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Colman McCarthy on war and abortion - euphemism for killing

Marchers For Death


by Colman McCarthy
The Washington Post, April 11, 1992

Within the past year, two history-making marches have filled the wide avenues of Washington with hundreds of thousands of citizens. Last June, paraders and spectators celebrated Desert Storm. On April 5, droves marched to support abortion rights.

It isn't known -- and can't be -- how many citizens showed up for both events. Those who did deserve to be congratulated for their consistency. Both the military ethic and the abortion ethic are grounded in the same belief: Life is cheap. Iraqi life. Fetal life.

Last June, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, a four-star sloganeer, presented himself as a defender of life -- American life, the lives of the emir of Kuwait and the royals of Saudi Arabia, and, for sure, the lives of America's troops who had just come back from the massacre of Iraqi women and children.

At their march, Patricia Ireland of NOW, Gloria Steinem, Jane Fonda and others praised reproductive freedom. Backing women who have been on the front lines against Supreme Court justices who may have differing views, they presented themselves as defenders of life -- provided it's adult, not fetal, life.

The language of the war lobby and the abortion lobby is from the same glossary of evasions. No one likes war, say the generals. No one likes abortions, says NOW. But let's keep the killing option, just in case. And cases keep coming. If Iraqis are causing trouble, or Libyans, Grenadans or Panamanians, bomb them. If fetuses pose problems, destroy them.

In early January 1991, when U.S. pilots were about to launch round-the-clock bombing runs, Colin Powell vowed to isolate the Iraqi army and "kill it." Not kill "them." That would give the game away: Human life would be taken. The euphemisms of war are like those of abortion. An "it" is terminated, not a life. Whether it's abortion rights that are being defended by Patricia Ireland or war rights by Norman Schwarzkopf, the rights being exercised are those of the strong over the weak.

The legalized violence of war and the legalized violence of abortion are philosophical as well as linguistic twins. The Pentagon is militarily pro-choice. It demands, and is constitutionally given, the right to choose who, where, when, why and how to destroy. The right to a war, like the right to an abortion, means liberation. Kuwait was liberated in the gulf. Women are liberated in the abortion room.

The kinship between militarism and abortion is strongest in the common seductiveness of the rationalizations that both depend on. Gen. Schwarzkopf does not say he is pro-war. He is for peace through strength. Field-commander Ireland is not pro- abortion. She is for choice. Left out of the discussion is the calculated taking of life, as if those who advocate a right to an abortion or a right to wage war are exempt from an accountability of violence. Against Iraq, American generals promoted themselves as winners. Against the Supreme Court, abortion strategists pledge a winning campaign. The losers -- the destroyed civilians in Iraq, the destroyed fetal life in abortion clinics -- are forgotten as unseen casualties.

From the other side, those who thought better of marching either last June or this April need to be careful to avoid lopsided dependency on laws to end the loss of life in the war zones of militarism and abortion. Calling abortion -rightists murderers is as useless as calling America's generals war criminals. The us vs. them mentality is a convenient dodge that avoids responding to the harder work of removing the reasons that lead people to wars and abortions. To seek alternatives to both types of violence demands a commitment that will be much more costly than sending a check to the War Resisters League, staging countermarches or other tepid tilts at unthreatening windmills.

Those who oppose war and abortion -- and large numbers oppose one but not the other -- need to reject the easy and useless denigrations of soldiers who fight and women who have abortions. Who's to judge what pressures they were under? The solution is to work now to create the conditions of peace and stability so that in five, 10 or 25 years people will have easier and more workable options against being driven to war or abortion, the twin desperations of our time.

Copyright 1992 The Washington Post