by Bill Berkowitz
(IPS) -- As the occupation of Iraq continues to slide into chaos, pro-war advocates are getting more vigorous and vituperative with their criticisms of the anti-war movement.
Late in the evening of Aug. 24, for example, the popular Internet Drudge Report trumpeted a story from the Cybercast News Service claiming that war protesters were taunting wounded soldiers returning from Iraq.
The following day, Cybercast News Service -- a subsidiary of the Media Research Center, a conservative media watchdog group -- published a report about Code Pink Women for Peace organizing protests outside Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, where soldiers seriously wounded in Iraq are sent for the first stages of their recovery.
CNSNews.com reported that supporters of the Iraq war called the protests "shameless" and were conducting counter-demonstrations at the hospital.
"The anti-war protesters should not be demonstrating at a hospital. A hospital is not a suitable location for an anti-war demonstration," Bill Floyd of the Washington chapter of FreeRepublic.com told CNS.
"I believe they are tormenting our wounded soldiers and they should just leave them alone," Floyd added.
Code Pink, the news service charged, "has a controversial leader, [Medea Benjamin, who] has expressed support for the Communist Viet Cong in Vietnam and the Nicaraguan Sandinistas."
The vigils at Walter Reed Hospital began in late March, Ann Wilcox, an organizer with the Washington office of Code Pink, told IPS. They "bring together peace activists, soldiers, military families and neighbors, and they are a peaceful vigil that is not provocative," Wilcox said.
The vigils are focused on "reminding the public that physically and psychologically wounded soldiers are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan every night."
"These are not protests, but they are vigils calling for more support for the veterans. We always do them with military families and we get extremely positive responses from the families of the wounded soldiers. In my first D.C. vigil, the wife of a wounded soldier took me inside to meet her husband," Benjamin, a co-founder of Code Pink, told IPS.
Counter-protesters appear to be "trying to create a confrontation and make us look as if we are not supporting the soldiers," Benjamin said. "It is a smear tactic and it is totally untrue. We are there to say that these soldiers deserve the best possible treatment when they come home."
When the going gets tough for supporters of President Bush's war on Iraq, they go on the attack. Typical targets have been liberal academics on U.S. college campuses, Hollywood celebrities that have dared speak out against the war, liberal talk show hosts, and of course, the anti-war movement.
Filmmaker Michael Moore, whose award-winning documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11" set box office records last year, was the right's whipping boy for most of 2004. Cindy Sheehan, the mother of the slain soldier who maintained a vigil outside President Bush's Crawford, Texas, ranch throughout the month of August, became its target of choice this summer.
On Aug. 22, CNSNews.com reported that Move America Forward, the right-wing group that led a recent "Truth Tour to Iraq," was about to launch its "You Don't Speak for Me, Cindy" tour to counter Sheehan's vigil.
In the months leading up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, millions of people in cities around the world demonstrated against the impending war. Despite that outpouring of sentiment, during the pre-invasion debate, Bush administration supporters went after the anti-war movement with gusto.
Moreover, after the invasion began, those who spoke out against the war were quickly labeled anti-patriotic, anti-U.S. or sympathizers of the brutal dictator Saddam Hussein.
On Tuesday, the Washington-based Heritage Foundation, the premier think tank of the conservative movement, sponsored an event entitled, "The Politics of Peace: What's Behind the Anti-War Movement?" featuring John J. Tierney, whose book, "The Politics of Peace," was published this year by the Capital Research Center.
In the introduction to his book, Tierney maintains that "The irony of the modern 'peace' movement is that it has very little to do with peace -- either as a moral concept or as a political ideal. The leaders of anti-war groups are modern-day Leninists, street revolutionaries [attempting] to use reactions to the war on Al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein as a way to foment radical political change at home."
"This appears like a real attempt to smear the peace movement," said Benjamin. "It is interesting that it is coming at a time when the peace movement is beginning to represent the feelings of the majority of the American people."
"In reality, this is the first time since the war began that the right is on the defensive. To claim that the anti-war movement is anti-American is a move fueled by desperation, and I don't think it is going to resonate with the American people who now feel that this war isn't worth fighting."
Benjamin also said that the attack on the anti-war movement is coming at a time when more Republicans are seriously questioning the war.
Tierney's book was published by the Capital Research Center (CRC), a Washington-based outfit, which for the past 20 years has steadfastly dedicated itself to defunding and disempowering the progressive non-profit sector and "exposing" the foundations that fund them.
The CRD has four flagship publications -- Organization Trends, a monthly analysing the activities of advocacy organizations; Labor Watch, a monthly tracking "the increasing activism of labor unions that are trying to achieve through political coalition-building the goals they have failed to achieve at the bargaining table;" Foundation Watch, a monthly "examin[ing] the grantmaking of private foundations;" and Compassion & Culture, a monthly "highlighting the work of small, locally based charities that help the needy."
In an introduction to an excerpt of "The Politics of Peace" published in the March issue of Organization Trends, Robert Huberty, the executive vice president and director of research at CRC, maintained that many leaders of the leading anti-war organizations today belong to Communist splinter groups.
"They have ties to North Korea, Cuba and Maoist China. Some have political roots in radical anti-Vietnam war groups like Students for a Democratic Society. Others trace their origins to the heyday of the U.S. Communist Party."
Huberty argues that these facts "have been obscured by false media depictions of a grassroots and idealistic anti-war movement."
"On the face of it," Code Pink's Benjamin said, "it is ridiculous to characterize United for Peace and Justice as anti-American. This is an organization that is comprized of more than 1,000 local organizations, and whose membership includes a fair share of religious leaders, military families, and veterans."
"The way they tried to smear Cindy Sheehan was despicable and didn't work very well; they way they are trying to position politicians calling for an exit strategy also reflects that. We in the peace movement feel like we are turning a corner and that we have greater possibilities of reaching and convincing the American people," she said.
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