CHICAGO – Amid mounting concern about the Bush administration’s threatened attack on Iraq, close to 200 peace activists at Peace Action’s 15th annual national congress here July 27-28 vowed to campaign for “justice not war” and turn back the growing militarization of U.S. foreign policy.

“War on Iraq is coming unless we really mobilize,” national Peace Action board member Rahul Mahajan told the delegates. “We’ve got to talk about real security, genuine international cooperation, and removing the status of the U.S. as an arrogant superpower.”

Hans von Sponeck, former U.N. Humanitarian Commissioner for Iraq, told the gathering of a visit he made with a German television team two weeks ago to a site in Iraq where, it was claimed, weapons of mass destruction were being manufactured. The site, he said, was totally destroyed and there was no possibility that such manufacturing could be going on there. But “you can’t get this report on U.S. TV,” he said.

Neither Europe nor the Middle East wants a war on Iraq, von Sponeck said, and preventing a U.S. attack on Iraq “boils down to pressure on this [U.S.] government that has become very estranged from reality.”

Kevin Martin, Peace Action executive director, assailed the “cynical use of Sept. 11 to push the pre-existing agendas of the Bush administration.”

William Hartung, of the World Policy Institute, told the gathering that of the $150 billion in new military spending pushed through by the Pentagon since Sept. 11, “maybe 20 to 25 percent is related to the ‘war on terrorism’ – a lot was already on their shopping list.” Well before Bush, Hartung said, right-wing think tanks have been promoting policies of “unilateralist military dominance and a new era of U.S. imperialism” – policies now being carried out by this administration. But Hartung noted divisions within the administration and said “this unilateralist clique” may be “overreaching.”

In keynote remarks, David Potorti, co-director of September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, declared, “My family is not going to be safe until families on the other side of the world are safe. War is not the answer.” Potorti, whose brother was killed Sept. 11 in the World Trade Center, said, paraphrasing Martin Luther King, “Every bomb we drop is dropping a bomb on our schools and hospitals because we are denying them resources.” September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows is an organization founded by family members of Sept. 11 victims to “turn our grief into action for peace.”

In addition to mobilizing against a war on Iraq and military intervention in Colombia, Peace Action chapters are focusing on building opposition to Bush’s Nuclear Posture Review first-strike doctrine, stopping Star Wars weaponization of space, and promoting a peaceful solution to the Israel-Palestine crisis.

Martin described several campaigns Peace Action will be engaged in this fall. The group has received a $15,000 grant from Barbra Streisand’s foundation to place ads in the Washington, D.C. metro area calling Star Wars “Enron in space.” Chapters will be involved in Peace Voter activities to elect peace advocates to Congress this November. The Student Peace Action Network, which Martin said has grown rapidly since Sept. 11, will be organizing on campuses. Peace Action is sponsoring a fall campus speaking tour by Hiroshima survivors and Peaceful Tomorrows members.

Conference participants joined several hundred Chicagoans in a protest rally at Boeing headquarters June 26. Boeing, the second largest military contractor, has the lucrative contract for deployment of the Star Wars anti-missile system.

Delegates Dawson and Jean Tunnell, both retired ministers from Denton, Tex., told the World there are five Peace Action chapters in Texas, including their newly formed Denton chapter. Dawson Tunnell said, with Texas having produced a series of right-wingers like Bush, Rep. Tom DeLay and Sen. Phil Gramm, “we feel like people who don’t see things that way need to be organized.”

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Susan Webb
Susan Webb

Susan Webb is a retired co-editor of People's World. She has written on a range of topics both international - the Iraq war, World Social Forums in Brazil and India, the Israel-Palestinian conflict and controversy over the U.S. role in Okinawa - and domestic - including the meaning of socialism for Americans, attacks on Planned Parenthood, the U.S. as top weapons merchant, and more.