Revisiting a 1991 statement against war from the D.C. Student Coalition against Apartheid and Racism.
The grim anniversary of yet another U.S. apocalypse has passed by with little notice and less mourning. January 16th, the day after Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, is the day that unleashed hell on Iraq. Operation Desert Storm began on that day in 1991. Sold as a just war for freedom, for democracy, and for the liberation of Kuwait, it was soon revealed to be a cynical and bloody offensive for oil and empire abroad, and against Black, Brown, and working-class people at home.
A 1991 position paper from the D.C. Student Coalition against Apartheid and Racism (DC SCAR) makes that clear. DC SCAR was made up of student organizers and organizations from Howard University, Georgetown University, George Washington University, John Hopkins University, and the University of Maryland at College Park, who came together in the early 1980s to mobilize against Apartheid in Southern Africa. From the mid- to -late 1980s, their activism also focused on questions of racism, women’s and gay and lesbian rights, AIDS, the question of Palestine, and the CIA and US policies in Central America. With the announcement of war, of a US offensive against Iraq in 1991, DC SCAR used the solidarity network they had built up over the past decade to mobilize part of national and international protests against Desert Storm. Their position paper, titled “The War is at Home,” is a succinct assessment of the political economy of militarism. Their pointed critique, “The government claims it must cut back on social programs, yet somewhere it will find the estimated $162 billion necessary to fuel this war…” is just as applicable for today, with the US spending more than $110 billion to fuel the proxy war in Ukraine.
The paper is also clear in denouncing the US war machine’s racist and class-based forms. It is a lucid and still-relevant call for student protest for peace abroad, and for justice at home. We reproduce DC SCAR’s “The War at Home” below.
The War Is at Home
A D.C. SCAR position paper on the War in the Middle East
In the course of the last week, the United States began a disastrous rush toward war in the Middle East. The United States government began bombing Iraq on January 16, 1991, initiating “operation Desert Storm,” under the supposition of freeing Kuwait. This war is far from a liberation struggle; it is, in fact, a war grounded within U.S. imperialism – a structure founded upon and maintained by racism and white supremacy. The U.S. War on the people of the Middle East is fueling the U.S. War here at home; a war that keeps food from the hungry, that keeps shelter from the homeless, and keeps power away from the people. The D.C. Student Coalition against Apartheid and Racism (DC SCAR) would like to explicitly challenge this fraudulent attempt by the U.S. government to disguise the war as anything but the truth: a racist war on the poor.
War is an attempt to control resources – natural, as well as human. The anti-war movement has already acknowledged the obvious attempt by the U.S. Government to gain control over natural resources in the Middle East, as demonstrated by the popularized, “No Blood for Oil,” slogan. The strong link between controlling the oil in the Middle East and controlling the people of the Middle East cannot be overlooked. The U.S. has military bases around the world while not a single foreign country maintains a base within the U.S. The U.S. has systematically, and militarily extended itself on foreign soil in order to ensure its power, by force if necessary. One need only take a quick glance over the world’s recent history in order to understand the consistency of the U.S. imperialist foreign policy: The U.S. calls dictatorships democracies so long as a U.S. puppet sits on the throne. Just as Panama’s once coveted Manuel Noreiga slid out from the U.S. manipulative grasp, so too has Saddam Hussein.
This war is not about freeing Kuwait. The U.S. has a long-standing history of opposing liberation struggles. When the cry for self-determination came from the people of South Africa, of El Salvador, and of Palestine, it fell upon deaf ears. Why have these areas not been liberated by use of force? We question the U.S. hypocrisy as to when it will or will not support a United Nations declaration for sanctions: against Iraq and not against South Africa. Once again, the U.S. support must be seen as an attempt to control natural and human resources. The U.S. foreign policy is clear and consistent; it is as much racist as it is imperialist.
D.C. SCAR will not overlook the racist elements present in this war. It is tragic that the deadline for our attack on Iraq would take place on the birthday of the African-American champion of non-violence, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This war is against people of color and is being fought by people of color (African-Americans compose nearly 40% of the front-line troops while only 12% of the population). We are clear that nearly one in every three battlefield deaths will be African-Americans. Including Asian, Native American and Latino troops in the statistics, over 45% of the front line troops in Desert Storm are composed of People of Color. Almost 90% of the military is poor and working class, including white youth, and some 51% come from the South. It is also becoming clear that the civilian casualties in Iraq are much higher than we are being told. As the U.S. attempts to expand its control over the people of the Middle East, its control over human resources, we must see this action not only as a consistent racist foreign policy, but as a racist domestic policy against the poor and working class.
The War is at HOME
The military is composed of a majority of people whose options are limited; we are in the midst of a compulsory economic draft in this country. The choices for people of color and for low income people are very few with a federal government that allocates 50% of our income tax dollars to military spending and a mere 3% to education. Young men and women cannot afford an education, decent housing, or even proper nutrition so they have been left with no other option than to become a hired gun for Uncle Sam.
This government serves the interests of an elite few as it maintains a power structure which systematically oppresses women, people of color, gays and lesbians, and the poor. The United States government has imposed sanctions on its own people. Over the past ten years spending for housing has decreased 77%, health care 49%, and jobs 48% while military spending has increased an astounding 46%. The government claims it must cut back on social programs, yet somewhere it will find the estimated $162 billion necessary to fuel this war through fiscal year 1991.
A Call to Students
D.C. SCAR is issuing a call to students to oppose this war beyond the “No Blood for Oil” cry. We encourage a deeper analysis so that peace in the Middle East also includes justice here at home. In order to find the cause of the war in the Persian Gulf we must not only study the history of that region, but we must understand the U.S. racist and exploitative history. As Students we must find our leadership in those most affected by these issues; People of Color leadership in the youth and student movement is essential so that we may build a movement exclusive of classism and racism. We must view racism as a central issue both in this war and in all of our work, and if we correctly address racism we will be in a position to form multi-racial coalitions in order to most effectively crush this war, domestic and foreign. We must begin to organize the unorganized by leafleting and speaking at high schools, junior high schools, community centers, churches, synagogues, and mosques. Teach-ins must incorporate themes that break down superficial interpretations of this war. There will be no peace in the Middle East if there is no justice at home: Agitate, Education, and Organize!
“The War Is at Home: A D.C. SCAR position paper on the War in the Middle East” originally appeared as a SCAR NEWS Special Report in SCAR NEWS, Vol. VII, No. & (January 1991)