Thursday, November 25, 2004


Ukrainian High Court Hearing Vote Appeal
By Anna Melnichuk
The Associated Press

Thursday 25 November 2004

KIEV, Ukraine - Ukraine's Supreme Court ruled Thursday that results of the nation's disputed presidential election will not be official until after it considered the opposition's claim that the vote was rigged.

That means the announced winner, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, cannot formally take office until the appeal is decided.

The decision could significantly boost supporters of opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko, who have flooded the streets of Kiev since the Sunday run-off and have won significant international backing for their claim the announced election results were fraudulent.

Yushchenko praised the decision, telling a crowd of 100,000 people gathered in downtown Kiev, "This is only the beginning."

Yanukovych was declared winner of Wednesday's election with a margin of about 3 percentage points, but he cannot be inaugurated until after the results are officially published. The election commission said Yanukovych got 49.46 percent of the vote and Yushchenko 46.61 percent.

Yushchenko's campaign filed an appeal earlier Thursday, but it will not be considered until Monday, court spokeswoman Liana Shlyaposhnikova said. That means the ongoing protests and tensions likely will continue for several days.

Thousands of Yushchenko supporters have spent four nights outside in the bitter cold to protest authorities' decision to declare Yanukovych the winner. They received a boost Thursday from visiting Lech Walesa, the founder of the Polish Solidarity movement, who said he was "amazed" at their enthusiasm and predicted their protest would succeed.

"I hope that Ukraine can avoid the mistakes that Poland made, such as the imposition of martial law," Walesa was quoted as saying by the Polish news agency PAP before leaving Warsaw.

Earlier, leaders of the European Union and Russia, meeting in The Hague, Netherlands, urged their Ukrainian counterparts to find a nonviolent solution to the crisis gripping this former Soviet republic.

Russian President Vladimir Putin — who earlier sent a congratulatory telegram to Yanukovych that his win would raise the two nations' "strategic partnership to a new level" — said after meeting EU leaders in the Netherlands that all claims relating to Ukraine's election should be settled by the courts.

"From my perspective all issues concerning the elections ... should be addressed in accordance with the constitution. All claims should go to the court," Putin said. "We have no moral right to push a big European state to any kind of massive disorder."

Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, whose country holds the EU presidency, said, "We do agree that the peaceful approach to setting up a legitimate government is essential. Any objections to the electoral process must be looked into."

It was unclear, however, whether Yushchenko's appeal to the Supreme Court was legally valid. According to the Interfax news agency, only election results from individual voting districts can be challenged and not results as a whole. The opposition also planned to file complaints in regional courts to protest the vote results.

Policy differences between the two candidates have been overshadowed by the election controversy. Ukraine's economy is considered the fastest-growing in Europe, but looming inflation and rising food prices were a major campaign issue in this nation of 48 million people.

Yushchenko, whose wife is U.S.-born, says he wants to push Ukraine to greater integration with Western Europe, and he has suggested he would seek NATO membership.

His critics worry he will alienate Ukraine from Russia, its key trade partner and main energy supplier.

Yanukovych was praised by Putin and was expected to pursue closer ties with Moscow. Ukraine remains of critical strategic importance to Russia, which is attempting to strengthen its influence over former satellites and considers Ukraine a buffer between Russia and NATO's eastern flank.

However, both candidates support withdrawing Ukraine's troops from Iraq.

Sunday's runoff was denounced as fraudulent by Western observers, who cited voter intimidation, multiple voting and other irregularities. The United States and EU said they could not accept the results as legitimate and warned the Ukrainian government of "consequences" in relations with the West.

Yushchenko sent word to the 15,000 people massed in Kiev's Independence Square on Thursday that the opposition intends to blockade several international highways in western Ukraine, where his support is running high.

Earlier, the reformist candidate called for a general strike to protest the announced result, although businesses and factories in the capital worked as usual Thursday. Some workers reportedly left factories in Yushchenko's stronghold in western Ukraine to come to Kiev.

One hotel in the capital allowed its workers to leave their jobs to join the protests.

The opposition's threat to shut down factories, schools and transportation risked provoking a crackdown by outgoing President Leonid Kuchma, who accused the opposition of trying to carry out a coup.

A strike could further divide the country: Yanukovych drew his support from the pro-Russian, heavily industrialized eastern half of Ukraine, while Yushchenko's strength was in the west, a traditional center of nationalism.

To prevent the crisis from widening, Yanukovych said negotiations with Yushchenko's team would begin Thursday. The opposition has said, however, that it would only talk about a handover of power to Yushchenko and would only negotiate with Kuchma.

Thousands of supporters spent a freezing night in the capital, staying in giant tent camps along Kiev's main street and near the presidential administration building. As the sun rose, groups huddled together, drinking hot tea and breaking into regular chants of "Yushchenko! Yushchenko!"

The police presence around the presidential administration building was reinforced Wednesday night as more than 1,000 officers with helmets and shields were bused in.

The building became the site of the most tense standoff yet in the five days of protests when some 15,000 Yushchenko supporters faced off against riot police Tuesday night. Ukraine's Interior Ministry said Thursday it opened a criminal investigation into what it called an attempt to seize the building.


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U.S. Puts Ukraine on Guard
By Brian Knowlton
The International Herald Tribune

Thursday 25 November 2004

WASHINGTON - Secretary of State Colin Powell said Wednesday that the United States could not accept the election results in Ukraine, and warned of unspecified consequences if the results were not reviewed.

He urged President Leonid Kuchma not to use force against sprawling crowds in Kiev streets protesting the official outcome.

Ukrainian authorities on Wednesday defied U.S. and European calls not to certify Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich as the winner of elections that several foreign monitoring groups and a White House special envoy have declared seriously flawed.

"We cannot accept this result as legitimate because it does not meet international standards," Powell said, "and because there has not been an investigation of the numerous and credible reports of fraud and abuse." The United States, he added, was "deeply disturbed" by these reports.

The secretary of state, in a forceful statement backed by similar declarations - possibly coordinated - from key European officials, urged a full review of the election.

"This is a critical moment," he said at the State Department. "If the Ukrainian government does not act immediately and responsibly, there will be consequences for our relationship, for Ukraine's hopes for Euro-Atlantic integration, and for individuals responsible for perpetrating fraud."

He would not spell out those consequences, though possibilities include a ban on travel visas for Ukrainian officials, and curbs on annual foreign aid totaling $150 million. Nor would Powell propose a solution, noting that "one suggestion that has been made is another election, but there are other suggestions out there."

Key European officials also spoke of consequences, possibly in lost economic aid or downgraded diplomatic ties, if Ukraine fails to review the elections.

Powell, following an apparently intense round of telephone consultations with officials from Brussels to Moscow, said that he had spoken to Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov of Russia and agreed on the need for "a solution that is based on the law" and on diplomacy.

After a phone conversation between President Vladimir Putin and Chancellor Gerhard Schröder of Germany, the Kremlin issued a similar statement for a law-based solution.

The United States has been in unusual conflict with Russia in recent days over what the White House considers Putin's aggressive support of Yanukovich. The Russian ambassador in Washington was summoned to the State Department on Monday to hear a protest.

But Powell insisted that the two could work together. "We're not looking for a contest with the Russians over this," he said. "We're looking for a way to make sure that the will of the Ukrainian people is respected."

He noted that hints of a possible compromise had emerged from both candidates - the Moscow-backed Yanukovich and the pro-Western opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko - and said that he supported an offer by President Alexander Kwasniewski of Poland to mediate.

Kwasniewski is a close U.S. ally whose country borders Ukraine.

A White House spokesman had earlier welcomed a vow by Kuchma not to use force. It was unclear whether he was speaking before or after the call Powell said he had made to the outgoing president, who has groomed Yanukovich as a successor.

"That's great," said Fred Jones, a National Security Council spokesman, when asked about Kuchma's "categorical" vow of nonviolence. "We're hoping the Ukraine government listens to the voice of its people."

The United States had expressed its displeasure over Russia's strong backing of Yanukovich by summoning Ambassador Yuri Yushakov to the State Department on Monday. The Kremlin called this "unprecedented interference." Putin, who had sparked the U.S. diplomatic protest by telephoning Yanukovich to congratulate him before he was certified as the winner, appeared to be taking a more cautious position Wednesday.

A Kremlin statement said that Putin and Schröder had agreed in a phone call, initiated by the chancellor, to urge Ukraine to find a legal solution to its political crisis, Reuters reported.

"It was noted that the postelection situation should be solved on the basis of Ukraine's existing election laws," a Kremlin statement said. "As far as other political problems are concerned, they could be solved through relevant political contacts and consultations," it added.

In Brussels, José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, warned that "there will be consequences if there is not a serious, objective review" of the election results. Javier Solana, the European Union foreign and security policy chief, made similar comments.

The NATO secretary general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, said that a review of the election was "absolutely necessary," and he called a democratic outcome "key to NATO-Ukraine relations." Jones, the National Security Council spokesman, had earlier cautioned the Ukrainian authorities against declaring a winner.


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Putin Message Stokes Ukraine Crisis
The Guardian U.K.

Thursday 25 November 2004

Tensions mounted in Ukraine today as the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, sent his congratulations to the official winner of the country's disputed presidential election, just hours after the US refused to accept the result.

Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators kept up their vigil in the capital, Kiev, today in support of the Western-leaning opposition candidate, Viktor Yushchenko. Television news programmes reported that the demonstrations had grown big enough for protestors to split their numbers between Independence Square and the presidential compound.

Mr Putin today congratulated the Russian-backed prime minister, Viktor Yanukovich, on winning Sunday's presidential run-off election, despite claims of widespread polling fraud by international observers. It was Mr Putin's second message endorsing Mr Yanukovich's disputed victory, and came after Ukraine's electoral commission yesterday declared him as the official winner.

Interfax reported that Mr Yushchenko today filed an appeal in the Supreme Court against the results of the presidential election.

"Now the most favourable conditions have been created for the Russia-Ukraine strategic partnership to reach a new and high-quality level," a Kremlin statement quoted Mr Putin's message to Mr Yanukovich as saying.

Mr Putin's message of congratulations coincided with his arrival in The Hague for a summit with EU leaders, who have openly questioned the legitimacy of the poll.

Yesterday the US secretary of state, Colin Powell, rejected the result, and the German chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, said he had no reason to disagree with European observers who declared the poll had been marred by widespread fraud.

Backed by thousands of protesters who spent a fourth night outside in the bitter cold, Ukrainian opposition leaders today prepared for a nationwide protest strike. Mr Yushchenko and his allies have called for an "all-Ukrainian political strike" after the election officials declared Mr Yanukovich the winner.

The threat to shut down factories, schools and transportation risked provoking a crackdown by the outgoing president, Leonid Kuchma, who accused the opposition of trying to carry out "a coup d'etat." Mr Yushchenko's campaign manager, Oleksandr Zinchenko, told a growing crowd of protesters gathered in Ukraine's Independence Square Thursday that the opposition would begin to block several highways in western Ukraine, where their support level is high.

MP and Yushchenko ally Mykola Tomenko said "more and more people" were gathering on the streets of the nation's cities. The opposition said some roads had already been blocked and workers had gone on strike, but there was no way of independently verifying the claims.

With the gulf deepening between the opposition and the government, Lech Walesa, the founder of the Polish Solidarity movement, arrived in Ukraine to try to help pull this deeply divided nation of 48 million back from the brink of conflict.

"I hope that Ukraine can avoid the mistakes that Poland made, such as the imposition of martial law," Mr Walesa was quoted as saying by Polish news agency PAP before leaving Warsaw.

A strike could further divide the country. Mr Yanukovich draws his support from the pro-Russian, heavily industrialised eastern half of Ukraine, while Mr Yushchenko's strength is from the west, a traditional centre of nationalism.

To prevent the crisis from widening, Mr Yanukovich said negotiations with Mr Yushchenko's team would begin today. The opposition has said, however, that it would talk only about a handover of power to Mr Yushchenko, and would only negotiate with Mr Kuchma.

The election officials' decision to declare Mr Yanukovich the winner "puts Ukraine on the verge of civil conflict," Mr Yushchenko told hundreds of thousands of cheering supporters yesterday. Ukraine's electoral commission said Mr Yanukovich won 49.46% of the vote and Mr Yushchenko 46.61%. s


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PM Declared New Leader in Ukraine; Strike Urged
By Natasha Lisova
The Associated Press

Thursday 25 November 2004

KIEV, Ukraine - Opposition leaders called yesterday for a nationwide strike to shut down factories, schools and transportation after officials declared Ukraine's pro-Kremlin prime minister the winner of a presidential runoff election that many countries denounced as rigged.

The call by reformist candidate Viktor Yushchenko and his allies for an "all-Ukrainian political strike" risked provoking a crackdown by outgoing President Leonid Kuchma's government, which has said the opposition's actions in the aftermath of Sunday's bitterly disputed runoff were, in effect, preparations for a coup d'etat.

A strike also could further divide the country: Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych drew his support from the pro-Russian, heavily industrialized eastern half of the country, while Yushchenko's strength was in the west, a traditional center of Ukrainian nationalism.

To prevent the crisis from widening, Yanukovych said negotiations with Yushchenko's team would begin today, the Interfax news agency reported, citing Ukrainian television. The opposition has said, however, that it would talk only about a hand-over of power to Yushchenko.

The Central Election Commission's decision to declare Yanukovych the winner "puts Ukraine on the verge of civil conflict," Yushchenko told hundreds of thousands of his cheering supporters who massed for a fourth straight night in central Kiev's Independence Square.

After the speeches, many demonstrators headed to the presidential administration building, the site of a tense standoff with riot police Tuesday night. The police presence was heavy again, with about 40 buses disgorging well over 1,000 officers outfitted with helmets and shields who stood up to eight deep outside the building.

The election was denounced as fraudulent by Western observers, who cited ballot stuffing, voter intimidation and other irregularities. Secretary of State Colin Powell said yesterday that the United States cannot accept the result, warning "there will be consequences" in the two countries' relationship.

The commission said Yanukovych got 49.46 percent of the vote and Yushchenko 46.61 percent.

"With this decision, they want to put us on our knees," Yushchenko told the crowd, which responded with chants of "Shame! Shame!" and "We will not give up."

Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz said the opposition was "organizing citizens, stopping lessons at schools and universities, stopping work at enterprises, stopping transport ... and thus we'll force the authorities to think about what they are doing."

Yuliya Tymoshenko, Yushchenko's key ally, said his followers would "surround all government buildings, block railways, airports and highways."

"We have a strict intention to seize power in our hands at these sites," she said, vowing a "consistent struggle that will lead to the destruction of this regime."

She also said that the opposition would go today to Ukraine's Supreme Court to protest the alleged election fraud, and urged supporters to remain on the square and not let down their guard.

Interfax quoted Yanukovych as saying that in negotiations with Yushchenko's team, "we will be looking for common language. Ukraine is our common land, and we should have a chance to live together as well as possible."

The prime minister's staff declined to comment on the report.

Kuchma, the outgoing president, said Yushchenko supporters were trying to carry out "a coup d'etat." He called "on all political forces to negotiate immediately" and on the international community to "refrain from interference in Ukraine's affairs."

Kuchma called the election "an examination of the maturity and democracy of all the Ukrainian people."

"We will pass this exam," he said.

The election commission announcement came after a flurry of statements on the possibility of negotiations to find a compromise, which Kuchma had proposed earlier.

Mykola Tomenko, a lawmaker and Yushchenko ally, told Yushchenko supporters earlier yesterday that the opposition would negotiate "only about the peaceful handing over of power to Yushchenko by Kuchma."

Yushchenko claimed victory Tuesday over Yanukovych in the presidential run-off and, in a sign he would not back off, took a symbolic oath of office.

The election has led to an increasingly tense tug-of-war between the West and Moscow, which considers Ukraine part of its sphere of influence and a buffer between Russia and eastward-expanding NATO.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has already congratulated Yanukovych on his victory, and the Russian parliament denounced the Ukrainian opposition for its "illegal actions."

Powell, by contrast, challenged Ukrainian leaders "to decide whether they are on the side of democracy or not."

"If the Ukrainian government does not act immediately and responsibly, there will be consequences for our relationship, for Ukraine's hopes for a Euro-Atlantic integration and for individuals responsible for perpetrating fraud," Powell said.

He was not explicit. However, the United States often revokes the U.S. visas of officials involved in perpetrating fraudulent elections in foreign countries. Another option would be to refuse Ukrainian entry into Euro-Atlantic organizations such as NATO.

Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan of Canada said her government did not accept that the announced results "reflect the true democratic will of the Ukrainian people."

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso warned of "consequences" for the European Union's political and trade relations with Ukraine if its government does not allow a "serious, objective review" of the election. At risk might be about $1.31 billion the bloc has given or committed to Ukraine since 1991 in development and economic aid and possible visa bans.

Lech Walesa, the founder of Poland's Solidarity movement, will travel to Ukraine to mediate the standoff over the disputed presidential elections there, his son said.

In addition, the Netherlands planned to send a special envoy, Niek Biegman, as part of its role as current holder of the European Union's rotating presidency.

Opposition supporters have taken over blocks of Kiev's main street, setting up a giant tent camp. Yanukovych supporters also became increasingly visible in Kiev, setting up hundreds of tents of their own on a nearby wooded slope. But many of their camps had been dismantled by last night.

Kiev's city council and the administrations of four other sizable cities - Lviv, Ternopil, Vinnytsia and Ivano-Frankivsk - have refused to recognize a Yanukovych victory.


Jump to TO Features for Friday November 26, 2004

Scrooge's Nightmare

By Leonard Steinhorn

Thursday 25 November 2004

Despite Bush's election, the cranky old conservatives' days are numbered. The future belongs to middle-aged boomers and their kids, who embrace the tolerant values of the '60s.

Cowed by exit polls showing that "moral values" motivated one in five American voters on Election Day, chastened journalists have begun to spin a new narrative about our national political culture: that "ordinary Americans" can be found only in socially conservative red-state pews. "Ordinary people, the people in the red states" is how conservative media critic Bernard Goldberg puts it, and many in the press seem to be saying amen.

But once again the media have it wrong. Missing in this discussion is that most Americans - even many Bush supporters - would recoil and rebel if the evangelical right ever got its way and began to limit the personal freedoms most of us now take for granted.

All the claims about mandates and values notwithstanding, the very fact that one-fifth of voters cited moral values means that four-fifths didn't. In fact, we heard much the same talk about the rise of conservative social values in the Reagan '80s, yet scholars who have studied attitudes in that period have found little evidence to suggest any reversal of the social liberalism that began in the '60s, particularly on issues involving family, women, morality, sexuality and overall tolerance. We must be careful not to confuse election results with cultural trends.

As survey after survey of contemporary social attitudes demonstrates, social conservatives no more represent the mainstream or the future than Prohibitionists did in the 1920s. If anything, it's the baby-boom sensibility spawned in the 1960s that has become mainstream in America today. As conservative columnist George Will lamented a few years back, politics "seems peripheral to, and largely impotent against, cultural forces and institutions permeated with what conservatives consider the sixties sensibility."

How little the "moral values" voter represents the future is evident in surveys of today's youth, who may be the most inclusive, tolerant and socially liberal generation in our nation's history. From the media we hear all about the controversies of the so-called culture war, such as the occasional school superintendent who shuts down all school clubs to keep gay and straight high school students from forming "gay-straight" clubs. But what we don't hear is that these clubs have quietly formed in about 2,800 schools nationwide. In fact, research on young people confirms that they have little patience for intolerance, that they have no problem accepting homosexuality, that most even support the right of gay people to marry.

Indeed, today's youth reject many of the social rigidities, prejudices and orthodoxies of old. As many as half of all teens say they've dated across racial or ethnic lines, including more than a third of white teens, and most of these are "serious" relationships. On race, homosexuality, premarital sex, gender roles, the environment and issues involving personal choice and freedom, younger Americans consistently fall on the liberal and more tolerant side of the spectrum.

If younger voters were the only ones with these attitudes, social conservatives might be able to lay claim to a "moral values" mandate for a very long time. But younger voters represent the mainstream much more than the initial exit polling would indicate. The illusion of a predominant "moral values" voting bloc has much to do with the fact that the most traditional and socially conservative Americans, pre-baby boomers, are living much longer lives and voting in very large numbers - skewing exit polls and thus our image of the mainstream. Once younger voters begin to replace them, the socially conservative vote will return to the margins of American life.

There's a good reason why young people feel the way they do, and that's because their baby boomer parents overwhelmingly agree with them. So forget any talk of a generation gap between boomers and their children. On a wide range of social and cultural issues, they are united in their attitudes of tolerance and inclusiveness. The only generation gap that remains is the same one that began in the '60s, between pre-boomers and the rest of us. What we have today is a pre-baby boom cohort that's steadfastly conservative, with the vast majority of everyone younger leaning the opposite way.

Take race, for example. Young whites who date across racial lines feel comfortable doing so because their boomer parents say they have no problem with it. Yet for older white Americans, who in surveys continue to oppose the idea of a close relative marrying a black, interracial dating remains a taboo. Should blacks push themselves where they're not wanted? Two-thirds of pre-boomers in one survey said no, a view rejected by a vast majority of everyone younger.

It's the same with the hot-button issue of gay and lesbian rights. Pre-boomers are the only group that believes society should not recognize homosexuality as an acceptable way of life, according to a 2002 poll by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement. Those who still oppose the idea of gay teachers may recall the glory days when Anita Bryant's antigay crusade to "Save Our Children" seemed to represent a broad national consensus, but today they are a minority.

So powerful is the new norm of tolerance and inclusiveness that more than 200 cities and counties now have laws protecting gays and lesbians from discrimination, and among Fortune 500 companies, 227 now offer domestic-partner benefits. Straight job seekers have been known to ask whether companies offer same-sex-partner benefits not because they're secretly gay but because they prefer a company that promotes diversity and tolerance. Even in this supposedly conservative political year, exit polls found three in five voters supporting marriage or civil unions for gays.

Nor is it any different in the way we view the family: The socially conservative attitudes held by many evangelicals and older Americans are simply out of step with what most Americans believe.

According to my cohort analysis of surveys conducted by the University of Chicago's highly regarded National Opinion Research Center, large majorities of Americans born from 1943 onward strongly reject the traditional view that families and children suffer if Mom works full time or if Mom works and Dad takes care of the kids. When asked during the 1990s whether it was better for men to work and women to tend to the home, 60 percent of those born before 1943 said yes, while nearly three-fourths of those born afterward said no. Young and old are united in support of families, but from boomers on down it's equality in a family that is believed to make it strong.

Many conservatives, of course, continue to resist the realities of the modern family, arguing that working mothers don't really want to work but have been hoodwinked by liberal elites who want to impose their feminist views. But when women are asked if they would continue working even if they didn't need the money, as many as two-thirds say yes. And when NORC asked in 2002 whether "both the husband and wife should contribute to the household income," fewer than 10 percent said no. The egalitarian model - not the Donna Reed stereotype of 1950s sitcoms - represents mainstream America today.

This mainstream liberalism also reaches into the most intimate of decisions. On cohabitation and sex before marriage, few in the older group call it acceptable, while most in the younger cohorts seem unfazed. The younger groups tend to be more pro-choice than their elders. And while no one wants teenagers engaging in sexual activity, only the pre-boomer group would deny birth control to sexually active teens. Two-thirds of the younger cohort would support it.

Does all this mean that boomers and younger Americans reject the traditional family and all restraints on personal behavior? Of course not. They simply accept that people are different and have a right to make their own choices and lead their own lives, and that the moral imperative is not to condemn those who are different but to include and support them. Diversity is not just a slogan - it's a moral value for these generations.

Much has been made of the Roman Catholic hierarchy's opposition to John Kerry's pro-choice stance, and by inference the press has bought the stereotype of the socially conservative Catholic. But again the stereotype misleads. Among boomer and younger Catholics, NORC finds, only 27 percent label themselves traditional, compared with 44 percent among pre-boomers. And religious liberals now exceed traditionalists in this younger cohort. Most Catholics now reject, if not resent, church dogma restricting social tolerance and personal freedom. Recent surveys by the New York Times and Newsweek show large majorities favoring married priests, female priests, gay adoptions and birth control. And barely a third want abortion outlawed, no different from the proportion in the rest of America.

Nor are these mere attitudes. Most estimates suggest that Catholics obtain abortions at the same rate as other Americans, and despite the church's ban on divorce, the percentage of Catholics separated or divorced is right at the national average. Growing numbers of boomer and younger Catholics also believe you can marry outside the church and still be a good Catholic, and about a third of younger Catholics do just that. If the church required adherence to its traditional teachings, one Jesuit writer observed, "I'm afraid we're going to have nobody taking Communion."

What we see among Catholics is happening with Americans of all faiths. Indeed, the traditionally religious American - what the press has anointed the faith or moral values voter - may well be in decline. According to NORC's 2000 General Social Survey, only two in 10 Americans born from 1943 onward attend religious services once a week or more, while six in 10 attend infrequently - at most a few times a year - if at all. That's almost the opposite of older Americans, 55 percent of whom attend once a month or more and 36 percent of whom attend once a week or more.

In fact, the fastest-growing group of religious Americans are those who claim no religious identity at all; their number now almost equals the number of people who call themselves Baptists, according to the 2001 American Religious Identification Survey. These numbers track with findings by Independent Sector, a group that studies nonprofit trends, which show that the share of Americans giving their time to religious organizations declined from 28.6 percent in 1989 to 22.8 percent in 1998.

It's not that Americans aren't seeking spiritual guidance - they are, and in large numbers. But they're finding it in nontraditional ways. Much has been written about the number of baby boomers who have returned to the religious fold after the turbulence of the '60s and '70s, but as religious scholar Wade Clark Roof has reported in his various books on boomers and religion, many of them are "re-traditionalizing" their faith, elevating individual worship over deference to authority and embracing modern values over outmoded rules.

This yearning for spirituality over religiosity can be seen in the estimated 20 percent of Americans who show interest in New Age ideas, and in the 20 million who take yoga classes, which approaches the number of boomers and younger adults who attend church at least once a week. A generation ago, most Americans believed in moral absolutes, biblical truth and the authority of their religious leaders, but today, the vast majority say that religious morality is a personal matter. And the trend is increasingly in that direction; only the social conservatives think otherwise.

Nervous Democrats who counsel their party to offer a me-too religious moralism fail to grasp that mainstream morality has changed over the last generation. What's different is that most Americans no longer feel comfortable imposing their personal morality on another's private behavior. But that doesn't mean this new majority is any less moral.

For baby boomers and younger people, there's nothing equivocal about their views of right and wrong. These Americans condemn bigotry, intolerance and discrimination. They reject constraints on personal freedom and don't like it when women are not treated as equals. They find pollution objectionable and see nothing moral in imposing religious beliefs on others. They believe a moral upbringing is teaching kids to think for themselves, not to follow another's rules. What they embrace are pluralism, privacy, freedom of choice, diversity and respect for people with different traditions. Perhaps the only thing missing from this new morality is a politician capable of articulating it.

Why isn't this new mainstream more vocal in our politics today? To borrow a phrase from Richard Nixon, they've become a new "silent majority" - not the socially conservative silent majority of old, but a silent majority that's fairly content with the new morality and unwilling to believe that America will turn back the clock on their rights and freedoms.

Yet if anyone crosses this silent majority, by passing laws to restrict personal freedoms, they will be silent no more. When the trustees at James Madison University in rural Virginia voted to ban the morning-after pill from the student health center in 2003, the largely conservative student body rose up within 36 hours and demanded change. Consider that a microcosm of what would happen nationwide.

And why do social conservatives loom so large in our politics today? The best historical parallel for them may be the Luddites who terrorized Britain two centuries ago, the workers who traveled around the country smashing machines for fear that the Industrial Revolution would destroy their jobs and way of life. They were loud, and their tenacity gave the impression that they represented more Britons than they actually did, when in fact they were merely acting out their despair and outrage at a world that was passing them by. Today's social conservatives are our cultural Luddites.

In the aftermath of the 2004 election, religious and social conservatives have begun to demand their spoils and due. Evangelical leader Bob Jones III, head of the eponymous Bob Jones University in South Carolina that until 2000 banned interracial dating, has called upon President Bush to appoint conservative judges and pass legislation "defined by biblical norm." Pro-choice Republicans like Sen. Arlen Specter have been threatened with loss of power if they refuse to rubber-stamp anti-Roe judges. The president himself has said he's ready to spend his "political capital" to enact his moral values.

It was a gleeful Karl Rove who let the evangelical genie out of the bottle to win this election, but what worked this year may come back to haunt the GOP in the decades to come. For as much as Rove needed these religious voters to get his guy over the top, let us not forget that the primary reason President Bush won is that he quite successfully turned the election into a referendum on leadership qualities for the war on terror, and in the process subsumed all other issues.

Perhaps Rove should have sat in on my undergraduate course on this year's presidential campaign, which I've been teaching this fall at American University in Washington. About two weeks before the election, I asked the students, "Would you be more or less likely to support George W. Bush if you knew he would appoint Supreme Court justices who would erode the right to an abortion, the right to sexual privacy, gay rights, church-state separation, federal environmental regulation, family leave laws, and both affirmative action and diversity programs?" And before I let them answer, I added that these were not mere abstractions, that Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas had both voted or vowed to erode these rights and protections, and that these were the two justices Bush has cited as his model nominees.

Predictably, the Kerry partisans shuddered at the idea of a Supreme Court stacked with Bush appointees. But more interesting was the reaction from the Bush supporters. With clear discomfort, most wanted to wish the question away, saying they don't vote on hypotheticals, and anyway, they couldn't imagine the Court reversing such settled law. But when I pressed them and asked them to take the president and his favorite justices at their word, one finally conceded that his perspective was based on "wishful thinking."

The "wishful thinking" student intrigued me most because he was a hard-nosed thinker, a strong Bush supporter from the heartland, and he spent much of the semester critiquing the Kerry supporters for "wishful thinking" about terrorism, saying that we needed to stand tough against Islamic fascists regardless of what the rest of the world says. So after the election I asked him about his "wishful thinking" on the Supreme Court, and after a few moments of cognitive dissonance, he admitted that a rightward Court that overruled Roe vs. Wade and other rights might eventually force him to rethink his political loyalties.

So be careful what you wish for, Mr. Rove. The moment the courts start reversing our personal freedoms - or the religious right overreaches and tries to impose its will - millions of Americans who voted for President Bush might regret their decision to let wishful thinking guide their choice back in 2004.

The new silent majority will rise again.


Jump to TO Features for Friday November 26, 2004
Today's TO Features -------------- Jacqueline Keeler | Thanksgiving: A Native American View Susan Lenfestey | Even for a Liberal, There's Comfort to be Found James Carroll | America's Heartfelt Holiday Christopher D. Cook | Thanksgiving's Hidden Costs Christian Welch | Thoughts on Thanksgiving from Austin Ukraine Supreme Court Stops Certification of Election EU, Iran Clash over Terms of Nuclear Freeze Guardsmen Say They're Facing Iraq Ill-Trained Saul Landau | Fallujah: The 21st Century Guernica Fallujah Leaders Were Local, Not Foreign Ralph G. Neas | Fundamental Flaws Put Our Voting System at Risk Lack of Money Slows Cleanup of Hundreds of Superfund Sites Pierre Lacoste | The Politicization of Intelligence FDA Scientist Faces Retaliation for VIOXX Whistleblowing Max Castro | Bush Again: Tightening the Noose FBI Interviews Halliburton Whistleblower Leonard Steinhorn | Scrooge's Nightmare t r u t h o u t Home

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A Virtual Ecotopia

By Kelpie Wilson
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Wednesday 24 November 2004

Like many, my first thought on seeing the electoral map of November 2nd was a blue state secession. The blue left coast hanging there off of Canada looked just like Ecotopia to me.

For a certain brand of idealist coming of age in the 1970s, Ernest Callenbach's Ecotopia was required reading. This unpretentious novel is a travelogue through the imaginary nation of Ecotopia: the three west coast states that secede from the Union in 1980 to create a sustainable, cooperative culture while spurning militarism, pollution and male domination.

In Ecotopia, there are no private automobiles. Pavement is torn up to grow food in the middle of cities. Power comes from the sun and the thrills of consumerism are replaced by home-made music, art and games. Forests are protected and the air and water are clean. Cooperation and community subsume competition and alienation. It's not a perfect society, but it is sane and sustainable. About the opposite of the red hell we are mired in today.

Actual political secession on the part of the blue states is not realistic, but in the days and weeks following the electoral debacle, many environmentalists have called for a turn to state and local politics to achieve environmental goals.

There are real gains to be made at the state level. Frustrated by lack of federal action on global warming, some states have already taken bold steps. Increasingly a coalition of states that includes California, New York and half a dozen or more northeastern states have created their own policies to regulate CO2 emissions.

Many states have also taken action on renewable energy, passing renewable energy portfolio standards that require a certain percentage of energy use in the state to come from renewable sources. These states are offering subsidies to companies and homeowners for installing power sources like wind generators and photovoltaics.

States can also regulate all sorts of pollution, though they may be challenged on the basis of trade laws like NAFTA for taking potential profits from foreign corporations.

Environmentalists have fought hard for federal protection for roadless wild lands, but the Bush administration is almost certain to turn the issue over to the states. Blue states can be successfully lobbied to keep their roadless areas and wild forests intact. It is sad to think of what will happen to wild lands in red states like Alaska and Utah.

So our setback, while huge and unprecedented, is no excuse for giving up. There is plenty of territory for action yet. Perhaps the biggest territory is the territory of the mind. Again, like many others of my stripe, I have had to ask myself how it is that an Ecotopian vision that is so attractive to me has no meaning for many Americans. In answering that question for myself, I go back to the 1970s again, to the Arab oil embargo of 1973.

The gas lines and skyrocketing prices should have been a wakeup call alerting us to the vulnerability of our industrial economy to the limits of natural resources, and for many they were. But too many Americans responded not with rationality but with primate anger at the Arab states that had jerked our chain by cutting off the flow of oil. Back then, before the Republican embrace of multiculturalism suppressed it, it was still common to hear racial epithets and slurs. There was much angry talk of "sand niggers" and "ragheads."

Many Americans felt then and still feel today that cheap fuel is their birthright. Jimmy Carter asked us to put on a sweater instead of cranking the thermostat and we gave him the boot. Ronald Reagan took the solar panels down off the White House roof and we have not had a serious national conversation about energy since.

There's a poll I'd like to take that would ask this question: "If the only way for America to maintain its economic dominance were to seize the oil fields of Iraq and Iran, would it be worth the cost in human life and America's reputation to do so?"

If you could get them to answer it honestly, I would bet that most Bush voters would say yes. In fact, I would bet that what most Bush voters are really terrified of is not being blown up in a shopping mall but losing the privilege to drive to the shopping mall and gorge on cheap imported goods.

Their fears are well founded, because the end of our consuming way of life is inevitable and most people know it on a gut level even if it never penetrates their consciousness. For someone with those fears, what could be more reassuring than Dick Cheney telling them that conservation is a mere "personal virtue" and not a civic requirement?

Giving Bush another four years will not prevent the inevitable. In fact, it may hasten the American collapse. Despite the neo-cons' best efforts, regime change is on the way. Inevitably, inexorably, the regime of big oil must succumb. It is only a matter of when and how.

Red America, led by Bush-Cheney, is only too happy to put off the day of reckoning, but it will be their last four years to live the dream, if they even get four whole years. According to senior energy analyst Charles T. Maxwell, the current oil price rise is the warning wave. The big blast will come around 2010 when oil tops $70 a barrel or more. The smart move would be to raise gas taxes now and use the money to invest in renewable energy, but it is not going to happen with this administration. So it's back to the virtual Ecotopia.

As usual, California is taking the lead. In September, the state approved a strict new fuel economy standard for cars, which will reduce CO2 emissions (by increasing fuel economy) by 30 percent over the next decade. Canada announced last week that it is raising fuel economy standards by 25 percent by the end of the decade. Add Canada to California and the seven northeastern states that are likely to adopt California's regulations and you have a geographic region that encompasses nearly one-third of the cars and trucks sold in North America. The map of high fuel economy standards starts to look like the blue state map plus Canada that circulated the Internet immediately after November 3rd. The blue territory was labeled the United States of Canada; the red state heartland was called the United States of Texas.

Individual US states are also joining up with Canada and the European Union to cap and trade greenhouse gas emissions. Led by the Governor of New York, George Pataki, nine northeastern and mid-Atlantic states are taking part. They hope to introduce a plan this spring to trade emission allowances, essentially bypassing the federal government to participate in the Kyoto agreement for reducing carbon dioxide.

One of the environmental success stories of this election was Colorado's approval of a renewable portfolio standard requiring 10 percent of the state's power to come from renewable sources by 2015. Power companies will also have to offer customers a nice rebate for solar electricity that could pay a third or more of the cost of installing solar power in their homes.

Many states now have such programs. If you have the dough, you can create your own virtual Ecotopia right now. Go to to find out what rebates and tax incentives your state has. Go to to get a referral for a contractor to install it for you. Do-it-yourselfers, your home is If you want to hook up your efforts with those of others, take a look at This company is aggregating energy output data from solar and wind installations by city or region. You can be part of a virtual solar power plant.

If you don't have the big bucks, buy a little solar panel and play around with it. Teach your kids about solar. They may grow up to be solar power installers. One of my favorite energy education sites is The National Renewable Energy Lab,, also has lots of educational resources for kids and adults.

Photovoltaic power won't answer every energy need, but it is a very nifty technology. In five years, a solar module produces the energy it took to make it and it lasts, if well made, darn near forever. Some of the first modules produced 40 years ago are still going strong.

A little solar power can go a long way. The difference between having no power at all and having some power is huge. There is an amazing housing project in Portland, Oregon called Dignity Village ( Homeless people have constructed low tech houses for themselves out of mud and straw that are quite nice. Soon, some of these houses will have solar electricity, something these folks never had when they were living under bridges and in doorways.

The most important Ecotopian principle is making conservation a moral imperative. You know, that granola hippie thing of simple living, reducing, reusing and recycling. Believe it or not there are people who never stopped trying. Type "sustainable" or "biomimicry" into any search engine to find them.

If we virtual Ecotopians do our job well, we will build the basis for a new sustainable civilization. Our thousand points of light, burning like the blue flames of highly efficient combustion, will shine for Red America on the day when the oil bubble bursts and the consumer dream lies shredded in tatters and it becomes clear that Ecotopia is not a fantasy but a vision.

Kelpie Wilson is the t r u t h o u t environment editor. A veteran forest protection activist and mechanical engineer, she writes from her solar-powered cabin in the Siskiyou Mountains of southwest Oregon.

Jump to TO Features for Thursday November 25, 2004

It Was the Economy After All

November 25, 2004


DESPITE all the talk that the presidential election turned on the issue of moral values, it turns out that economics did indeed matter, and mattered a lot.

Those households with incomes above $50,000 benefited most from President Bush's tax cuts, and they voted decisively for him. In fact, according to the surveys of voters leaving the polls, the higher the income, the more the support for Mr. Bush.

And those households with incomes below $50,000 generally voted for Senator John Kerry. The poorer the household, the more likely its members voted Democratic.

But the below-$50,000 group did not completely break Mr. Kerry's way. In particular, consider those households with incomes of $30,000 to $50,000 a year. In 1992 and 1996, Bill Clinton won this demographic slice. In 2000, Al Gore split it evenly with Mr. Bush, and that happened again with Mr. Kerry. Not counting minorities, Mr. Kerry probably lost the group by a substantial margin.

Yet these are the households most hurt by a changing economy, and they were once consistently Democratic, counting on the party's social policies to help keep them afloat as their incomes shrank. In 1979, the average hourly wage for a male high school graduate was $16.32 in 2003 dollars, according to the latest edition of "The State of Working America," published every two years by the Economic Policy Institute. In 2003, the average wage was $15.07.

Moreover, only about one of three recent high school graduates now looking for work will receive health insurance on the job. In 1979, two out of three entry-level jobs for high school graduates provided health insurance.

Why couldn't Mr. Kerry capture more of these voters? Some political analysts say they may be lost to the Democratic Party. They turned against government and the Democrats in the late 1970's, when inflation was soaring under President Jimmy Carter. According to an analysis done in the early 1980's by Douglas A. Hibbs Jr., then a Harvard professor of government, nearly 80 percent of Americans had come to believe by April 1980 that government spending caused inflation.

But if economic frustration is at least partly behind this change, then a presidential campaign that emphasized strong policies for economic growth and reviving wages might bring them back.

Even if moral issues were the reason Mr. Kerry lost voters, economic frustration may well be behind the rise of some of these values. "It should not be surprising at all," said Richard Sennett, the New York University sociologist whose latest book is "Respect in a World of Inequality" (Norton, 2003). "When people are confronted with uncertain economic times, of course they would turn to cultural certainty."

Promising credible economic relief may have reduced anxieties about moral differences with the Democrats. But Mr. Kerry often diverted to other issues.

There is another reason to think a good economic plan might have overcome the moral questions. Moral values have been an issue in several recent elections. As two specialists on public opinion polls, Robert J. Blendon and John M. Benson, both of Harvard University, point out, surveys of voters leaving the polls that are conducted by The Los Angeles Times have included a question about moral values since 1992. Voters have consistently ranked moral values as either the first or the second most important reason for making their decision.

Yet a Democrat, Mr. Clinton, won in 1992 and 1996, and Mr. Gore won at least the popular vote in 2000. Mr. Kerry may not have had the same appeal on moral values, but Mr. Blendon and Mr. Benson say they also believe that a solid economic plan could have wooed more voters.

What is the source of the Democrats' inability to connect convincingly with their old base? The answer requires a little economic perspective. Despite the Clinton economic boom of the late 1990's, America's economic growth has been at historically low levels since the early 1970's. Had this country grown at the rates that were normal in America beginning in the late 1800's, revenue from federal taxes levied on that income growth would have been much higher than they are today, as economists like Martin Baily and Paul Krugman pointed out years ago.

A reasonable estimate is that the federal government would have had at least $300 billion more a year to spend, and probably more. With more revenue for social programs, Democrats could talk like real Democrats. Instead, they often try to offer social programs that appear costless, like Mr. Kerry's modest rules to limit the outsourcing of American jobs.

Mr. Kerry's first mistake was making the deficit the linchpin of his economic plan. He, like President Bush, would have cut the federal deficit in half in five years on the way to balancing the budget in 10 years. Even the credibility of his interesting but complex health care plan was undermined because balancing the budget would leave little, if any, room for expanding social policies.

Mr. Kerry's second error was to promise tax reductions to the middle class. More consistent with Mr. Kerry's position would have been to claim that the American government has too much work to do to cut taxes. Economists at the Economic Policy Institute point out that federal taxes as a proportion of the gross domestic product now come to just over 16 percent, the lowest level since the 1950's. Are Democrats bound to reduce them still more?

A third possibility for Mr. Kerry might have been to seek more federal revenue in indirect ways. He occasionally alluded to such possibilities, but never forcefully enough to make an impact. He could have argued more strongly to raise the salary ceiling on Social Security taxes, which is now about $88,000 a year. The ceiling on allowable home mortgage interest deductions could also be lowered.

President Bush claimed that the country could have tax cuts, pay for the war in Iraq, and have a good education and health care system at the same time. With more revenue to spend, Democrats need not have seemed like they, too, were trying to offer Americans a pipe dream. Mr. Kerry could have proposed a better health care plan. He could also have called for a stronger safety net for those who lose jobs because of globalization or technological change, including access to community colleges rather than just job training.

Economics did matter this time around. If Democrats think they lost simply on moral values, they are missing the message.

Jeff Madrick is the editor of Challenge Magazine, and he teaches at Cooper Union and New School University. His most recent book is "Why Economies Grow" (Basic Books/Century Foundation). E-mail:

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

Dead-Check in Falluja


Embedded with the Marines in Iraq
Dead-Check in Falluja
by Evan Wright
November 24 - 30, 2004

In April 9, 2003, the day the statue of Saddam Hussein was being toppled in Baghdad, symbolizing the promised liberation of Iraq, I was embedded with a Marine unit engaged in fierce combat about 30 miles north of the city, on the outskirts of Baquba. Late that afternoon, the Humvee I was in was following about 50 feet behind a Marine Light Armored Vehicle when it pulled alongside a Toyota pickup pushed to the side of the road, its doors riddled with bullet holes. The head of at least one occupant was visible in the truck, but I couldn't determine if he was moving or not. Nor did I see any weapons. As our Humvee stopped behind the truck, a Marine in the vehicle ahead of us leapt out, pointed his rifle into the window of the pickup and sprayed it with gunfire. It was a cold-blooded execution.

As we continued forward, passing the truck, I glimpsed at least two corpses sprawled on the seats, the interior spattered with blood. During the brief moment I looked, I was unable to determine whether the dead men possessed weapons. None of the four Marines in our Humvee said anything. We had been awake for more than 30 hours, much of that time under steady mortar, rifle, machine-gun, and rocket-propelled grenade fire from enemy combatants who dressed in civilian clothes and moved around on the battlefield in Toyota pickups. (To make matters even more confusing, during the height of combat farmers were racing into the surrounding fields—where enemy soldiers were shooting at us from dug-in, concealed positions—in order to rescue sheep from the gunfire.)

In the previous few minutes we had already passed more than a dozen corpses strewn by the side of the road. Some had the tops of their heads missing, expertly hit by Marine riflemen. Others were burned—still smoking, actually—having crawled out of other vehicles set ablaze by rockets fired from Marine helicopters. The execution of one or two more men wasn't worth commenting on.

I greeted the sight of dead Iraqis in the pickup with a sense of numb relief. At least they would not be trying to kill us that day. In the preceding two-and-a-half weeks, the unit I was embedded with had come under frequent enemy attack, with three Marines wounded. There were 23 bullet holes in the Humvee I rode in—miraculously, none of the five of us inside had been hit. I had developed a strange relationship with the sight of dead Iraqis. I felt safer when I saw them.

I felt especially comforted when I saw dead men by the road still clutching weapons in their hands, a common sight. Unfortunately, of the hundreds of dead people I saw on the roads leading from the Kuwait border to Baghdad, perhaps 20 percent or more were obviously civilians. I will never forget the three or four women I saw fatally shot and partially burned, still seated in a bus on the road north of Nasiriyah. Or the little girl, about four, lying by the side of the road in a pretty dress, her legs neatly and inexplicably chopped off at the knees. Mercifully, I remember thinking at the time, she was dead like all the others.

Since my return from Iraq, I have continued to watch the horror unfold on television. It's different seeing the violence decontextualized from the battlefield, now playing out in discrete video clips that run between ads for Chevys and the Olive Garden. Videos of militants staging beheadings against dungeon-like backdrops, with the perpetrators wearing masks and the victims in colorful jumpsuits, seem almost like grotesque TV shows.

One of the great ironies of the Bush administration, obsessed as it is with Christian values and the attendant crusade to punish what it deems obscene and lewd in the media (from Janet Jackson's breast to Howard Stern's speech), is that it has given us a war in which the airing of snuff films on national TV has become routine. The conflict in Iraq, as seen through news coverage, has begun to resemble the macabre underground 1980s video series Faces of Death. Throw in the images produced by the U.S. Army at Abu Ghraib, and the administration has put itself in the running to successfully compete with the BDSM side of the porn industry.

Just as I thought I was adjusting to the video carnage, NBC correspondent Kevin Sites, embedded with U.S. forces in Falluja, gave us last week's shocker: the video of a Marine standing over a wounded, apparently unarmed Arab sprawled on the floor of a mosque and executing him with a gunshot to the head.

It brought back memories of the April 9 episode and others I witnessed in Iraq. Yet, watching this on TV, I felt the same outrage many others have expressed. American soldiers, we like to believe, don't shoot unarmed people. Not only is this morally repugnant, but execution of wounded, unarmed combatants violates Article Three of the Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, which states in part that "persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely."

Even to those unfamiliar with the Geneva Conventions, it seems obvious from the mosque video that a war crime was committed. The response from the administration and military officials has been unusually swift. Ambassador to Iraq John Negroponte conveyed his regrets to Prime Minister Ayad Allawi and vowed that "the individual in question will be dealt with." The Marine in the video, whose name has been withheld, was pulled from duty, and his commanders issued a statement promising to investigate what they called "an allegation of the unlawful use of force in the death of an enemy combatant." Lieutenant General John F. Sattler, commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force in Iraq, added in an interview, "We follow the law of armed conflict and hold ourselves to a high standard of accountability."

One thing military officials are not saying is that the behavior of the Marine in the video closely conforms to training that is fairly standard in some units. Marines call executing wounded combatants "dead-checking."

"They teach us to do dead-checking when we're clearing rooms," an enlisted Marine recently returned from Iraq told me. "You put two bullets into the guy's chest and one in the brain. But when you enter a room where guys are wounded you might not know if they're alive or dead. So they teach us to dead-check them by pressing them in the eye with your boot, because generally a person, even if he's faking being dead, will flinch if you poke him there. If he moves, you put a bullet in the brain. You do this to keep the momentum going when you're flowing through a building. You don't want a guy popping up behind you and shooting you."

What I'd seen on that road outside of Baquba on April 9 was a dead-check. The Marine who fired into that Toyota with wounded men inside didn't want anybody shooting at us as we went past. It may have been a war crime, and had I possessed a video camera at the time and filmed it, the Marine who fired into the truck might have faced punishment. As it was, no one questioned the Marine's actions.

In fact, commanders in the Marine Corps during the period I was embedded with them in the spring of 2003 repeatedly emphasized that the men's actions would not be questioned. As one of the officers in the unit I followed used to tell his men, "You will be held accountable for the facts not as they are in hindsight but as they appeared to you at the time. If, in your mind, you fire to protect yourself or your men, you are doing the right thing. It doesn't matter if later on we find out you wiped out a family of unarmed civilians."

Commanders didn't want their men to suffer casualties because they were overly constrained by rules of engagement. At the same time, Marines were constantly drilled in refraining from shooting their weapons, even at certain times when they came under fire. On one afternoon I recall in particular, the unit I was with was ordered to hold a position on the outskirts of a hostile town. For six hours, insurgents fired at the Marines from rooftops and from behind piles of rubble they'd set up in streets as barricades. But the Marines I was with, unable to pinpoint the exact locations of the enemy shooters, refused to fire back for fear of hitting civilians. The 22-year-old radio operator of the team I was with had it within his power to call in an artillery strike on the corner of the town where most of the enemy forces seemed concentrated. At one point, while I was crouched in the dirt, taking cover behind the tire of the Humvee as enemy sniper rounds popped into the dust nearby, I asked him why he didn't call in a strike. He simply laughed at my display of fear.

There were other times when the enlisted men in the unit fell into violent quarrels with others whom they felt were too aggressive and risked civilian lives. In one instance, enlisted men nearly came to blows with an officer whom they accused of firing a weapon into a house that they believed contained civilians. Despite their concern, terrible mistakes were made. I was standing next to a 22-year-old Marine from the Humvee I rode in when he fired his machine gun prematurely at a civilian car approaching a roadblock, striking the driver, an unarmed man, in the eye. The unit was subsequently ordered to drive past the car without rendering aid. I sat next to the gunner as we crept past, listening to the dying man gasp for breath. The gunner didn't talk for the next three days. A few days earlier, the youngest Marine on the team had shot a 12-year-old boy four times in the chest with his machine gun, mistakenly thinking a stick the boy had been carrying was a weapon. When the mother and grandmother of the boy later dragged him to the Marines' lines seeking medical aid, the sergeant who led the team dropped down in front of the mother and cried.

The Marines constantly debated the morality of what they were engaged in. A sergeant in the platoon told me he had consulted with his priest about killing. The priest had told him it was all right to kill for his government so long as he didn't enjoy it. By the time the unit reached the outskirts of Baghdad, this sergeant was certain he had already killed at least four men. When his battalion commander praised the unit for "slaying dragons" on the way to Baghdad, the sergeant later told his men, "If we did half the shit back home we've done here, we'd be in prison." By then, the sergeant told me, he'd reconsidered what his priest had told him about killing. "Where the fuck did Jesus say it's OK to kill people for your government? Any priest who tells me that has got no credibility."

He and several other Marines recently returned from Iraq (many from their second tours) whom I've talked to about the Falluja shooting say they are not sure they would have dead-checked the wounded man in the mosque had they been in the same position. Most say they probably would have, even though the mosque had already been cleared once. "What does the American public think happens when they tell us to assault a city?" one of them said. "Marines don't shoot rainbows out of our asses. We fucking kill people."

Another Marine in the unit I followed—a Democrat's dream, he returned home from fighting in Falluja in time to vote for Kerry—added, "Americans celebrate war in their movies. We like to see visions of evil being defeated by good. When the people at home glimpse the reality of war, that it's a bloodbath, they freak out. We are a subculture they created and programmed to fight their wars. You have to become a psycho to kill like we do. To most Marines that guy in the mosque was just someone who didn't get hit in the right place the first time we shot him. I probably would have put a bullet in his brain if I'd been there. If the American public doesn't like the violence of war, maybe before they start the next war they shouldn't rush so much."


Evan Wright is the author of Generation Kill, about a Marine reconnaissance unit in Iraq