Paul Foer’s inane rant dovetails—no pun intended—closely with Charles Derber and Yale Magrass’ Baltimore Sun Op/Ed, in which they call on Democrats to “renounce the morality of militarism,” whatever that means, and “engage in straight talk about war and war heroes.” They argue that Democrats must use John McCain’s status as a Vietnam War hero to talk about the “immorality” of that war and the current conflict in Iraq.
Derber and Magrass, and to an extent Foer, have a problem. The facts of history are inconvenient for their narrative. Their imbuing of “ultimate moral force” into “peace heroes” is problematic and does not mean what they think it does. Their assertion begs the question: What kind of peace do “peace heroes” seek? History tells us the peace they sought was not the Coca Cola commercial Derber and Magrass would have you believe.
They write: “…the architects of unjust wars are not honorable or heroic but immoral moralists, those who wage evil in the name of good… they must create a new language of heroism…The peace hero – even more than the war hero – should be the ultimate moral force in the world we now inhabit.”
American communists and fellow travelers of the late 1930s, such as folk singer Pete Seeger and entertainer Paul Robeson, were also peace activists. However, their activism on behalf of peace meant toeing-the-line in support of the 1939 Nazi-Soviet Pact, where Hitler and Stalin agreed to a non-aggression treaty and annexed portions of Poland for each other. This treaty effectively consigned Poland’s Jews to the Final Solution and a large portion of Poland’s officer corps and technical elite to Katyn Forest Massacre at the hands of the Soviets. The moral actions of these peace activists involved calling Franklin Delano Roosevelt a warmonger for having the temerity to support Great Britain against Germany and its short-time ally the Soviet Union. Their idea of “peace” was carrying water for Stalin, even if it meant supporting Adolph Hitler.
What “ultimate moral force” did peace activist Julius Rosenberg exhibit by passing classified information regarding the Manhattan Project and radar proximity fuses to the Soviet Union? Information the Soviets used to threaten American cities and develop anti-aircraft weapons used to shoot down American pilots.
What ultimate moral force did Vietnam era peace activists Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda display? Their efforts brought about the collapse of South Vietnam, Orwellian reeducation camps, and the genocide committed by the Khmer Rouge. Hayden played a crucial role in executing Hanoi’s plan to sow domestic dissent in America. Hayden traveled several times to North Vietnam, Czechoslovakia, and Paris to meet Communist North Vietnamese and Viet Cong leaders to collaborate with them. He even offered advice on conducting psychological warfare against the United States. Hayden and Fonda labeled the torture of American POWs “propaganda” and called returning POWs, like John McCain, “liars.” Hayden cultivated a radical caucus in Congress, where he worked to end American aid for anti-Communist efforts in Southeast Asia and divert it to the Khmer Rouge guerrillas in Cambodia. When fellow peace activist Joan Baez spoke out about the North Vietnamese genocide and reeducation camps, Hayden and Fonda called her a tool of the CIA.
Derber and Magrass are well within their right to question the morality of going to war. Indeed, it is a legitimate concern in our republic. However, investing ultimate moral authority in peace activists while blind to the dangerous consequences of their false peace, breeds moral relativism, and worse, a lack of resolve to understand that there are times when we must stand and fight.
Mahatma Gandhi said, “Peace requires not only the absence of violence but also the presence of justice.” The “peace,” that the peace activists of the 1930s and the Vietnam War era desired did not end violence nor established justice.