Jewish World Review Jan. 22, 2002/ 19 Shevat, 5763

Wesley Pruden

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The big gas attack
on Washington | That was a motley crew down at the Navy Yard. Anyone who sat through C-SPAN's telecast of Saturday's march against the "war" on Saddam Hussein would have thought he was watching a reprise of the '60s. C-SPAN, as it always does, kept its eye on the podium.

A few of the "peace activists" in the crowd did in fact look like they had been here since 1969, sleeping it off after rallying against Ho Chi Minh. With their scraggly beards, scuffed boots and ferocious body odor, still searching for the sex and revolution that has successfully eluded them for these past four decades, they were pleased to finally have somewhere to go.

But some of them appear to have bathed once or twice in the intervening years, and many of the faces in the crowd glowed with the genuine idealism and earnest expectation of youth. Condoleezza Rice got it exactly right yesterday when she observed that such protest, and the respectful attention it gets from ordinary Americans, is what makes America the shining city on the hill.

Many in the crowd clearly didn't come to Washington to listen to the rants and rage on stage, and those who did could shrug off the noise as the price of admission. But most of the coverage, in the newspapers (which ought to know better) and on television (which never understands the distinction between news and entertainment), went along with the charade that this was a mighty outpouring of national sentiment.

The organizers pretended, like many of the young people, to be something called "peace activists." But anyone who remembers the demos of the '60s, when the crowds actually did number in the hundreds of thousands, recognized the organizers for who they really are, a collection of Karl Marxists (now mostly stumbling into their eighth and ninth decades), Groucho Marxists (who nurture the conceit that most Americans are like themselves and thus see America as worthy only of contempt), and assorted panhandlers, grifters and beggars with a gift for haranguing the gullible.

But for C-SPAN's unblinking cameras, since nobody was listening, nobody would have known that the speakers ranged from partisan Democrats to spokesmen for Colombian narco-terrorists to apologists for Palestinian suicide bombers to friends of Osama bin Laden. Several of the speakers were respectable, more or less. The Democratic Party's most prominent theologians, the Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, were there applauding Cynthia McKinney, until November a member of Congress, who told the crowd: "In no other country on the planet do so many people have so little as they do in this country." (Small, chubby children in the crowd, dreaming dreamy dreams of the supermarket abundance in North Korea, Upper Volta and Lower Slobbovia, tugged at their mamas' skirts and cried piteously for more of the hot dogs, pizza, chicken wings and chocolate-covered Krispy Kremes hawked to the crowd.)

Reps. Charley Rangel of New York and John Conyers of Michigan were there, too, pushing their campaign to restore the draft so every boy and girl in America can participate in the war on terror. The participation of Messrs. Rangel and Conyers was striking exposure of the agendas of both the congressmen and the radical organizers of the march. They understand very well that there will be no restoration of the draft. This time it would have to include young women as well, and there is no way the military could absorb millions of conscripts, but talking about it might frighten the credulous.

The anti-war mobilization against the war in Vietnam, now half-hidden in the mists of distant memory, was a dud armed with a wet fuse in the early years of the war. Only when the draft began to cast a shadow across the campus did young men start looking for seminaries, library-science courses and road maps to Canada. When Richard Nixon cut out the draft, the anti-war protests dried up almost overnight. So much for the idealism of the campus, circa 1971. So much for the prospects of revival for the anti-war movement, circa 2003.

The "peace activists" of the present day can make their mark, though it's not the mark they say they want to make. Saturday's march hardly caused George W. to look up from his newspaper, but it was enough to warm whatever Saddam has in place of a heart. Saddam took note of the march yesterday, praising the marchers for the expression of worldwide support for himself and his regime of peace on earth and goodwill to men.

The marchers effectively squelched talk of exile for Saddam, as realistic as such talk may or may not have been. As long as he thinks he has friends on the streets of America and the West, he, too, can dream dreamy dreams.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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