From Just Cause to Just War

December 20, 1989. The US military attacked Panama. At the time I was living in Olympia, WA. I was a member of a group that worked to oppose the US wars in Central America and helped refugees find sanctuary called the Central American Action Committee. Once I heard about the invasion–which was called Operation Just Cause–I began calling members to organize some kind of protest. I was surprised to discover my suggestion was met with a lukewarm response by at least half of the members. This had something to do with Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega’s identity in the US media as a cocaine trafficker. In the world we inhabit many of the folks must have figured that opposing the murder of several thousand Panamanians was the same as supporting the cocaine trade. Of course, as several news stories since then have related (and just as consistently been denied by the US government), the US has its own history of complicity in the illegal drug trade.

We did mount a protest of thirty in front of the Federal Building the next day. When compared to the protest by hundreds that included the closing down of the Federal Building a little more than a month before in protest of US actions in El Salvador, the action against the Panama attack was barely visible. This lackluster response was repeated around the United States as many forces against the US wars in Central America refused to protest the invasion of Panama. George Bush the Elder’s ploy characterizing Panamanian leader Noriega as a drug trafficker and his government as corrupt seemed to have silenced a good portion of the antiwar movement. In addition, by playing up an attack on a US officer’s wife by a member of the Panamanian security forces, the elder Bush was also able to play on US concerns about the treatment of women. This was, as Noam Chomsky pointed out in his work 1991 book Deterring Democracy, despite the fact that US nuns in El Salvador and Nicaragua had been killed by forces supported by Washington with no repercussions from Washington.

Let’s jump ahead twenty years. It’s now December 2009. US forces forcibly occupy two nations–Iraq and Afghanistan. While the US casualty figures in the former are relatively minimal nowadays, it was only a year or two ago that US military men and women were dying at the rate of one hundred a month. Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, the casualty figures are double what they were a year ago and tens of thousands more US soldiers and Marines are getting ready to deploy there (along with untold numbers of mercenaries). They have been told by their commander-in-chief that their cause is just. Once again, the protest is muted. The government in Afghanistan is a creation of Washington and would not exist without the foreign military presence there. It is also one of the most corrupt governments in the world. Women in Afghanistan suffer some of the worst human rights abuses in the world. Many of those abuses derive from the male supremacist interpretation of the Muslim religion by forces on all sides of the conflict. Many more of the abuses are the result of the ongoing conflict in that country. From displacement and hunger to death and maiming caused by US and resistance forces, the military conflict is probably the greatest violator of women’s rights. Yet, the people of the United States have been told over and over again that one of the reasons for the US military presence in Afghanistan is to free the Afghan women.

So, why is there so little protest? Is it because many liberals and progressives who opposed the war in Iraq somehow see this misadventure in Afghanistan as righteous? Or do they believe that Barack Obama really does have a plan that will guarantee peace through the waging of war? If the latter is true, than these folks have truly succumbed to the wiles of imperial thought. There is no promise to end the war in any particular year, much less a specific date. If history tells us anything, the only way to stop a war is to make it difficult for the government waging it to continue to do so. This scenario will not occur within the walls of Congress. Nor will it take place inside the White House or the Pentagon. It can only occur in the streets of the United States. As long as the US government is convinced it has at least tacit support for its adventures overseas, it will continue them. As the recent escalation proves, it will not only continue them but will expand them.

Now, there are many folks who say they oppose the war but will argue that there is no point in mounting any protest against it. Their arguments will include the caveat that protests make no difference or that they will never reach the so-called regular people. I disagree. It seems to me that if the connection between the increasing failure of the government to fund essential services like schools, health care, infrastructure and even job creation can be connected to the ridiculously high cost of the wars and occupations, then the antiwar movement can reach the American people. Currently, it seems that there is a disconnect in most people’s minds between the cutting of services and the ongoing wars and occupations. That disconnect must be terminated and the connections between the expanding price of imperial war and the decreasing quality of our services must be made. In addition, the profits of war must be exposed for what they are–theft of taxpayer’s money by a small number of citizens. It is a theft on a scale so huge very few can even imagine it. It is also a theft that does not benefit the majority of the American people and certainly not most of the people of Iraq or Afghanistan in any meaningful way. Although they claim to be protecting us, the only thing these corporations and their uniformed cohorts are protecting is their bank accounts.

That does not have to continue. In fact, there is already an effort being organized by the National Assembly to End the Wars and Occupations to hold a massive antiwar protest on March 20, 2010 in Washington, DC and San Francisco. It is their intention (no, our intention) to make the connection between the self-serving and pointless costs of the wars and the continuing failure of the United States’ economy to employ all those who desire employments and to take care of its people. In order to draw the largest number of people into the movement, the demand is simple:

• No Escalation • End the Wars • Bring Our Troops Home.

It is time to take a stand.

Ron Jacobs is the author of The Way The Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground and Tripping Through the American Night, and the novels Short Order Frame Up and The Co-Conspirator's Tale. His third novel All the Sinners, Saints is a companion to the previous two and was published early in 2013. Read other articles by Ron.

6 comments on this article so far ...

Comments RSS feed

  1. bozh said on December 21st, 2009 at 9:24am #

    I had been saying long time ago that protesting US wars wld not even delay an imperial war let alone prevent it or stop it once it is under way.
    How ab a protest involving 50mn people? Along with shaming churches and and middle class? And boycotts, etc.
    But establishing a second political party wld work the best. tnx

  2. DavidG. said on December 21st, 2009 at 1:46pm #

    Ron, I regret to tell you that the American economy is based upon there being endless war. If all war was stopped tomorrow, America would collapse (some say it is close to financial collapse already – we can but hope).

    America is also filled with confused people who think that America should rule the world by force if necessary. In fact, there are even folk in America who want a nuclear war to begin so they can go to heaven without dying (the Rapturists).

    And there are millions and millions of Americans who don’t care one jot about what their country is doing or what is happening elsewhere in the world just as long as they can have a wide-screen television, drink beer and make money from Wall Street.

    Ron, I applaud your goals but you sure have a big task in front of you!

  3. Deadbeat said on December 21st, 2009 at 3:18pm #

    Ron sets up two strawmen. He writes …

    So, why is there so little protest? Is it because many liberals and progressives who opposed the war in Iraq somehow see this misadventure in Afghanistan as righteous?


    Now, there are many folks who say they oppose the war but will argue that there is no point in mounting any protest against it. Their arguments will include the caveat that protests make no difference or that they will never reach the so-called regular people. I disagree.

    What Ron ignores is that the huge protest against the War on Iraq in 2003 was demoblized by the “Left” especially when a faction of the anti-war movement brought up the question of Israel/Palestine. In fact “liberal/progressive” Michael Lerner smeared these protesters as “anti-semetic”. United for Peace & Justice (UFPJ) was intrumental in the demobilization. (I believe Ron that you acknowlege this in one of your previous articles).

    Then you had the Chomskyites join forces with the crowd in the “Anybody But Bush” scheme that weaken the Green Party and thwart the 2004 anti-war candidacy of Ralph Nader. That betrayal of priniciples awkwardly expressed by Howard (safe-state) Zinn, helped to further weaken the anti-war movement from which it hasn’t recovered. Thus putting the “Left” in an extremely weakened state that created the political vacuum filled by Obama in 2008.

    Finally you had the Chomskyites who were selling the snake-oil of “War for Oil” as the raison d’etre for the invasion and destruction of Iraq. We saw that diversion from Zionism’s influence upon U.S. policy collaspe with the recent Iraqi oil contracts going to U.S. rival companies.

    No Ron, the current degraded situation is due primarily to the the ‘Left’ having truly succumbed to the wiles of imperial thought.

  4. ron j said on December 21st, 2009 at 5:22pm #

    we’re talking about definitions here. I do not consider the left as represented by Michael Lerner to be left–they are liberals….As for the Zionism thing–I still see Israel as being a surrogate of Washington, not the other way around. No matter what the actual case may be, the fact is people need to oppose the war in whatever way possible. Don’t just say I can’t for this reason or that–get out there and organize…

  5. H. R. Merhoff, M.D. said on December 21st, 2009 at 9:54pm #

    For several years I have tried to bring the attention of politicians and media personnel to the fact that Operation Just Cause was a terrorist attack on Panama, initiated by a president who had lost the loyalty of a CIA paid agent, Noriega, and wanted to prove that he was not a “wimp”. I have had no response from any of these efforts, including the two most recent ones to Tom Ricks and to Thom Hartman—-not a word. The number of Panamanians who were killed is said to approach our losses on 9/11/01. We memorialize that date, but not 1/20/89, despite the enormous percentage loss in the small population of Panama as compared to that of the U.S.. I would certainly like to see the U.S. public recognize that such behavior on our part is not forgotten by other nations, nor by people such as the Muslim members of al Qaeda. What goes around, comes around.

  6. Martha said on December 22nd, 2009 at 10:13am #

    Great article by Ron Jacobs. But what caught my eye was “Please read our commenting etiquette before replying.” That a website called “Dissident Voice” feels the need for etiquette is rather sad. But in keeping with some of the writers who write hear and then e-mail you repeatedly to attack and threaten you because you didn’t care for their articles. In fact, why doesn’t DV start protecting these e-mail addresses they require? That would be a little bit better than more fretting for the authors.