The Internet as an anti-war tool [fwd]

Date Thu, 4 Nov 1999 16:08:45 -0000
Organization University of Lincolnshire & Humberside

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To: webmaster@stopnato.zzn.comg 
Subject: The Internet as an anti-war tool [fwd] 
From: Herman de Tollenaere <> 
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Date: Wed, 03 Nov 1999 17:15:47 +0100 


The Internet has emerged as a powerful anti-war tool 

The onward march of new communications 
technologies has a profound impact on the way that 
warfare is perceived and conducted -- and opposed. The 
US Civil War, the first to be fought with the means for 
killing produced by the Industrial Revolution, was also 
the first extensively photographed war. Matthew Brady's 
haunting images of corpses piled in front of the guns at
Antietam and Gettysburg brought the harsh realities of 
modern warfare to those at home who previously 
depended on charcoal sketches and word pictures. The 
photographs helped to undermine some of the false 
romantic notions about battlefield combat accepted by 
many at the time.

The first televised war was Vietnam. Walter Cronkite, 
Chet Huntley, and David Brinkley brought its horrors 
into million of homes during the dinner hour, with 
casualty counts, images of napalmings, body bags, 
executions in the streets, and talking heads who 
claimed to see light "at the end of the tunnel." Although 
the Pentagon and the White House used TV to sell the 
war, just as their predecessors used radio and 
newspapers, the medium nevertheless helped awaken 
and enlarge the anti-war movement. 

The US/NATO attack on Yugoslavia was the first 
Internet war. Developed by the Pentagon in the 1960s, 
the Internet was intended to enable the military and 
government types to communicate even during and 
after a nuclear war. Today, perhaps ironically, the same 
technology is being put to wide use by grassroots 
organizers in anti-war and other campaigns. 

For many activists, the potentials offered by the Internet 
became clear in 1994 when the Zapatistas emerged out 
of the jungles of southern Mexico. Even though this 
indigenous movement was surrounded and forced to 
retreat by the Mexican military, the savvy, enigmatic 
Subcomandante Marcos broke the official information 
blockade and prevented a probable military campaign of 
annihilation by connecting with the outside world 
through timely e-mail communiqués. A host of Web 
pages launched by supporters soon followed. Now, it 
seems, every guerilla and national liberation movement
and Third World solidarity organization in the First 
World has its own Website and e-mail networks. 

Political activists in the US and around the world have 
been using the Internet to organize on behalf of death-
row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal and other political 
prisoners. They've built solidarity with labor struggles,
and mobilized opposition to corporate and government 
environmental threats like the exporting of nuclear 
waste to a poor minority community in West
Texas and the slaughter of old-growth forests in the 
Pacific Northwest. This usage has been a real "growth 
industry," paralleling the growing popularity of the 
Internet -- largely driven, again ironically, by commercial 

The Great Equalizer 

During the recent NATO bombing, Western 
governments tried to control the flow of information, 
hoping to put their exclusive spin on events. Even
more than during the Gulf War, the corporate media of 
these "free" countries accepted this with very little 
questioning. Yet, the Internet was the one big fly in the 

The media watchdog organization Fairness and 
Accuracy in Media (FAIR) has documented how rarely 
anti-war voices, even notable ones such as Noam
Chomsky, were allowed to appear on CNN, PBS, etc. 
Nevertheless, those with access to the Internet could 
easily find public intellectuals on the Left exposing the 
distortions and lies of the warmakers at Websites such 
as Z Magazine's. With a modest monthly circulation, Z 
is hardly a threat to Newsweek or Time.  But the Web 
is proving to be a great equalizer. Despite a limited 
budget, that one publication can potentially reach just 
as many people through its on-line site as the well-
heeled bastions of yellow journalism. 

The Internet makes it possible to get news directly from 
the source, thus making possible more informed 
evaluations of whether the mainstream media are being 
truthful. For example, when the World Court issued its 
ruling in the case brought by Yugoslavia against the 
NATO countries to stop the bombing, Western media 
put an immediate pro-war spin on the news, saying
that Yugoslavia had lost the case.  

Actually, the court had only turned down Yugoslavia's 
request for provisional measures halting the bombing, 
pending hearings on its legality in international law. The 
hearings would go ahead, and the court said it was 
"profoundly concerned with the use of force in 
Yugoslavia," which, "under the present circumstances 
... raises very serious issues of international law." 

Instead of depending on what the BBC or AP had to 
say about the court's ruling, one could go directly to the 
World Court's Website, where the ruling was posted 
within minutes of its issuance.  

Much of the grassroots activism against the 
US/NATO's war of aggression against Yugoslavia was 
organized with the help of the mechanisms provided
by the Internet. Communicating the latest news, 
sharing organizing tips, and debating strategy through e-
mail and "lists" saved time and money once devoted to 
attending innumerable (and often interminable) coalition 

Potentially, it also could obviate the need for quite so 
many hierarchical decision-making structures. People 
who couldn't travel to meetings in the past due to job 
conflicts or poverty are now more able to participate.
Instead of duplicating work, activists in one area can 
use the Web to download leaflets and posters produced 
elsewhere, making local modifications as needed and 
quickly getting them on the street. 

Refuting the Spinmeisters 

In earlier "modern" wars, soldiers who found themselves 
in opposing trenches sometimes reached out and 
fraternized with the enemy. Seeing that the other guys 
weren't demons who had to be killed simply because 
they spoke another language or were subjects of 
another government could have a very radicalizing 
effect. Consequently, it was heavily frowned upon by the
command structures. This is one of the reasons why 
war has grown more technological and impersonal. 
Today, bomber pilots rain down death from 15,000 feet, 
while technicians launch cruise missiles on targets from
hundreds of miles away. 

Yet, the Internet is helping civilians, if not soldiers, to 
"fraternize" with "the enemy" despite the barriers 
erected by opposing governments. Like others, I have 
several e-mail correspondents in Yugoslavia, people who
reached out to explain what was really happening in 
their country and their terrible experiences during the 
bombing. To hear directly and quickly from someone 
about spending the night huddled in a bomb shelter 
brings the war home across thousands of miles and the 
cultural gap that separate us. Attending an anti-war 
demonstration now has a new, more personal 

Yugoslav individuals and NGOs also created effective 
Websites, with photos and video of NATO's notorious 
"collateral damage" and "mistakes." Several sites 
reported minute-by-minute news from the fronts, using 
volunteer e-mail and telephone correspondents to track 
planes from take off in Italy to the moment they 
unloaded their bombs. There were also immediate 
reports on SAMs fighting back and civilian casualties. 

Needless to say, the authorities didn't appreciate this 
sort of eyewitness reporting, which undermined the 
ability of NATO's spinmeisters to manipulate and 
control the public's access to information that was
potentially embarrassing to the "war effort."  Thus, 
NATO also targeted the communications infrastructure 
throughout Yugoslavia and even threatened to pull the 
satellite plug that connects Yugoslavia to the rest of the 
vast Internet. Fortunately, the lines of people-to-people 
communication remained open and available. 

Changing Perceptions 

My own favorite war Website was the collaborative 
creation of two elderly women living in Belgrade and 
one of their daughters in Los Angeles. They called it 
"Sisters Under Seige." The sisters e-mailed or 
telephoned the younger woman and she uploaded their 
accounts of the previous day's experiences -- from what 
it was like to go food shopping under wartime 
conditions to the horrors of discovering that a friend 
may have been killed in the bombing. The women also 
used their site to link to anti-war commentaries and 
promote peace activities around the world.  

The Internet is by no means a substitute for more 
traditional, tried and true methods of reaching out with 
leaflets, vigils, and sit-ins, or various forms of 
"propaganda of the deed." Access to the costly 
hardware and hookups that make it possible to use the 
Internet for organizing is definitely skewed by race and 
class, and somewhat by gender, although those 
limitations are being mitigated in many places through 
the greater availability of public access computers. 

Nor is the Internet an agora in the same way as a 
public square or shopping mall, where people from very 
different backgrounds and with varying levels of 
understanding share the same physical space. 
Although the Internet includes many kinds of people, 
it's much more subdivided by interest and identity 
groups that may or may not communicate with each 
other. It seems best at linking those who already have 
some interest, not for reaching the unconverted. 

Nevertheless, during NATO's war it provef to be an 
important and valuable new organizing tool, with 
potentials still in the process of being realized. The way 
we perceive war -- and oppose it -- won't be the same

-- Jay Moore teaches history at the University of 
Vermont. He is the creator and moderator of "Jay's 
Leftist and Progressive Internet Resources Directory, . Websites mentioned in this 
article include Fairness and Accuracy in Media (FAIR), ; Z Magazine, ; 
World Court, ; Sisters
Under Seige, .

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