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Was I That Stupid? By: Gerald Posner
accessnorthgeorgia.com | Tuesday, March 04, 2003

This past weekend, millions turned out in cities worldwide for antiwar protests – the largest since the Vietnam war – by groups opposed to US military action against Iraq. Tens of thousands in the United States recently braved frigid east coast weather and almost half-a-million people marched through Florence and Paris in what was promoted as one in a series in many Europe-wide anti-war rallies.

Many of my fellow Democrats have been gushing about the hordes that have taken to the streets, basking in nostalgia about the street demonstrations over Vietnam that were a factor in ch
anging government policy in Southeast Asia. But the enthusiasm that the protests kindled in some seemed strange, as all they did for me was bring back shameful memories of my own political naiveté thirty years ago.

In 1972 I was a freshman at UC Berkeley, then proud to boast it had the only city council in America that refused to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. Carrying around baby-doctor Benjamin Spock’s leftist manifesto on Vietnam, I quickly became an activist during the next two years in immense antiwar protests that seemed almost daily occurrences at Berkeley. As a political science major I thought I had all the answers. The North Vietnamese were merely freedom fighters trying to liberate their country from the shackles of western imperialism. The U.S. war was unjust and being waged against innocents. And Governor Ronald Reagan, who kept badmouthing us and sending in the tough Alameda sheriff’s department to disburse the crowds, was somewhere right of Attila the Hun.

Three decades later I have no pride in the memory of those protests. Rather, I wonder how it was possible to be so mistaken about real politics and world events. My political gullibility is an embarrassment. The so-called peace movement had completely deluded itself, conveniently ignoring any evidence that countered its agenda. How was it not possible to have seen that the North was a convenient tool for the Soviets to bleed the US and that it represented one of the most repressive old-line communist dictatorships since Stalin? What were we marching for three decades ago? Certainly not for the right of North Vietnam to invade neighboring Cambodia, killing tens of thousands of civilians in a brutal war of submission. Nor did we raucously protest so that two million Cambodians could be exterminated under the Khmer Rouge. Not many of us would have been so enthusiastic in Sproul Plaza had we known that the North Vietnamese secret police would imprison, torture, and kill tens of thousands of political prisoners in a futile, but barbarous, attempt to “cleanse” the country of western influence.

None of the tragedies that happened after the US withdrawal from Southeast Asia should have come as a surprise. But they did to those of us in the antiwar movement because we had blinded ourselves to any reality.

Will today’s current peace protestors eventually feel as foolish as I do? I think even more so. Weapons of mass destruction, a war declared on America by Islamic extremists, and a leader in Saddam who rivals the most thuggish dictators in recent history, changes the entire equation.

Thirty years ago there was never a question of North Vietnam attacking America or its civilians around the globe. Our often-misguided peace demonstrations inadvertently assisted the communists in brutally reuniting the country. But today’s peaceniks, who seem to be more interested in protecting Saddam than in trying to prevent the massive loss of life on American soil if terrorists get their hands on weapons of mass destruction, are playing with much more dangerous consequences. They are deluding themselves to the post 9/11 realities, and in so doing, their success would put the country at considerable risk.

Saddam must be delirious with joy to think that not a shot has been fired, and the same old suspects – Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and Ramsey Clark - are taking to the streets and leading many impressionable and idealistic young Americans in trying to stop a war that is, unfortunately, a necessity. Such demonstrations give Saddam the false hope that peace sentiment on the street will weaken the resolve of Western leaders, and the vacillation of allies like Germany and France only rekindle the shameful specter earlier European weakness when it came to dealing with its own fascist dictators a generation ago.

The loose collaboration of leftists, anti-war activists, and anti-globalization proponents, must wake up. There are fundamentalists who would kill them without a second thought merely because they are Westerners. Appeasement gets you nowhere, as Europe learned from Hitler.

I looked at the recent television images of thousands, almost in a party atmosphere, as they chanted their rhyming protests against a possible war. Was I that stupid? I hope not.

Gerald Posner is a Miami and New York based journalist. His book 'Why America Slept,' an investigation into what led to 9/11, will be published this fall.

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