Before being shot by a Utah firing squad in 1915 for a crime he did not commit, the legendary Swedish-American trade unionist and songwriter Joe Hill sent his famous last words off in a telegram to a friend, often remembered (with slight but not misleading inaccuacy) as “Don’t mourn, organise”. When five thousand people have been killed so suddenly, and in such a violent, criminal and spectacular fashion, many millions will mourn, both in America and around the world, and they are absolutely right to do so. But that doesn’t mean that “Mourn. Don’t organise” is the right imperative to adopt, as some people seem to think.
Those of us who think that W. is a dangerous idiot, who hate the Anglophone media’s relentless drumbeat of war, and who sympathise with Matthew Parris’s remark in yesterday’s Times that “Playing the world’s policeman is not the answer to that catastrophe in New York, playing the world’s policeman is what led to it” must not be seduced (or straightforwardly bullied) into thinking that they shouldn’t educate, agitate and organise against what they fear is about to happen. If the “war” we are being promised by the media and the politicians is anything like as ghastly as those who are baying for it want it to be, a peace movement will have to constitute itself very quickly indeed. The right-wing politicians in the Executive Branch are doing much to exploit these civilian deaths for their own political ends; for their critics to imagine that it is somehow “inappropriate” or “unpatriotic” at the moment to criticise the government, or to counter-mobilise for peace, or to continue to oppose the stupidities of National Missile Defense, or to ask the hard questions about why what happened happened, is the height of folly.