A new poll shows that African-Americans are more opposed to a U.S. war with Iraq than other major ethnic group in the United States. The Pew Research Center Survey found 44 percent of African Americans support military action, compared to 73 percent of white Americans and 67 percent of Hispanics. Best selling African American crime writer Walter Mosley is among those who question the need for military action. He recently published a new non-fiction book called What Next: A Memoir Toward World Peace.
Like other people in the United States, African-Americans have been listening to President Bush's charge that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction, and that he presents an international threat that justifies going to war.
Walter Mosley sees at least two important reasons why African-Americans are likely to oppose an invasion of Iraq. "Why would we want to support a war against people, when you feel that number one, in your own country, there are issues facing African-Americans which are dire and which this war has nothing to do with," he said. "And of course because there's such a disproportionate number of people of color in the army, why would we want to send our own people over there to get killed?"
Walter Mosley invites anyone to read his book, but What Next is really a call to action for African-Americans. The author has a view of the World Trade Center from his apartment window, and when the first plane crashed into the tower on September 11, he heard the impact. Later he remembered a question he'd once asked his father. "I asked him were you afraid to go to World War II? And he said, 'No, I wasn't afraid. I thought it was a war between the Germans and the Americans. But I didn't realize I was an American. I just thought I was a Negro. I figured if the Germans came up to me and said where are the Americans, I'd just point. I'd say the Americans are over there. But the Germans started shooting at me. That's when I realized I was an American.' When I saw those planes crash into the World Trade Center, that's when I realized I was in this conflict with people in the Middle East and other places. And what was my response? My father's response, and a million other people of his time, was the Civil Rights Movement. My response is the inverse of that. There are people around the world who don't have what I have. They don't have running water. They don't have food to eat. I have to make sure those people, mostly people of color, around the world, are treated fairly and well," he said.
And Walter Mosley believes that's the best way to change the conditions that breed terrorism. "Once that's done, the question of terrorism goes out the window," he said. "Nobody's going to support it. And the idea that we think we have to fight a war, that's not a winnable battle."
One of the ironies of the current debate is that U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is an African-American who's spoken in favor of the conflict. "The intelligence case is clear that they have weapons of mass destruction of one kind or another and they are trying develop more and develop those they do not yet have an operational capability for," said secretary Powell.
Condoleeza Rice, President Bush's National Security Advisor, is also African American and also supports the war. "It is extremely important that the Iraqi people understand that America has always stood not just for power and stability but also for values," she said. "And this is a chance for the Iraqi people to liberate themselves of oppression, and it is a chance for the region to see an example of perhaps an Iraq that is on the path to democracy." While he disagrees with them, Walter Mosley sees the prominence of those government figures, even their unpopularity in some parts of the world, as a step forward for Black America. "You realize that the Pakistanis see Colin Powell not as a black man, but as an American," he said. "And so black people also have to see themselves as Americans. I think George Bush has given more power to black people in the bodies of Condoleeza Rice and Colin Powell than any other President ever has. And I think the impact over the years will probably be pretty good for Black America. But if Black America doesn't stand up for itself, doesn't say what they think is right in the world, then that power is useless."
Walter Mosley urges black Americans to work for peace grassroots style, by forming discussion groups on current events, by supporting public officials who work for peace, maybe even by running for office themselves. He says African Americans are especially well equipped to understand the fear and hostility on both sides of the terrorist divide. "We understand hatred and oppression by external groups whom we have to learn how to live with," he said. "And what we have to do as a group of people, is we have to identify the principles of unity that bring together the African American communities. It used to be that we had single issues - slavery, apartheid. Now there's all kinds of different people, rich, middle class, poor black people. We have black people from Africa, black people from the Caribbean, black people from America, black people from Europe. All of them see schisms in each other and there are fights. But I think there's a spine of political awareness that brings us all together. And that's what we have to identify."
Walter Mosley is the author of What Next: A Memoir Toward World Peace.