I intended to write about the Save Darfur rally yesterday, but WiFi breakdowns at my hotel made that impossible. I don’t want to trash the hotel by name, but if you’d like to know the name of the place just send me an email. Put “Tell me about the Ritz-Carlton Pentagon City” in the subject line.
Anyway. . .
We began our attendance at the Save Darfur rally in the traditional way: by touring the National Museum of the American Indian. We got into town early so as to grab what little parking would be available after the huge crowds of demonstrators showed up. Turned out we could have wandered in pretty much any time. The parking lot behind the Department of Education (and conveniently across from a Starbucks) remained mostly empty.
The organizers of the rally wanted 200,000. I’d be surprised if they hit a tenth of that. The crowd was confined to a single square on the Mall quilt. Using Google Earth I make it 500 feet by 175 feet. Subtract 20% for the t-shirt tents and the media platforms and the stage, and give everyone just a two foot by two foot square, you’d be straining to call it 20,000.
The crowd was not passionate. This was not a fired-up, we’re on a mission from God crowd like you’d get if you were talking 20 thousand geezers looking at a cut in Medicare, or Democrats on a Bush-bash, or Republicans confronted with a ten dollar tax on billionaires. This was a laid-back crowd. Respectful, aware of the issue, but less fist-pumping, yelling or foot-stomping, and more “let’s get an ice cream bar and let the kids pet the police horses.”
The organizing groups were mostly Jewish organizations, and the number of yarmulkes in the crowd outnumbered the black faces. The bulk of attendees were Jews. And yet, the first crisis of the day came in the retail sector. I got in line with about 300 other people at the t-shirt tent around 12:30. (For the kids, I don’t wear t-shirts that say things.) After about 20 minutes it occurred to me they weren’t open for business yet — I had of course assumed they were just idiots, always my go-to assumption. And, in a way, turned out I was right: at 1:00 they opened for business. And at 1:02 they closed.
A DC police sergeant shut down the operation because, rather than simply selling the shirts like sensible people, the organizers were offering them in exchange for a suggested donation of $10. Apparently you can give people shirts, and you can collect donations, but you can’t suggest what donation they should offer in a non-exchange for a donated shirt. (Pity the poor sucker who fronted the costs of those shirts.)
Speakers began shouting around 1:30. Always shouting. The theme was “Never again.” The unintended lesson was: don’t try to sound like Martin Luther King. Good advice for public speakers: do yourself a favor and do not try, “I have a nightmare, today.” Just don’t. Especially in rabbinical cadences. For half an hour afterward I couldn’t stop doing the “I Have a Dream” speech as Jackie Mason Jr.: “Oy, such a dream I have today.”
We missed Elie Wiesel — my daughter had an emergency costume change. (She changes clothing at least six times a day, and apprently it was not jeans weather anymore, but skirt weather.) The man survives the Holocaust to be blown off by a kindergarten clothes-hound. But we were there to hear the rest of the clergy invoking various gods — I’m pretty sure I heard mention of Odin — followed by various other speakers of no particular note. Then came Paul Rusesabagina, the guy from Hotel Rwada, and this guy you listen to because like Wiesel, he’s straight from the front lines of genocide.
Of the celebrity speakers we missed George Clooney, and heard Russell Simmons (rambling), Dick Gregory (bad joke and yet another fast), Al Sharpton (pumped a tiny bit of life into the sun-stunned crowd), and Barack Obama. Obama was a bit of a disappointment, but what was the guy going to do coming at the tail-end of about six hundred speakers, each of whom had invoked the holocaust and God (I always thought the two rather incompatible, the one being proof that the other was a figment.)
Best overheard exchange:
Youth group leader to kids: “Barack Obama is going to speak.”
Girl: “Is he with the Wizards?”
A bit of the air may have been let out of the crowd by the news that the government (using that term loosely) of Sudan, had agreed to the African Union’s peace proposal. The rebel groups hadn’t signed on yet, and even if they do I imagine some degree of slaughter will persist for some time. But still, it was a bit like demonstrating for peace in Asia the day after V-J day. Sorry, that’s the best analogy I can come up with. I have a headache.
The strange thing, listening to the speeches, and in reading the infrequent signs, was how little idea anyone had about what precisely should be done about Darfur. One speaker would exclude any sense that we should actually do anything other than perhaps pray and beam love rays at people. Then would come someone who’d talk about expeditionary forces. I even heard the word “Marines” spoken favorably from the podium.
In that context the references to the Holocaust were just frustrating. What do people imagine we could have done to stop the Nazis in 1940 or 1942? Would just a little more love have changed Hitler’s mind? I don’t think many of the Jews in the audience are under any illusions on that score. A few choruses of kumbaya weren’t going to do the trick. Stopping the uber-genocide would have meant connecting some high velocity lead to some aryan brain matter.
If we’re seriously opposed to genocide it seems to me we have to be ready to think very seriously about having the means, and the will, to send troops to shoot some of these evil bastards in the head. As it happens, we’re in the middle of just such a head-shooting venture. However muddled the thinking, however disastrous the planning, however dishonest the sales job, Iraq is in part about taking out a murderous thug who was, without question, the moral equal of any Janjaweed rapist or child killer.
People who oppose the Iraq venture often do so on grounds that we have no right to “impose” our world view. Some oppose the war in Iraq on grounds that we failed to build international consensus. Well, what’s needed in Darfur is for us to impose our world view — the one that says, “don’t throw babies onto bonfires, don’t gang-rape women.” And international consensus is hard to achieve when major world players like China and Russia have no moral objection to genocide, and when the French and Germans are so compulsively anti-American in their policies that they would welcome, to steal a Simpsons line, “our new insect overlords,” if it meant poking Uncle Sam in the eye.
Part of the reason I seethe at the Bush administration’s incompetence, is that the underlying notion that the United States has the right to pre-emptively defend itself, and the moral obligation to use its power to get between people like the Janjaweed and their victims, is correct. We have the right to defend ourselves, even if it means striking first, and we have the moral obligation, where possible, to shoot the man who would murder a child. Those ideas have both been damaged almost beyond repair by the arrogant, reckless, swaggering stupidity of this administration.
Eventually, Mr. Bush will go away and take his clown college with him. But we’ll still have questions of pre-emption, and questions of whether we really mean, “Never Again,” or we’re just mouthing off to make ourselves feel good. The fact is and will remain that if we genuinely intend to stop genocide everywhere it rears its nasty head, then yes we’re going to need international law, and yes we’ll want diplomacy, but yes we’ll need bullets, too.
(Cross-posted from Mighty Middle.)