“SO YOU THINK YOU’RE RIGHT and everybody else is wrong?” I heard those words from my father many times while growing up. Of course, the rationale behind those words is sound: most of the times we hold an opinion that differs with that of 99% of everybody else, then 99% of the time we will probably be wrong. And when we act on that opinion it can have boundless consequences for which we should accept responsibility.
But it’s bucking the odds and being right that stands out and catches our attention. It’s that 1% of the time when you are right and everybody else is wrong that you need a pat on the back, a reward, or some kind of recognition.
That is, it’s that 1% that most of us remember (“I was right!”), and it’s the 1% that reinforces our willingness to buck the odds in the future.
And it’s that 1% that makes a reputation—even a career.
So why isn’t Barbara Lee a household word?
War—what is it good for?
In the aftermath of the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, President Bush addressed Congress and asked for their permission to wage war on the perpetrators of said act(s).
The official title for the resolution put before the Congress and the Senate is long enough to be a short article of its own! Such is the way of our august leaders. The short title—the title by which everyone refers to the joint resolution—may be cited as the “Authorization for Use of Military Force.” It stated:
“That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.”
That’s rather vague and incredibly broad and exactly what Bush and Cheney wanted. It would give the Executive branch rather broad and incredibly vague power to with as they pleased.
And our elected officials on Capitol Hill gave them what they wanted, with near unanimous agreement. The votes in the two Houses were:
Congress: 420 – 1
Senate: 98 – 0
That’s 518 for “War!” and 1 for “War! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing!”
The one dissenting vote was cast by Barbara Lee, a Democrat from California. What did she see or think that escaped all the rest? Surely, there must have been a few among them who looked at Ms. Lee and thought to themselves, “Oh, so you think you’re right and everybody else is wrong?”
Ms. Lee explained her decision in an article titled “Why I opposed the resolution to authorize force,” published in the San Francisco Chronicle on September 23, 2001. This is an abridged and edited version of that piece (with emphasis added):
“Last week, filled with grief and sorrow for those killed and injured and with anger at those who had done this, I confronted the solemn responsibility of voting to authorize the nation to go to war. Some believe this resolution was only symbolic, designed to show national resolve.
But I could not ignore that it provided explicit authority, under the War Powers Resolution and the Constitution, to go to war.
It was a blank check to the president to attack anyone involved in the September 11 events—anywhere, in any country, without regard to our nation’s long-term foreign policy, economic and national security interests, and without time limit.
I could not support such a grant of war-making authority to the president; I believe it would put more innocent lives at risk.
I have heard from thousands of my constituents in the wake of this vote. Many have counseled restraint and caution, demanding that we ascertain the facts and ensure that violence does not beget violence. They understand the boundless consequences of proceeding hastily to war, and I thank them for their support.
In 2003, every one of our 518 Congressmen voted for “War!” except one: instead, Barbara Lee of California essentially said, “War! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing!”
The president has the constitutional authority to protect the nation from further attack and he has mobilized the armed forces to do just that. The Congress should have waited for the facts to be presented and then acted with fuller knowledge of the consequences of our action.
I am not convinced that voting for the resolution preserves and protects U.S. interests. We must develop our intelligence and bring those who did this to justice. We must mobilize and maintain an international coalition against terrorism.
Finally, we have a chance to demonstrate to the world that great powers can choose to fight on the fronts of their choosing and that we can choose to avoid needless military action when other avenues to redress our rightful grievances and to protect our nation are available to us.
We must respond, but the character of that response will determine for us and for our children the world that they will inherit.
A rush to launch precipitous military counterattacks runs too great a risk that more innocent men, women, children will be killed. I could not vote for a resolution that I believe could lead to such an outcome.”
Surely, there must have been a few among the millions of Americans who read Ms. Lee’s statement in the Chronicle and other newspapers around the country who thought to themselves, “Oh, so you think you’re right and everybody else is wrong?”
Boundless consequences of war
Barbara Lee must have known that the overwhelming majority of her colleagues were going to give Bush what he wanted. Why were they going to vote that way? Reasons for voting to go to war with an unidentified enemy included:
1. Many believed that the President should have what he asked for.
2. Many believed that their constituents believed the President should have what he asked for.
3. Many believed that the mainstream/corporate media believed the President should have what he asked for and they definitely did not want journalists and talk-show hosts all over them for not voting to support the President.
But Lee did not accept those reasons, and as sixteen years of living with the boundless consequences of war and trillions of taxpayers’ dollars spent with no end in sight—and with more enemies today than yesterday—anyone can see that she was right and everybody else was wrong!
So why isn’t Barbara Lee a household name? Aren’t Americans—especially so-called “conservatives”—supposed to admire such independence?
The staggering death toll climbs
As I put the finishing touches on this essay, I received my daily dose of Mint News. The featured article was “15 Years On, the Staggering Death Toll in Iraq Keeps Climbing,” by Medea Benjamin and Nicolas J. S. Davies (. The opening paragraph gives numbers about the boundless consequences of war:
“March 19  marks 15 years since the US-UK invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the American people have no idea of the enormity of the calamity the invasion unleashed. The US military has refused to keep a tally of Iraqi deaths. One survey found that most Americans thought Iraqi deaths were in the tens of thousands. But our calculations, using the best information available, show a catastrophic estimate of 2,400,000 Iraqi deaths since the 2003 invasion.”
In other words, most Americans have the same uninformed beliefs about the extent of the collateral damage we have caused in the Iraqi War as they had about the deaths we caused in the Vietnam War.
FEATURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of this page is a recent one of Representative Lee. Certainly, others have recognized Lee’s decision: both Glenn Greenwald’s “Barbara Lee’s Lone Vote on Sept. 14, 2001, Was as Prescient as It Was Brave and Heroic” and Austin Wright’s “How Barbara Lee Became An Army of One” pay her homage and are recommended reading.
Finally, has any other Congressperson admitted being wrong and apologized for casting a vote in favor of the boundless consequences of proceeding hastily to war—aside from former President-elect Hillary Clinton?