CYNTHIA PETERS was born in March 1961, blessed with a fine intelligence and a deep capacity to care about others. She has grown to maturity questioning commonly accepted wisdom, habits and attitudes to see if they are right. She has questioned the values of her peers as well as of adults. She is, for example, a vegetarian. She has broken from a generation noted for its narcissim to work in homes for the autistic and the insane.
Now, with the same passion and clarity of vision that drove so many of us into the streets to protest the Vietnam war, she is questioning the surge of militant patriotism gripping the country and finding it wrong.
She is a child of the middle class, a college student now on a work break, living in San Francisco, attending antidraft protests at Berkeley. She knows that if her views are those of a majority on Sproul Plaza they are those of a minority across the country. She knows that her parents do not agree with her, that they are worried about her, and that bothers her a lot. "It bothers me that there are such divisions in the family."
She argues with the same force and conviction and out of the same deep sense of caring that many college students had in the mid-60s when they argued against the Vietnam war. They were labeled commie pinko colleges kids and mounted police busted up demonstrations with impunity. The decision makers paid no attention to the anti-war arguments and the American involvement became so deep that it took years to extricate ourselves, even after the antiwar position prevailed. We may not agree with what this young woman is saying, but if there is any positive legacy to be gained from the antiwar protests of the 60s it is that we should at least listen to what she has to say.
She says the media is at fault for building up a war mentality. "It started with Iran and the incredible job the media did making it look like the most obscene, horrible thing that's ever been done to another country. The way the media portrayed the whole hostage situation made me really angry, because they left out the reasons why the Iranian people are so hostile towards the Americans. They made it sound like a bunch of Iranians foaming at the mouth and they left out the reasons why the Iranians are so angry.
"It started there with this whole building up of the Americans feeling like they had to make a show of strength and the president making it look like we had to make a show of strength. Then this thing happens in Afghanistan and it seems so ridiculous again. Here is this small country already sympathetic towards Moscow. . . Russia does this horrible, imperialistic thing. But Russia did it out in the open. American does it covertly but somehow it's not as bad. Afghanistan is still in the same situation as before. It is still inclined towards communism.
"The move the Russians made I disagree with entirely, but it's not like they went in and took a free democratic country. It's still bad, but it's not so bad that we have to get that upset about it. America forgets they've been inclined towards the same kind of iimperialism in its history. In Iran we did exactly the same thing. We did it covertly. The CIA has admitted they had a lot to do with putting the shah in power. Chile is another example of our imperialistic nature. So that annoys me again, this double standard. It's like pseudo morality.
"The American people have been made ready to go to war. Psychologically they are ready to defend their country.What we are concerned about is oil. It's not our concern about Afghanistan people. It's oil we're concerned about with the Russians moving in the middle east.
"It seems to me, instead that we should be back in our own country, developing other sources for energy. We've put this off for too long. There was a time when the solar industry and the nuclear industry were at the same point of development. We made the decision to go with the nuclear development. There is absolutely no reason in the world why we should draft 18, 19, and 20-year-old kids to go off and fight for oil. We have the resources and technology in this country to develop alternatives.
"Another wonderful thing Carter has done with this whole thing is having women go off to war without the ERA being passed. The idea of giving women equality by letting them go off and fight a war is absurd. Women think they should go off to register so they can have equality. In fact, they're not going to have any more equality within the military complex, and besides that, they'll be fighting a useless war."
She argues that if Carter passes a draft for men then it should also pass a draft for women. "No one should be going, but if men are going off to war then women should be going, too.
"I've been to two rallies on campus so far and both of them were really crowded. People are forming a draft resistance network throughout the campus to form an alternative to the draft. People are doing a lot of organizing. People keep talking about how it's reminiscent of the 60s. The general mood is basically antidraft. Of course, this is Berkeley and it tends to be very liberal.
She says there was a cluster of people at Monday's rally with signs denouncing Soviet aggression and placards touting Daniel Ellsberg, the featured speaker. But that sentiment, she says, is not widely held and students there are busily making plans to work in neighborhoods this summer "to bring information to people to counteract some of the exaggerated information and the mood that Carter has set and the media has set where everyone thinks we have to run off to war to save freedom."
Where do you draw the line? What if the Carter administration is right and the Soviet moves in Afghanistan are merely preludes to taking over the Persian Gulf countries. The oil there is vital to our national interests. "It's not our oil, unfortunately," she answers. "Clearly, we're not going in there for moral reasons. We're going in for the oil. We should be spending some of our effort in this country developing alternatives to oil. It can be done. Instead of getting all militaristic about the thing, just figure out another way to get our cars and our factories running."
Is there a war in which she would fight? "It is very difficult for me to picture myself in uniform with a machine gun killing someone, that there would be a situation so desperate in which I would have to do that. I think it's morally wrong to kill anybody. I don't want to seem simplistic. I'm sure there are times when you have to fight back. I just don't see violence as a viable way of solving the problem. I find it a method I'd like to avoid at all costs. It's really difficult to answer that question."
Call her young, naive, simplistic, isolationist. Call her idealistic. She's a college kid and what does she know?
Back in the 60s, some college kids knew enough to warn us out a war we couldn't win.