A Real-Time Awakening?
Michael Uhl speaks in Rome
Michael Uhl, former Counter Intelligence officer and co-founder of "Citizen Soldier", the advocacy organization for veterans and GIs, offered a penetrating analysis of the parallels between the war in Vietnam and the current war in Iraq, during a panel discussion entitled "The Anti War Movement From Vietnam to Today: A Chorus of Voices Against War" held on Saturday, April 29th, at the Linux Club in Rome. Although the date for the encounter fell during a long weekend holiday period (Uhl's other engagements in Italy left him that date only for Rome) the turnout was surprisingly good, and as with all our events, included an international audience. [See the event announcement as well as Uhl's bio]
Among the speakers on stage with Uhl were Gianluca Peciola, Councilperson for the 11th Municipal District of Rome and a long-time social activist, Nella Ginatempo from the Italian peace movement Bastaguerra! (No More War!), Micaela Serino from the Rome chapter of Donne in Nero (Women in Black), Francesco Tupone representing the Linux Club and the Digital Freedom movement and, speaking for USC4P&J, Stephanie Westbrook.
There are striking parallels between the hype used to sell the Vietnam War to the American public and that used to justify the invasion and occupation of Iraq today, claimed Uhl in his talk. And the same goes for the hidden reasons for both wars: for example, it is the fear of China as an economic rival that fuels the US desire to contain China’s sphere of influence and (in the case of the present military occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan) to control its energy sources.
Indeed, according to Uhl, the recourse to imperial wars as an antidote to the decline in American economic competitiveness (and hegemony) probably explains much of the neo- conservative agenda. His words echoed similar statements in some of the videos shown in recent months at the USC4P&J Eyes Wide Open film series. Both Uhl and the films point out that, in 1988, when Saddam Hussein gassed the Kurds, there was no move by the US to eliminate him; it was not until 2001, when he offered to sell Iraqi petroleum for Euros instead of dollars that the neo-cons started urging Bush to make a ”regime change”. In fact, the dollar, as the officially imposed currency, has been for decades a scam used by the U.S. to counterbalance its enormous trade deficit artificially.
Uhl also argued that, since Iran has recently announced it intends to switch payment for its oil exports from dollars to Euros, this may be the origin of the current saber-rattling against that country: Dollar über alles, even at the price of a disastrous conflict.
Ending on a note of circumspect optimism, Uhl said that fortunately grassroots America is beginning to awaken . In the 1960's, ordinary mainstream Americans -- people who would normally never take part in demonstrations -- started to swarm into the streets of America demanding an end to imperial adventures. If this should happen again, the politicos in Washington, fearing for their jobs, may think twice before refinancing the war.
Stephanie Westbrook bolstered Uhl's timid optimism by describing the various grassroots movements, which have not diminished, as predicted, but have grown in strength since the day Bush issued his "Mission Accomplished" statement, exactly three years ago. Indeed, at the very moment that Michael and Stephanie were talking, a huge anti-war demonstration - 350,000 people according to the organizers - was taking place in New York City. The Linux Club staff managed to download photos of the event in real-time from Yahoo! News and project them behind Stephanie while she and the Italian activists after her spoke.
It was hard to tell how many mainstream Americans were in the colorful crowd marching through downtown New York, with Cindy Sheehan, Susan Sarandon, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton at their head. But many could be seen standing on the sidewalk or behind opened windows along the way, watching in earnest... and maybe toying with the idea of joining the marchers. Uhl's hopes may be coming true.
Following the talk, a number of those present met up over a pizza with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!, in Rome for a seminar at the Fondazione Basso, and Maurizio Torrealta of RAI News 24. When asked about probable coverage of the New York demonstration, Goodman quipped, "Democracy Now! will cover it but the mainstream media will cover it up."
Michael Uhl plans to take his message to other parts of Italy during his stay here, speaking at the May Day Aquilane festival in L'Aquila, in Florence at an event organized by U.S. Citizens Against War, again in Rome at the TekFestival for the international premiere of the new documentary Sir! No Sir!, as well as events in Bologna and Naples.
Special thanks to Cesare Silvi for providing translations.
Veterans for Peace:
Sir! No Sir!
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U.S. Citizens for Peace & Justice - Rome, Italy