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Supporters of the 1953 coup in Iran celebrating their victory. The overthrow of the democratically elected government was orchestrated by the United Kingdom and the United States.

Voices / Viewpoint

Grim crossroads

Our nation is at risk of being subsumed by the right-wing war machine that has been desperately yearning for a war with Iran for decades

Dan DeWalt , one of the founders of this newspaper, is a woodworker and teacher at Leland & Gray Union High School. He is a longtime activist for social justice, clean energy, and peace.

Newfane

As Donald Trump sends the U.S. spiraling down in a morass of chest puffing and violence, it is time for us to take stock of what we are prepared to do to stop another nightmarish war in the Middle East.

It will take more than hand-wringing and clicking on internet petitions. Most likely, we will have to be willing to get arrested, to stop business as usual, to do whatever is necessary to make the unstable boss-man and the neo-con crew that’s riding on his wave of chaos take notice.

First, a reality check: We can’t make a stand about what is happening now without understanding what has happened in the past between our two countries.

Please place yourself into the shoes of an Iranian. Your first memory (if you are of a certain age) is when Iran celebrated the election of a popular and dynamic prime minister, Mohammad Mosaddegh, in 1951.

Unfortunately for him and for the people of Iran, Britain was not willing to give up its stranglehold on Iran’s oil production, which it had monopolized earlier through its military might. Mosaddegh had the temerity to nationalize the oil companies, reasoning that the people of Iran had more of a right to the proceeds from Iranian oil than did the Brits.

This did not go over well, and in 1953, the British, along with the CIA, overthrew the democratically elected prime minister with the shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who, under our tutelage, installed a vicious secret police service, tortured and imprisoned thousands of Iranians, and ran a brutal police state until the Iranian revolution finally overthrew him in 1979.

Infuriated that the U.S. gave sanctuary to the shah, rather than delivering him to justice, Iranians overran the U.S. embassy in Tehran, took hostages, and fueled enmity between Americans and Iran.

During Iran’s war with Iraq, the U.S. aided each side alternatively until it became evident that Iran might win. At that point all U.S. power was directed against Iran, and the war ended without an outright victory on either side.

* * *

Iranians took note of our support of Iraq under Saddam Hussein, and they didn’t forget.

In 1987, an Iraqi jet struck the USS Stark with two missiles, badly damaging the ship. Iraq apologized, explaining that they thought they were attacking an Iranian oil ship (which does not at all resemble a U.S. warship).

The U.S. chose to blame Iran (basically for existing), giving Iraq a reason to want to bomb something.

In 1988, the USS Vincennes shot down a regularly scheduled Iranian passenger jet flying above Iran’s territorial waters, killing all 290 people on board; among them were 66 children.

Two of Iran’s bordering countries, Afghanistan and Iraq, have been invaded by the U.S. since 2001. Both countries have had their infrastructure destroyed; neither has any semblance of a stable government, let alone a democratic one.

Both are now breeding grounds for terrorism, having birthed al-Qaida in Iraq, which morphed into ISIS, as well as harboring other terrorists in the no-man’s land that has been left by our invasions.

* * *

Now, we have assassinated Iran’s leading military figure, who was also a major political figure and beloved by his country. If you were an Iranian, how would you see the man who had led the Quds force to attack those who had so often attacked Iran? Would you see his actions as terrorism, or as national defense?

Before you answer, consider this: General James Mattis, who seems to be well-thought-of here in the U.S., is also a general who ordered war crimes to be committed. His orders on entering Fallujah, where Marines were going to revenge the killings of four Blackwater mercenaries, were to leave no thing alive. People, animals — every living thing was to be killed in that attack.

No matter how you sugar coat it, that is a war crime, and he should be considered a terrorist for that act. But we consider him a hero — indeed, in the eyes of the mainstream press and pundits, he was the “only adult” in the cabinet room when Trump made him secretary of defense. One country’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter or hero.

So can you really accede to another war? Can you really accept that we will have to support our leaders if they send us down another rabbit hole of shame, murder, torture and national egotism?

If not, what to do?

* * *

Now is the time to start to organize local civil defense groups. Not to protect us from enemy missiles, but to protect the Constitution and our nation from being subsumed by the right-wing war machine that has been desperately yearning for a war with Iran since 2001 or before.

Don’t forget that the current “great white hope” for the liberals, in their attempt to hold Trump accountable, is none other than John Bolton, perhaps the best connected and most brazen warmonger of the 21st century thus far. This potential war with Iran is his dream come true.

What would send the message to the war machine that would give them pause? Only events that are so remarkable here at home that the government will be forced to deal with us.

We have learned that even a million people in the streets will not prevent a war. We have learned that petitioning those in power has no effect. But if we take concerted actions that prevent business as usual all across the land, they will have to take notice.

For example, it is very easy to shut down a highway or intersection with a few well-placed vehicles. The beauty of this sort of action is that it can allow for emergency vehicles to pass if necessary, but can grind all commerce to a halt.

While we will need the entire country to fight against this war, Vermonters are in a position to spark such action. If towns throughout the state are having to deal with street-closing protests, business-stopping sit-ins, if State House lobbying swamps the ability for politicians to do their normal work, if every presidential candidate is barraged by demands to stop another war, we can make a difference.

Vermont has acted as the conscience of the nation in the past. It’s time to do it again.

* * *

The United States is at a grim crossroads. Trump has already caused massive damage to our democracy and our standing abroad. The only upside to this is that he should have a hard time finding allies for his hideous war adventures.

We can no longer sit on the sidelines. We need to find allies and partners who are ready to work with us to act quickly if the arrogant fools who lead us try to start another war.

They may not be better than this, but we are. If we don’t show this to the world, then we deserve Trump and his actions — and we will deserve the world’s scorn.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #545 (Wednesday, January 22, 2020). This story appeared on page C1.

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