Jewish World Review March 4, 2003 / 30 Adar I, 5763

Zev Chafets

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Those human shields need some star power | The American peace movement faces a challenge. Its name is Ken O'Keefe.

O'Keefe is a tattooed ex-Marine-turned-crusader for Hawaiian national liberation and other burning causes. Lately, he has raised and led a battalion of 200 Western human shields into Iraq. They intend to put their bodies between Iraqi targets and American bombs.

O'Keefe believes that America will be "stopped in its imperialist tracks if thousands of Westerners might be killed by its oil lust."

Say what you like about this tactic (Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says it's a war crime), it demonstrates genuine commitment. I'm afraid, though, that O'Keefe's fervent belief that the U.S. is ruled by a racist junta has caused him to overestimate badly the value of Westerners in the big scheme of things.

Gen. Tommy Franks made that pretty clear last week when he announced that in the event of war, he wouldn't be able to guarantee the safety of the people draped over Iraq's strategic targets.

This blithe attitude stems, I think, from the quality of the lives at risk. O'Keefe's volunteers are mostly anonymous misfits. Blow them to smithereens, and they will be lamented by their mothers and caregivers, perhaps, but not by the general run of humanity.

What's needed is a higher caliber of shield. And that's where the American peace movement comes in.

The movement may number in the millions, but its most visible leaders are celebrities: movie stars, sitcom actors, pop rock icons, standup comics, hip-hoppers, acclaimed writers, society intellectuals and other glitterati. They have marched and rallied from Central Park to Rodeo Drive - sometimes in inclement weather - refused invitations to White House poetry readings and otherwise sacrificed for the cause. Some have suffered truly brutal reprisals. Sean Penn reportedly has lost a movie role. Mike Farrell's acting career may never be the same.

Still, O'Keefe and his disciples present a challenge - and an opportunity - for the protest leaders to raise their efforts to a new and more powerful level. His Web site quotes Gandhi: "Faith gains in struggle only when people are willing to lay down their lives for it."

Once, the American left understood this. In the 1930s, during the Spanish Civil War, thousands of this country's best and brightest - including many people from Hollywood - joined the Lincoln Brigade. Many of them lost their lives in the fight to save Spain for communism.

Imagine what would happen today if a similar group - call them the Lincoln Navigator Brigade - sprang from the ranks of celebrity America and joined O'Keefe's deployment in Iraq. Picture Janeane Garafalo and Rob Reiner lying spread-eagled on the roof of a Baghdad powdered milk factory; Sheryl Crow and Ed Asner blocking U.S. tanks from entering Basra; Katrina Vanden Heuvel, Puff Daddy and the Smothers Brothers chained to the gates of Saddam Hussein's presidential palace. The war would be stopped in its tracks.

Where in the entire U.S. military is the commander prepared to give the order to open fire on Barbra Streisand?

What's needed now is some organization. I think Scott Ritter, another ex-leatherneck peacenik, would make a great recruiter. Let him convene a summit of the anti-war celebrities (or their agents) at the Beverly Hills Burger King and ask for volunteers.

For commander of the Lincoln Navigator Brigade, I nominate rap star 50 Cent, from Musicians United to Win Without War. Unlike, say, Jessica Lange, 50 Cent has significant combat experience; he recently was stabbed and shot. And according to Rolling Stone, he makes "inspirational music for gunplay."

His fellow celebrity shields might need a little inspiration - especially if Franks hasn't kept up his subscription to People magazine.

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JWR contributor Zev Chafets is a columnist for The New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.

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