Watching the now-famous television images of Iraqi people celebrating the victory of U.S. and coalition forces in Baghdad, I couldn't help thinking: I wonder if I'll be having dinner with Martin Sheen soon?
You see, it was four months ago that I asked Sheen, Mike Farrell and a host of activist-actors whether the sight of enraptured, newly liberated Iraqis might prompt them to second-guess their noisy opposition to war.
Specifically, it was at a December press conference where Sheen, Farrell and a dozen others announced the formation of the group Artists United to Win Without War. Here's my rather longwinded question:
"If we militarily go (to Iraq) and do a regime change, and you see Iraqis coming forward saying, 'Thank God we no longer have to live under (Saddam Hussein's) tyrannical rule, his torturous regime,' if you see Iraqis dancing in the streets a la Afghanis, would you publicly change your position? Would you consider that you might be wrong?"
Sheen answered: "Oh, I'm always open to the possibility that I'm wrong."
Undaunted, I pressed further: "Would you publicly state that maybe your group was wrong after a successful war with minimal casualties?"
"I've seen lots of these things before," I told Sheen. "I don't recall any celebrity making a big splash about anything and then publicly saying, 'You know, maybe we might have been wrong.' And I'm wondering if there's a possibility you might be wrong and if you would admit it?"
"Are you saying we're going to eat our words?" Sheen asked.
"I'm saying, if you do, would you publicly state so?" I responded.
That's when Sheen promised me a dinner where we'd "see who eats what."
A few weeks later, I had a similar conversation with antiwar comedienne Janeane Garofalo.
"There's no way a war in Iraq will go well," Garofalo told me.
My response was, and forgive me if this sounds familiar: "If you're wrong and we defeat them with minimal casualties, and the Iraqi people say 'God Bless America for removing Saddam Hussein,' will you admit you were wrong?"
"I want to be wrong," Garofalo said. "I would hold a press conference. I'll bring orchids to Laura Bush and Dick Cheney!"
Well, I haven't yet received an invitation to a Garofalo press conference or to a dinner with Sheen. But I did get an invitation Wednesday to a meeting of Not in Our Name.
NION, as they call themselves, is one of the more radical of the antiwar groups, and embraced by such celebrities as Susan Sarandon, Ed Asner, Oliver Stone and Danny Glover.
NION has helped organize "peace" rallies sometimes 200,000-strong, and boasts that theirs is a worldwide organization. I thought Wednesday's meeting would be particularly interesting, being that the peace movement suffered a major setback that day, that being televised images of Iraqis waving American flags and kissing photos of President Bush.
I was wrong.
At 6:30 p.m., when the meeting was scheduled to begin, there were just eight people in attendance. By 7 p.m. I counted 34 people, but two of those were a TV news crew from UPN 13 in Los Angeles.
Reporter Hal Eisner was preparing a segment about how difficult it has been to place antiwar TV ads and get air-play for antiwar songs. So he came to the NION meeting for some expert commentary.
Attendees dutifully threw around phrases like "censorship" and "First Amendment violations," and called those pesky images of happy Iraqis "a shameless display of U.S. propaganda."
They vehemently complained that the media has ignored the antiwar movement. The irony that the media was, at that very moment, paying so much attention to their peace movement of little more than a few dozen participants apparently escaped them.
The U.S. military is causing "death and carnage to the people of Iraq," one attendee said. "The resistance in not over," said another.
During a private conversation with the group's media coordinator he told me that, even during the meatiest days of the antiwar movement the L.A. chapter of NION attracted only about 50 people to its meetings. Then I asked my favorite question: What will it take to make you admit you might be wrong?
"There's more than one answer to your question," the genial young man began, before I cut him off with specific hypotheticals.
"They could find nuclear bombs in 16 different locations in Iraq and NION will still say the war was wrong?"
Not getting a straight answer, I upped the ante a bit. Then a bit more.
"How about if we find 16,000 different torture chambers and 14 million Iraqis go on the record saying, 'God Bless America, we don't have to be tortured any more.' Then would NION say, 'Maybe we were wrong?'"
"Sure," the NION representative conceded.
That's a start, I suppose. But my search for a repentant antiwar activist continues. Wait, maybe that's Martin Sheen on the phone now. . . .