Herald Times

This article appears in the October 3, 2002 issue of the Herald Times, Bloomington, Indiana.

Activist speaks out against war with Iraq

By Steve Hinnefeld
Herald-Times Staff Writer

The last time Max Elbaum was in Bloomington was in May 1967. Then a University of Wisconsin student, he and a Hoosier girlfriend named Cheryl took in the Little 500 bicycle race and variety show.

He remembers Bob Hope, the headliner that year, asking the crowd to stand in support of U.S. troops in Vietnam. He and Cheryl, seemingly alone among 30,000 people, stayed seated.

“Three or four years later, we were the majority,” he said.

Elbaum recalled the explosion of the anti-Vietnam War movement to explain his belief that a U.S. war with Iraq won’t win long-term popular support. The Oakland, Calif., activist and writer was in Bloomington Wednesday to deliver a speech challenging the U.S. war on terrorism and its talk of attacking Iraq.

“It’s not really about weapons of mass destruction or terrorism,” he said in an interview. “It’s not really about Iraq. It’s about the United States wanting to go anywhere and make unilateral decisions. I don’t think that’s a good recipe for peace and security and social justice.”

Elbaum and other Bay Area activists responded to the U.S. attack on Afghanistan a year ago by starting a newspaper called War Times. Distributed free and funded by grants and donations, it is published in English and Spanish and comes out every five weeks.

The publication questions Bush administration foreign policy and seeks to put a human face on the victims of conflict in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Elbaum said the rationale for attacking Iraq is presented in Bush’s national security strategy, which was released Sept. 20. The document calls for the United States to aggressively exert its influence throughout the post-Cold War world — to be “a new Rome, if you will,” Elbaum said.

He said the “national trauma” of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks produced a natural desire for Americans to unite and rally around their leaders. But he doubts that response will carry over into support for war with Iraq.

“I don’t think there’s much support for this war outside of certain circles in the Bush administration,” he said. “Saddam Hussein is less a threat today than he was in the last decade. His country has been decimated.”

For Elbaum, the Bush strategy represents a fundamental wrong turn in response to the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the end of the Cold War. It’s going it alone and pursuing its own interests, he said, when it could be working with other countries to fight poverty, combat the AIDS epidemic, clean up the environment and dismantle nuclear weapons.

As a ’60s radical, Elbaum knows a thing or two about wrong turns. His recent book, Revolution in the Air: Sixties Radicals Turn to Lenin, Marx and Che, recounts the “new communist” movement that, emerging from the anti-Vietnam War struggle, built multiracial coalitions around a Maoist model of political revolution.

Odd as it may seem now, it was a time when millions of college students thought revolution was a good idea and more identified with Cuban revolutionary martyr Che Guevara than with U.S. presidential candidates.

Elbaum faults the movement not for its radicalism but for following “ideological dead ends” and for failing to pursue strategies for long-term change — supporting candidates for political office, for example.

He is pleased that some readers of his book are young activists who protest the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, the death penalty and what he calls the “prison-industrial complex.”

“Today, there’s a lot more dialogue,” he said. “They don’t want to be told what to do, but they’ll listen.”

Reporter Steve Hinnefeld can be reached at 812-331-4374 or by e-mail at hinnefeld@heraldt.com.