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February 1998, Volume 5 Nr. 6, Issue 54

Balance

It was a remarkable five days. There was 77-year Pope John Paul II spending five days in Cuba in the land of 71-year old Fidel Castro’s only socialist nation in the Western Hemisphere.

John Paul II has been the head of the Roman Catholic Church for the past twenty years. Fidel Castro has been in power for thirty-nine years and has outlived more presidents (Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush and Clinton) than most people can remember and foiled twice as many assassination attempts.

John Paul and Fidel share much in common through the recognizable disparity of their ideologies. Both wear uniforms and both, through them, profess a commitment to obvious zealous ideology. Both men, perhaps better than any other, recognize the hideous negative potential of runaway Capitalism and both have spoken out about the dangers of neoliberalism. Pope John Paul II on a number of occasions criticized the few nations that grow richer at the expense of all others who continue grow poorer.

CNN, in a recent report with Saul Landau, an expert on Latin America at California State Polytechnic University at Pomona stated,

They share a larger agenda: a common opposition to current free-market capitalism.

Landau claims the Pope regards this runaway capitalism as "sinful" while Castro regards it as "shameful." Fidel Castro said to Pope John Paul, "I am moved by Your Holiness' efforts on behalf of a more just world." Pope John Paul II said, "Restrictive measures imposed from outside the country are unjust and ethically unacceptable."

It appears each man, understanding the other well, has reached an accommodation where rather than positioning themselves in one corner or the other like two boxers in a ring awaiting the starting bell, have instead determined, due to the wisdom of age and countless ideological reflections and posturing, that nothing exists so polar opposite as to prevent a slow steady movement toward reaching some understanding and through it a limited consensus on what to do next.

Here in the United States, there appears to be a lack of vision which fails to give any merit in seeking this type of balance. The stumbling blocks are the limitations of our history and short-sightedness of intellect. We insist on clinging to many long ago outdated beliefs including and most notably the dangerous, might makes right.

Opposites

The world, for better or for worse, will always have men like Pope John II and Fidel. If for no other reason than to provide a counterweight for any ideology swinging too far in one direction or the other. The world naturally creates counterbalances striving to achieve some form of steady-state coexistence.

I was first struck by this apparent necessity for balance when I attended a Broadway performance of the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar in the early 70’s. There was Judas adding definition to Jesus and vice versa. The play was criticized for its portrayal of Jesus and Mary Magdeline, a prostitute. Perhaps, Jesus Christ Superstar was more a musical study of caring human beings with individual shortcomings and frailties, who orchestrated by virtue of circumstance, are a mixture of nurture and nature, presenting a more realistic balance of what reality if not can be, then is. Superstar was an attempt at portraying the humanness of its characters through opposites and attempts at balancing personalities.

It is the lack of this balance, the staking out of black-and-white positions with obsessive unifocused determination coupled with people’s inaction in considering counterbalance that leads the world to war and catastrophe.

Might

As I write this newsletter, last diplomatic efforts are being made (or so we are told) to try to get Saddam Hussein, the leader of Iraq, to "come to his senses" in this the latest crisis. The media is filled with threats such as, "Our patience is running thin" and "The next strike will be significant. It will not be a pinprick." Perhaps by the time you read this or before I finish this issue, the United States might have attacked Iraq.

The United States has much practice in throwing its weight around. In a one-superpower world, it is that much easier to do. The US finds itself in a boxing ring, in one corner, with the firm conviction that few opponents would dare to even enter. The few who are so bold are quickly considered a challenge worthy of quick defeat and are bullied so extraordinarily that they soon throw in the towel before the match goes too far or are ostracized by fiat of embargo.

This bullying has a name. It is called unilateralism or extraterritoriality and the more might a nation has, the more unilaterally it behaves. It is not enough, for example, that we put the squeeze on Cuba and its people, we find it necessary to put the squeeze on anyone who refuses to participate in the squeeze itself. Thus, we beat upon not only the people of nations such as Cuba, Iraq, Libya, etc., but we also beat upon our friends and allies who do anything to lessen our blows upon those nations. In the end, it is as Pope John Paul II recognizes, the poor people who suffer.

No wonder the United States, with all its might, feels so insecure in the world. If the US citizenry only knew the light in which our government often is seen throughout the world. If only our media would present a balance of opinion instead of its own opinion or that which Washington would prefer, perhaps we ourselves, at least some of us, would start to think and believe that it is our duty and obligation to enter the ring of opposing ideas and throw some balance into the bout of lopsided mindset.

The Issue

Just what is the issue regarding Iraq? The US is supposedly concerned about Saddam Hussein and the spreading of weapons of mass destruction. Oil, of course, is not an issue. What about our stockpiles of such weapons? Not once have I heard any news report about the US stockpile or use of weapons of mass destruction during the current debate. It is estimated that the United States stockpiles 40,000 tons of chemical and biological agents while Russia has 50,000. Why do we have them? How many people are aware that US has not signed onto the treaty opposing the use of chemical and biological weapons? Is there any possibility that our government might not be trusted with these weapons? Ask the people outside the US what they think.

Surely, our friends throughout the world possess weapons of mass destruction. Israel quickly comes to mind with an estimate of 200 nuclear devices. Have we forgotten that it was the United States and only the United States that has ever used nuclear weapons against another people? In the Persian Gulf war with its Hollywood-like-name, "Desert Storm", depleted uranium shells were used with little or no opposition. Not only is the boxing match unbalanced but it appears that the referee is on the take as well. Even worse, it appears we are the referee.

The January-February issue of The Catholic Worker, states,

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization reported in December of 1995 that more than one million Iraqis have died - 567,000 of them children - as a direct consequence of economic sanctions.

On February 10, 1998, Jimmy Carter was reported as saying that the Iraqi people had suffered enough under Saddam Hussein, that they do not need the added suffering which would come as a result of US bombing.

In the same article, there is a report of Voices in the Wilderness, a delegation dedicated to ending the sanctions against Iraq, which recently visited that country. Rick McDowell, author of the article and one of the visiting delegates states,

Our findings of increasing suffering, death and desperations throughout Iraq are confirmed by recent UN reports.

Recent polls show that a majority of American people support an attack against Iraq. Odds are that the same people would have difficulty finding Iraq on a map. Where is the balance? Where are the historic reports of Iraq’s history? What is the chronology of US involvement in the region leading up to up to current crisis? Who originally was instrumental in helping the man come to power? Who supplied him with the technology necessary to make the weapons of mass destruction?

Just One Instance

I have chosen to write about the situation in Iraq as it is but the latest example of media unbalancing for the purpose of influencing how people think. It is no secret that the overwhelming majority of Americans get most of their information from television. As a consequence of the continuous and repeated one-sided reporting and characterization of any given situation, crisis, scandal or trend, the video medium has become extremely adept at creating, shaping, altering and leading public opinion and belief.

Responsibility

The media (not only of this country, but most countries) seldom presents a truly balanced picture of world and national events. Thus, it becomes a matter of personal responsibility for each of us to seek it out. Abdicating the responsibility of seeking out balance is akin to foreclosing on the democratic process. Doing so allows life-and-death foreign policy decisions to be made by virtue of public polling which is in effect self-approval and self-fulfilling prophesy. If one were asked to design a system which leads a population to a conclusion and then asks them to approve the conclusion, one could not invent a system of state-corporate-media control more effective than the one currently in place. Add to that an element of self-righteousness through religion and you create the means to effectively do just about anything.

Jim Lobe in writing an analysis entitled, IRAQ-US: Anti-War Views Marginalised in US Media in the misc.progressive.activism usenet newsgroup, dated February 19, 1998 states,

Anti-war forces in the United States, opposed to any new attack on Iraq, have had a difficult time gaining the attention of the mainstream U.S. media, just as they did before the 1991 Gulf War. After three weeks of heightened tension in the Gulf, most media outlets - particularly the major television networks - continue to feature the hardline views of the administration of President Bill Clinton, as well as those of more hawkish politicians.

Democracy is messy. It requires the involvement of an informed electorate. After all, it is the State that is in power and it is not always in its best interest to keep the people informed of the truth as it exists. The State benefits most when the people are convinced of the truth as the State perceives it or would like the people to accept and approve it.

An intelligent human, one who considers themself to be a caring citizen and who believes in the democratic process, will always find, no seek out, the means to arrive a little closer to the truth as it is rather than as presented.

This seeking requires a search for balance. Balance will not be found by reading one newspaper, watching one network, talking to one other person or even reading one book. Balance is found by coming into contact with diametrically opposing philosophies, ideologies and points of view. This is how faith in anything is tested and through the process the faith confirmed.

The dichotomous or even multichotomous exposure of ideas challenges assumptions and creates necessary contradictions. In other words, beliefs will be tested. It is through this testing of beliefs, ideas, opinions and even facts, that either gives credence to or detracts from their merit. Through this process we can at least call our final conclusions our own. Such action is at the heart of what it means to be free.

Encouragement

On February 18, 1998 at a CNN sponsored "Town Meeting" to draw support for the US policy of drawing closer to bombing Iraq, Secretary of State Madeline Albright, Defense Secretary William Cohen and National Security Adviser Sandy Berger were greeted with what CNN called an, "opinionated crowd and considerable opposition to another war with Iraq."

On February 19, 1998, for the second day in a row, polite but skeptical audiences in the South once again surprised the administration spin-doctors. CNN reports,

…rather than the jeers and taunts she ran into in Ohio Wednesday -- she also found her audiences informed and willing to question authority.

And again, on February 20, 1998, CNN stated,

Protesters at the University of Minnesota shouted down U.S. Ambassador to the UN Bill Richardson on Friday, forcing him to abandon his half-finished speech.

Here in Vermont, there have been almost daily demonstrations and actions sponsored by various groups, including the Catholic peace group Pax Christi in Montpelier and Burlington. There have even been five arrests. Ramsey Clark’s Information Action Center [http://www.iacenter.org] has an in-depth analysis and description of the Iraq crisis and opposition to its solution by force. IACENTER runs a continuously updated list of demonstrations including the mass protests planned for 30 US cities on February 28, 1998.

Why the unexpected, voluminous, vociferous, well-organized response to US policy and why now? It is my contention that the people of the US, especially the youth, who have felt powerless in the face of one-sided, unbalanced and unrelenting hammering by the state-corporate media have had enough. They have taken it upon themselves to counterweight and challenge the voices of authority which for too long have had their unilateral and unchallenged opinions foisted upon them. It is these opinions which incessantly focus on topics such as sex scandals, flag burning, welfare mothers as the root of our economic problems, etc., which has finally fueled the opposition voices.

Local Action

At noon, on February 23, 1998, I added my voice to the side of balance in the rush to war. I drove up to Montpelier where there was a short march through the streets of Vermont’s capital which began at the American Friends Service Committee and proceeded to the governor’s office where demands to resolve the conflict through diplomacy were presented. The world famous Bread and Puppet Theater of Glover, Vermont, lead the silent and solemn group with the pounding of a single drum followed by a half-dozen fully dressed black figures which represented Iraqi women. The women carried the limp bodies of the dead in their arms. The march was a powerful statement of the reality of death due to war, which itself is glorified in our culture. Peacemaking is not.

During the demonstration, an agreement has been reached between the government of Iraq and the United Nations which hopefully will resolve the dispute while satisfying the United States.

Empowerment

There is empowerment in action, even a small action. It is precisely a loss of empowerment, the disbelief that one individual can make a difference that allows imbalance to take hold and further disempowerment to ensue. That is why in the 1996 presidential elections only 49% of registered voters "bothered" to vote.

How difficult is it to jump into an automobile, drive ninety miles and participate in a demonstration for a few hours? Yet, not very many people are willing take such a simple action in support of their beliefs - in the Iraq crisis, in support of the belief that diplomacy is better than war; that there is always a better way than attempting to achieve a political goal through violence.

Consider how many people are willing to stand in line for hours or days to obtain tickets to a rock concert or football game. Consider how many people actually attend such an event. What if these people turned their attention to social, peace and justice causes? Imagine for a moment that the media machine which builds towards such events ad nauseum, all of a sudden were to choose to raise our "consciousness" about peace and social justice issues instead. There might ensue an unrelenting creation of everything from official peace doughnuts through official toilet bowl flush, free social justice cups at hamburger emporiums, etc.

Imagine an all out effort of this powerful and influential machine to instead turn its attention to empowering the people for the purpose of relieving suffering and pain. Imagine such an effort to eliminate hunger in the US! Instead of beer commercials, there might be a call to participate and organize. In place of sneaker commercials, there might be presented a schedule of marches, people to contact and where to volunteer. Instead of talk shows, there might be fair and open public discussions of real issues. Instead of commercials that make us feel guilty about not contributing just seventy-cents a day to feeding a hungry foreign child, there might be programs covering and revealing opportunities where the populace could go and help.

No wonder it doesn’t happen. The mass media itself recognizes its own power. Thus, in order to preserve itself and its owners from those who might recognize that power and dare attempt to use it for the common good rather than the stockholder good, it must orchestrate a sense of disempowerment of the masses. Disempowered people are easily lead or made insignificant.

In the past, during time of warmongering, the media have been highly successful. This time, however, something has gotten in its way - the Internet. Ever since the media moguls began hyping military action against Iraq, those opposed began to network using world wide web homepages, usenet newsgroups and e-mail.

There is now an effective high technology tool in place for the people to use in order to balance the effects of the mass media which is not about to serve the people, even though the people in theory at least, own the airwaves. A few empowered individuals seeking balance can make a big difference. And this time, they have.

Future Prospects

At present, the Internet is not accessible by the masses. The unemployed, homeless and the poor have no access (with some minor exceptions), even though they are the ones that could most benefit in finding jobs and opportunities on the Net. It remains to be seen where the Internet takes us and for how long this fastest growing of all media remains accessible as a voice of balance for those who do have access. The Internet is more-and-more becoming the new advertising playground for consumerism. At any moment, it can be transformed into a closed information highway. Though this is somewhat unlikely, maintaining a balanced view on the medium will keep all networking options worthy of consideration open.

In conclusion, the need for balance does not flow in one direction. Those of us who are committed to peace and social justice issues need strive for balance in our relationship with each other and with those who present a counterbalance to our thinking. This balance requires dialogue, having an open mind and most importantly, listening. Reaching an accommodation with those with whom we may not necessarily agree, just as the Pope and the President of Cuba have done with each other, does not belittle our beliefs nor compromise our principles. Quite the contrary, attaining a balance in thinking opens up possibility and in the long run benefits everyone.

Quotes

He who asks a question may be a fool for five minutes, but he who never asks a question remains a fool forever. 

         
Tom J. Connelly

Bibliography

CNN. U.S. News Story Page. "U.S. policy on Iraq draws fire in Ohio."  
[http://cnn.com/WORLD/9802/18/town. meeting.folo/index.html
Accessed, 22-February-98.

CNN. U.S. News Story Page. "Albright finds Southern audiences polite, but skeptical". 
[http://cnn.com/US/9802/19/iraq.us/index.html
Internet. Accessed, 22-February-98.

CNN. Icons at the Crossroads. "Sharing the Power of Conviction." 
[http://cnn.com/SPECIALS/1998/cuba.pope/ icons/
Internet. Accessed, 25-January-98

Granma. Digital Granma International. "January 27, 1998 Edition." 
[http://www.cubaweb.cu/granma/1998/ 98ene4/sumar-i.html
Internet. Accessed, 31-January-98.

Lobe, Jim. IRAQ-US: Anti-War Views Marginalised in US Media. [misc.activism.progressive] Posted 2/24/98 12:17 AM

The Catholic Worker. The Lord Has Cast Down the Mighty From Their Thrones, And Lifted Up The Lowly. "Iraq: As The People Suffer. January - February, 1998. New York, NY.

1998 Jozef Hand-Boniakowski

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