'Peace activist' or 'war activist'?

Media should take greater care in their labeling of participants in conflicts

by David Kopel

April 12, 2003

Who's a "peace activist"? Not some of the people who have been given that title by the media.

During World War II, members of some "peace churches," such as Quakers and Mennonites, proclaimed that it was immoral to fight against the Germans and the Japanese. While George Orwell argued that, objectively speaking, these groups were pro-fascist (since their only audience was in democracies which were resisting fascism), there is no dispute that members of these churches were sincerely opposed to war under all circumstances, no matter who was fighting. These pacifists were genuine "peace activists."

When France was under German occupation, some French citizens cooperated with the anti-Nazi French underground. While these French citizens who assisted the resistance were very admirable, it would be ridiculous to call them "peace activists." To the contrary, they were "war activists" - actively assisting one side in a guerrilla war.

Today, the International Solidarity Movement is, according to its Web site, an organization that recognizes "the Palestinian right to resist Israeli violence and occupation via legitimate armed struggle." The ISM does not directly engage in violence, but actively aids those who do. A few weeks ago, Islamic Jihad terrorist Shadi Sukeya was found hiding in ISM offices in Jenin, along with two Kalashnikov assault rifles and a handgun. The ISM attempts to prevent Israeli demolition of buildings that hide underground tunnel networks used by terrorists. When the Israeli army fights violent armed Palestinians, ISM volunteers interpose themselves in ways that attempt to constrain the Israelis but not the Palestinians. Regardless of the merits of the ISM's cause, it is not accurate to call an ISM volunteer a "peace activist," as The Denver Post headlined April 6 in a Page 2 Sunday story about an ISM American who was shot in the face when he tried to obstruct Israeli soldiers battling a mob.

More accurately, the ISM should be called "war activists," since they are actively assisting one side in a war.

It is likewise incorrect to describe as a "peace activist" someone who goes to Iraq as a human shield, thereby assisting the Saddam Hussein regime in its war against the Iraqi people and against the United States (Rocky Mountain News, April 2).

Among anti-war advocates in America and Britain, there are some sincere pacifists and there are also some who oppose American use of force while supporting warmongering totalitarian regimes. An example of the latter is British politician Tony Benn, a lifelong advocate of disarmament for Western democracies, and a lifelong supporter of totalitarians such as Mao Zedong and Saddam Hussein who engaged in wars of aggression. It is ridiculous to describe Benn and his fellow travelers as "peace activists." (News, Associated Press story, Feb. 5).

On April 6, in its Page 2B Spin Cycled Politics column (under the heading "History review") the Post mocked mayoral candidate Don Mares for recalling his youth "being a little minority kid in northwest Denver."

The Post sneered, "Was this before or after he went to private school or excelled on the tennis team?"

The Post seems to believe that all true Hispanic children attend government schools, rather than seeking a Catholic education at Regis in northwest Denver, as Mares did. The Post also implies that no "real" minority could excel in tennis. Apparently Venus and Serena Williams, Arthur Ashe and Althea Gibson were actually whites were who were just passing as people of color.

The News Web site was overloaded on April 3, as Web surfers all over the world read critic Mark Brown's article on Pearl Jam fans walking out on a concert encore after the lead singer "impaled a mask of President Bush on a microphone stand, then slammed it to the stage."

According to Mark Brown, dozens of fans left in protest.

Pearl Jam, through a statement released on its Web site, quickly shot back with a statement, accusing Brown of inaccurate reporting. And an April 4 story on E! Online News, titled "Pearl Jam Reads Reporter the Riot Act," said that Brown didn't explain that some people always leave a concert early in order to beat the traffic.

It is preposterous to believe that Brown invented or exaggerated the story out of political bias. His preview of the Pearl Jam show (March 29) was quite positive, and he included the band's anti-war statements without any critical questions. When interviewing anti-war rock stars (e.g., Graham Nash on Sept. 25, 2002, or Randy Newman on April 26 of the same year), Brown lets the artists speak, never challenging their views. He praised John Mellencamp's highly political anti-war concert (July 31, 2002) and raved over Wilco's leftist performance in Boulder (March 20, 2002).

Thus, we can safely eliminate the possibility that Brown might make up lies about Pearl Jam for ideological reasons, and we can likewise eliminate the possibility that a very experienced critic like Brown can't tell the difference between ordinary flow of people exiting during a concert encore and a sudden walkout in reaction to the events on stage.

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