Dissent in times of war

By Mumia Abu-Jamal from Death row

"... I am an anti-imperialist. I am opposed
to having the eagle put its talons on
any other land..."

- Mark Twain, Vice-President
Anti-Imperialist League (1900)

If the recent anti-Bush demo in London shows anything,
it is that dissent is coming back. If the President must
behave so sheepishly in the cities of America's closest
ally, then the Iraq Adventure really isn't going well.

Although there have been spirited demonstrations in
the US since the start of armed conflict, they have rarely
reached the size and zest of the pre-war demos. It suggests
several things; a) most Americans felt funny about
protesting after the armed conflict began; and b) many
felt demoralized when the massive pre-war demos didn't
stop the government from going forward anyway.

Deep in the American psyche is a nationalism that is
expressed as obedience to those in power. The State
depends on this instinct, and draws strength from it.
The great dissenters in US life often had to do so against
popular opinion. Also, they have been almost whited
out of history, so that we know little of their

Mark Twain was one of the most popular writers
in America, and his fiction is at the heart of American
literature. Yet, he was a staunch opponent of US
military adventures at the dawn of the 20th century,
and proudly opposed such militarism. Naturally, the
establishment questioned his patriotism. In one
of his novels, *A Connecticut Yankee in King
Arthur's Court*, Twain gave eloquent voice to
his brand of loyalty:

You see my kind of loyalty was loyalty
to one's country, not to its institutions
or its office holders. The country is the
real thing, the substantial thing, the eternal
thing; it is the thing to watch over, and
care for, and be loyal to; institutions are
extraneous, they are its mere clothing,
and clothing can wear out, become
ragged, cease to be comfortable, cease
to protect the body from winter, disease,
and death. To be loyal to rags, to
shout for rags, to worship rags, to die
for rags--that is loyalty to unreason, it
is pure animal; it belongs to monarchy,
was invented by monarchy; let
monarchy keep it. [fr. Howard Zinn,
*Artists in Times of War* (NY: 7
Stories/Open Media, '03), p. 16]

Twain was a prominent protester against the US
war in the Philippines.

Most Americans recognize the name of Helen Keller,
and think of her as an exemplar of the disabled. She too,
was a proud anti-war activist, a feminist, and a

The great Black poet, Langston Hughes, used his
artistic gifts to protest US militarism abroad, and
racism at home.

Those artists and thinkers whom we admire today,
long after their passing, were criticized by the State
because they dissented from government policy. They
did not leave important issues like war, to the likes of

When we look around us, we see candidates from
the Democratic Party vying for president, who sound
like they are to the right of Bush! Several of them (as
Senators) surrendered their congressional war powers
to the president. Several voted for the $87 billion
dollars to fund the Iraq Occupation. They promise
a more robust military presence there. Few have dared
to actually oppose the occupation. They are caught
in the trap of Bush's making. With the possible
exception of Rev. Al Sharpton and Dennis Kucinich,
few have announced their intention to pull out of the
Iraq debacle. Meanwhile, a recent classified CIA
document warns that the Iraqi resistance is growing
and deepening. According to published accounts, the
populous Shiites in the south are seriously contemplating
joining the Sunnis in the center, in guerrilla attacks
against the Americans. This suggests a level of
nationwide resistance that the US has never seen in
the country.

Dissent (to paraphrase the African-American
Muslim imam, Jamil Al-Amin) is as American as
apple pie.

A needless war continues to wage in Iraq; a war
that never should have begun.

Dissent is growing.

Copyright 2024 Mumia Abu-Jamal

"When a cause comes along and you know in your bones that it is
just, yet refuse to defend it--at that moment you begin to die.
And I have never seen so many corpses walking around talking
about justice."
- Mumia Abu-Jamal

Mumia Abu-Jamal is the author of four books:

  • Faith of our fathers:
    An examination of the spiritual life of African and African American People
  • Live from Death Row
  • Death Blossoms
  • All Things Censored.

[Mr. Jamal has written widely about war and other issues.
His latest work, *Faith of Our Fathers* (Africa World Press, 2024) was named one of "The Most
Remarkable Books of 2024" by *Black Issues Book Review* (Nov/Dec '03).]

Write to Mumia directly at:
Mumia Abu-Jamal AM 8335
175 Progress Drive
Waynesburg, PA 15370