to be an emerging sentiment: that the antiwar protest movement has backed itself into a corner, and that success in the coalition forces' military campaign and the relatively low civilian casualties to date might somehow prove the antiwar movement wrong.

Even if the outcome of this war is relative peace in Iraq, and even if Iraqis consider themselves liberated, the damage to the United States' reputation in the international community, particularly among Arab countries, has already been significant. We will feel for years, maybe even decades, the damage to the democratic process that Bush has wreaked by refusing to listen to the American people, bullying Congress and blatantly flouting the United Nations.

Coalition forces' potential success in ousting Saddam Hussein's regime may signal to some a complete victory and a coup for Bush. But to many of us who oppose this war, the end of the campaign alone does not justify the means.

The ultimate success of this war will be gauged by the answers to these questions: Has the United States kept its commitment to the Iraqi people to rebuild its country and install a functioning democratic regime? Has the U.S. regained its goodwill among the international community? Are the American people truly safer from terrorism than they were before the war? Do we have faith that our leaders are truthful and acting in the country's best interests?

These are the reasons I continue to take to the streets and protest. And on Saturday, I wasn't smiling.

-- Jennifer Swartz Turfle

Much of the discussion about the antiwar movement's possible self-delusion misses the point.

Preventing the war was never really likely. But by turning out in such large numbers to protest -- numbers so large that even the corporate mainstream media cannot ignore or downplay their importance -- they set the record straight. Twenty years from now, no historian will be able to claim that the antiwar movement was a marginalized minority. In a democracy, protest and resistance to power are in many ways even more important than whether that resistance succeeds.

And as for the Iraqis welcoming the U.S. troops with open arms -- well, I have no doubt that many Iraqis will initially be happy to be liberated. Remember that hordes of Russians, after decades of Stalin's mass murder, welcomed the Germans as liberators in 1941. A lot depends on what happens after that liberation; the Iraqi people will soon learn what it's like to live in a country run by, and for, multinational oil companies.

To paraphrase F.Scott Fitzgerald, American stories don't have second acts. Bush will no doubt claim victory while the flush of liberation is still on the Iraqis' cheeks and the cameras are still rolling. But soon, just as they did in Afghanistan, the media will move on and the ongoing and unglamorous mess will be largely ignored -- except when it involves car bombs and passenger jets.

-- Tim Moerman

I'm openly and avidly against this war. Nevertheless, I'd like nothing better than for things to turn out well in Iraq. I fully expect to find out someday, possibly a decade from now, that tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians lost their lives. I fully expect the rebuilding of Iraq to be a shockingly expensive exercise in colonialism and corporate profiteering that will bring the world's wrath down upon my kids' heads and leave needy Americans (and Iraqis) out in the cold. However, I pore over news analyses looking for hopeful signs that such a fate can still be avoided.

None of us has a crystal ball, but almost the entire world is guessing that this war will be a disaster, if not in the short term, then in the long term. What choice do we have but to speak out about it?

-- Beth Gallagher

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