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Doug Millroy

Saturday, April 26, 2003 - 09:00

Columns - SOME OF YOU will remember and others will undoubtedly have read about the red-baiting antics of United States Senator Joe McCarthy in the 1950s. Well, it appears they are back.

This time, however, the Americans, in turning on their own again, are not looking for alleged Communists to put the screws to, they are targetting anyone who in any way expresses any opposition to the war on Iraq.

This, from a nation that allegedly espouses free speech.

Fist it was the Dixie Chicks, some music stations refusing to play their tapes and customers destroying them because one of their members spoke out against the war.

Then it spread. The latest to be hit are anti-war liberals Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon, whose movie Bull Durham was to be the subject of a 15th anniversary tribute at baseball’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

“We believe your very public criticism of President Bush at this important — and sensitive — time in our nation’s history helps undermine the U.S. position, which could put our troops in even more danger,” wrote Hall of Fame president Dale Petroskey in informing the two that he was dumping the tribute.

As the Canadian Press story carried in this paper on Monday explained, “This kind of hostility to dissent has intensified in the United States even as the war in Iraq peters out. Virtually any antiwar agitation and argument is tarred as inherently irresponsible and unpatriotic.”

Even newspapers have got into the act.

The New York Post called for a boycott of entertainment figures who opposed the war. Under the headline Don’t aid these Saddam lovers, the paper’s Page Six column on March 19 listed “appeasement loving celebs,” including Robbins, Sarandon, Sean Penn, Laurence Fishburne, Danny Glover and Samuel L. Jackson.

“This is hardly Americanism,” Richard Cohen of The Washington Post said of the Rupert Murdoch paper’s attack. “In the first place, none of the celebrities can fairly be called a ‘Saddam lover.’ They merely opposed the war. Second, they were not appeasers because, as the Bush administration itself said, this was a war of choice, not self-defence. Finally, dissent should be encouraged, not punished. This is how we learn. This is how we conduct debate.”

But retaliatory measures were so strong elsewhere they led one antiwar group to unveil a huge billboard campaign with the message Peace is Patriotic against the image of an unfurling Stars and Stripes.

“A chill wind is blowing in this nation,” Robbins told reporters at the National Press Club in Washington. “A message is being sent through the White House and its allies in talk radio . . . and Cooperstown. If you oppose this administration, there can and will be ramifications.”

It seems incredible to me that a nation that ostensibly went to war to bring democracy to a people — at least that line is what it began selling when the weapons of mass destruction it said were there didn’t materialize — is beginning to put the squeeze on democracy on the home front.

Dissenters among the American people won’t, of course, be the only ones punished.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell in an interview this week with PBS television bluntly answered “yes” when asked if France would be punished for its anti-war stance.

And a poll of 1,000 Americans carried in this paper recently revealed that nearly half were “very likely” or “somewhat likely” to try an alternative to Canadian goods they have purchased in the past.

Yet what do a couple of local “patriots” take from all this? A.R. Walker, writing in this paper, and Peter McNichol, writing in Sault This Week, have invited Bush to turn his attention North, to effect a regime change in Canada.

I never expected to hear Canadians advocating the overthrow of our government by another state by force of arms. Are they asking that the Americans visit on us the horrors they have visited on the people of Iraq? Did the picture of the 12-year-old who had lost his family and his arms to a bomb not have any effect on them at all?

It is a measure of the freedom we enjoy that they are allowed to advocate something so vile, but it must have those who fought and died for this freedom in two world wars rolling over in their graves.

THERE ARE SOME other aspects of the Iraq war that warrant comment.

Sanctions — The U.S. is proposing that the economic sanctions imposed on Iraq by the UN 12 years ago be lifted. France is proposing a suspension of them. I don’t believe they should be lifted or suspended until an Iraqi government is fully installed. To lift or suspend them now would put Iraq’s oil production in the hands of an occupying power, the U.S., not a healthy prospect. For the moment, the best idea is to simply continue the UN’s oil for food program to ensure the populace is fed while avoiding the possible rape of the country’s natural resources.

Law and order — The U.S. should have been as prepared for the peace as it was for the war, having follow-up policing troops and governmental organizations following hot on the heels of the invading forces to maintain law and order.

This would have prevented the looting and lawlessness that progressed while the invading troops watched, their excuse for non-action being that they were there to fight a war, not act as police.

Those in the upper echelon of the armed forces would have benefitted from a read of Gen. Dwight Eisenhower’s Crusade in Europe. Eisenhower, as the Allies began moving into Germany as the Second World War was coming to a climax, set up a new army under Brig. Gen. Leonard T. Gerow to take over matters of military government in the rear of advancing troops.

The Americans managed to protect Iraq’s oil wells. They also should have made sure the integrity of the Iraqi state was protected. It is interesting to note three members of a U.S. panel on cultural property stepped down in protest over the failure of U.S. forces to prevent the massive looting of Baghdad’s antiquities museum.

Martin Sullivan wrote in his letter of resignation: “While our military forces have displayed extraordinary precision and restraint in deploying arms — and apparently in securing the oil ministry and oil fields — they have been nothing short of impotent in failing to attend to the protection of (Iraq’s) cultural heritage.”

More than 100,000 objects, items that historians say are used to figure out how we began, how we became civilized, are believed to have been stolen or damaged.

I can agree with most of Sullivan’s thrust, but I have trouble with his claim that the military displayed extraordinary precision and restraint in deploying arms. I saw too many images of dead and wounded civilians on TV to accept that.

Cluster mines — Like land mines, they remain to kill people, especially, it seems, young children who discover them. Like land mines, they must be banned. The U.S. should never have used them so near a civilian population.

Doug Millroy is editor emeritus of The Sault Star.
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