Time for a surge…in the peace movement

Today marks eight years of the war in Afghanistan.  As Rudd and Obama consider yet another troop surge, for most Australians this milestone represents just another statistic, another number to skip over in the morning papers.  For others of us it represents a national disgrace, and high time for a surge in active opposition to the war.

Even as we all collectively reeled in shock from the events of September 11th 2001, there was a sense that this act of horrendous violence would see more acts of horrendous violence perpetuated in response.  What none of us could have realised, despite George W. Bush’s declaration of this as a “war without end”, is that we would still be mired in Afghanistan eight years later, with no end in sight.

Let’s face it; the war has not gone well.  The Taliban is continually regaining control of parts of the country. The US-backed parliament is mired in corruption.  Life expectancy in Afghanistan sits at just 44 years and more than half of children under five are malnourished. According to UNICEF only 22 percent of the population has access to clean drinking water. Civilian deaths are an everyday occurrence; according to the latest UN reports, around 400 civilians died in Afghanistan from January to August of this year due to US/NATO air strikes. There have been 1425 Coalition deaths.  Even General McChrystal acknowledges we are losing this war.

So it’s not surprising that despite its branding as “the good war” (compared to Iraq), support amongst Australians is dwindling.  Yet political disengagement is at an all time high, even – or perhaps especially – amongst those who want the war ended.  When governments continue to wage wars despite massive public opposition, as happened with the recent Iraq war, there are two options for the opposition: go harder or go home.  Unfortunately most people did the latter instead of the former.

What is needed is an active, disciplined, determined effort by ordinary Australians to end the war.  As long-time antiwar activist Ciaron O’Reilly often says if just 1% of those who marched against the Iraq war in 2003 had gone into nonviolent civil disobedience and the other 99% had supported them, we would have formed a dynamic and formidable opposition to it.  Instead, we washed our hands of the whole mess and went back to watching reality tv.

“If this task of building a peaceful world is the most important task of our time, it is also the most difficult,” wrote Trappist monk Thomas Merton. “It will, in fact, require far more discipline, more sacrifice, more planning, more thought, more co-operation and more heroism than war ever demanded.”

Of course, the hawks would dismiss such talk with the simplistic rhetoric, “if you’re against the war, you’re against the troops” or “opposing the war is unpatriotic”.  Yet as war veterans groups like Iraq Veterans Against the War, Courage to Resist, and Australia’s own Stand Fast are demonstrating, supporting the troops and being patriotic usually means ending the war.

I’m not suggesting simply abandoning Afghanistan to a mess of our own making.  We must commit ourselves to rebuilding the country, but with civilian reconstruction teams, not our military.

We cannot afford to leave this up to our politicians, who believe that changing course means admitting failure, nor can we abdicate responsibility to them for what happens in Afghanistan.  Our silence gives consent, and that consent must be actively withdrawn.  So today, on the eighth anniversary of the war in Afghanistan, I’m calling for a surge to end this war – but a surge in the peace movement, not in troop numbers.  Ordinary people, military and civilian, must act now.

Get out on the streets.  Make a noise.  Organise or sign a petition. Write to your MP.  Hold stalls, vigils, marches. Take nonviolent civil disobedience.

It takes courage to wage wars.  Sometimes it takes more courage to be part of ending them.