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Blacks Fear War with Iraq would Drain Resources from Social Programs

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By Hazel Trice Edney
NNPA Washington Correspondent

(NNPA)—Former Congressman Walter Fauntroy, just back from a 10-day peace mission to Iraq, says many African-Americans oppose the prospect of war with that country because it would divert resources from more important programs at home.

“We know that every bomb that explodes is robbing our children and their families of five things: income, education, health care, housing and justice,” Fauntroy, a delegate to Congress from the District of Columbia from 1971 to 1990, said in an interview.

“They were prepared to give Turkey $26 billion just to be able to station troops there. As a former member of Congress, I can tell you, $26 billion would wipe out the debts of all 50 states,” he explains. “That’s truth. The bottom line here is that the money spent there comes out of Pell Grants, Guaranteed Student Loans, Medicaid, health care, and housing for the homeless. The bottom line is that we are most affected.”

Fauntroy co-chaired a multi-faith group of eight American ministers who traveled to Iraq on a “Prayer Pilgrimage for Peace.” The trip was sponsored by the Middle East Council of Churches, an organization that encourages ecumenical fellowship in response to common social and ecclesiastical needs around the world.

More than half of the African-American population joins with Fauntroy in opposition to a war with Iraq.

A recent report by the PEW Research Center for People and the Press, found, “Just 44 percent of African-Americans favor military action in Iraq, compared with 67 percent of Hispanics and 73 percent of Whites.”

The survey, conducted Feb. 12-18, was based on the responses of 1,254 people. Of those polled, 109 were African-Americans. That small sample accounts for the high margin of error—10 percent—for African-American respondents.

That means the actual number could be 10 percent higher or 10 percent lower than the 44 percent of Blacks said to favor military action in Iraq.

Support for the war among African-Americans was even lower in another poll conducted around the same time.

An Atlanta-Journal/Zogby poll—with a margin of error of only 3.2 percent—showed 23 percent of Blacks supporting a possible war and 62 percent of Whites supporting the war, with a margin of error of 3.2 percentage points. It was conducted Feb. 6-7.

President Bush has defended any future war by claiming that not only will it help combat terrorism, it will free the Iraqi people.

When Diane Batts Morrow, professor of Afro-American Studies and history at the University of Georgia, hears Bush make his case, she thinks back to President Woodrow Wilson galvanizing the American public for World War I. He convened a joint session of Congress to seek a declaration of war against Germany. His rationale: “The world must be made safe for democracy.”

Now, 86 years later, Wilson’s immortal words are linked to those of Bush.
“When President Bush is talking about bringing democracy as a gift in liberating Iraq, it probably has the same sort of hollow ring, especially when his administration is notoriously not concerned about bringing full citizenship rights to Black people in this country,” explains Morrow. “Bush has little credibility with many African-Americans.”

That’s certainly true with Damu Smith, founder and chairman of Black Voices for Peace, a Washington, D.C.-based anti-war group.

“We have experienced terrorism at the hand of the Klan, our churches have been bombed, we’ve been victims of police brutality and scientific experiments,” says Smith. If the Bush administration wants to wage a war on terror, it could start by pulling back from actions—such as opposing affirmative action—that are harmful to African-Americans, he says.

While anti-war protests around the country have drawn masses of White demonstrators, the marches will become increasingly Black, predicts Nana Gyamfi, a chair of the Los Angeles-based International Black Coalition for Peace and Justice, a federation of 20 organizations.

“I think that [Black] people have felt a desire to give a voice to an anti-war sentiment, but they haven’t felt akin to those who have been putting them on,” says Gyamfi, a human rights lawyer.

The coalition, which includes the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, headed by Martin Luther King III, and the Organization US, a Black cultural and social change group, chaired by Kwanza creator Maulana Karenga, is planning a Black anti-war protest in Los Angeles in Leimert Park on March 29.
On the other coast, about four weeks later, Smith’s group is planning a two-day “Great Black Peace March and Concert” in Washington, D.C., beginning April 25.

African-Americans have a reason to be concerned about whether the U.S. goes to war. Although Blacks are only 12 percent of the 18-to-44-year-old age group, African-Americans are 22 percent of the soldiers on active duty.

John Morrow, an African-American who teaches history at the University of Georgia, as does his wife, Diane, comes in contact with many White students who will never serve a day in the military.

“I get sick and tired of being down here and teaching large numbers of White southern students who are middle class and well-to-do and they’re all hawks,” he says.

Ironically, the clamor for war is being led by “chicken hawks,” people who are hawkish on the prospect of war yet were “chicken” or scared when they had an opportunity to fight.

Peace activists are quick to point out that President Bush joined the Texas Air National Guard in 1968 rather than serve on active duty. Vice President Richard Cheney used student and marriage deferments to avoid military service. Neither Senate Majority leader Jim Frist, Senate Majority Whip Don Nickles, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, House Majority Leader Tom Delay, nor House Majority Whip Roy Blunt served in the military.

Many top military commanders in the Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations—including now Secretary of State Colin Powell—have expressed reservations about going to war with Iraq.
Civilians are even more outspoken.

“The opposition to this war has grown far quicker than with Vietnam,” observes Ron Daniels, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, the New York organization that helped plan the ministers’ trip to Iraq. “With Vietnam, it was three years in before you had these kinds of numbers.”

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