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Some Anti-War Protests Sparked By Doomsday Fear

by Franz Schurmann

on historic February 2003 demonstrations
(PNS) -- As hundreds of thousands of anti-war demonstrators swarmed the streets of America and Europe, a leading Russian daily, Pravda, reported that a "mass psychosis" about Iraq is sweeping over Russia. Every day, people argue about who is more dangerous -- Bush or Saddam.

According to Pravda, fear has replaced both politics and economics as the leading indicators of the people's mood. For centuries, Russians have lived under leaders who have fanned the flames of doomsday scenarios as a way of remaining in power. Now, that doomsday scenario is spreading to other parts of the West.

The Western anti-war marchers, though highly diverse, shared a common fear that the world is facing a terrible and possibly terminal catastrophe by global warming, fossil fuel exhaustion and war. The West has already had a foreshadowing of its vulnerability. Russians remember the 1986 explosion at the Chernobyl reactor killing reindeer 2,000 miles away in Lapland. In California in 2002, the skies above San Francisco turned yellow from fierce sandstorms in North China, about 7,000 miles away.

Way back in 1962, when the Cuban missile crisis was heating up, this news analyst was in Paris and remembers long lines of French people desperate to buy tickets to flee to French possessions in the Southwest Pacific.

But now these fears of a global catastrophe are being viewed through the prism of an apocalyptic vision of doomsday. In the '60s anti-war demonstrations, secularism ruled. But with religion and spirituality making a comeback in the West, the doomsday visions that are part of Jewish and Christian religious traditions must also be on the minds of those taking to the streets.

Doomsday scenarios go back over two millennia. Doomsday visions first flourished in the third century B.C., when the Romans started building an empire that stretched from what now is Jordan to the Atlantic Ocean. The area of modern Israel became the main hotbed of resistance to the Romans.

Apocalyptic visions came to a high point a millennium later, when in the 1200s the Mongols built an empire stretching from Korea to Baghdad. Western Christians who had been fighting Saracens (Muslims) for many generations rejoiced when these fierce warriors opened up an eastern front against their hereditary foes.

And right after World War I, the German historical philosopher Oswald Spengler's book, "The Decline of the West" goaded Europeans into a revival that then did occur with Mussolini and Hitler. What is common to these doomsday scenarios is that the upheaval also signals the rise of a new empire -- Roman, Mongol, and after World War II, America.

These empires came from afar and were regarded with a mixture of hate and awe. But they marched to a different beat. Even now, some of President Bush's close advisers hold to the notion of "American exceptionalism," meaning that America is guided by historical laws different from any other country in the world.

Doomsday scenarios preach that our world is soon coming to an end and the Messiah will come to judge the dead and the living. They also come with calls for revival of a decadent West. When the Romans in 70 A.D. destroyed the Great Temple in Jerusalem, the new Christian communities believed that Christ would soon return to lead a heavenly army against the Romans. The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. was seen as a sign of divine retribution for the destruction of the temple.

As the second millennium approached in Europe a wave of hope by Christians arose that Christ would soon return. The Papacy and the Mongol khans colluded secretly to destroy Islam. In 1258, the Mongol Hulegu Khan razed Baghdad to the ground and killed all Muslims, exempting Jews and Christians. Saddam has called Bush a new Hulegu Khan several times.

But each time, even as they hurtled toward doomsday, the leaders pulled back at the last moment. In the case of the first millennium, the emperor Octavian Augustus pulled his forces back from Mesopotamia and was satisfied with what is now Jordan. In the case of the second millennium, the Mongol khans embraced Islam and built a new capital in Tebriz, still the capital of Iranian Azerbaijan.

Now, in the beginning of the third millennium, the world faces possible war again in Mesopotamia. It remains to be seen if, despite the tough talk, the Americans too will pull back from the brink.


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Albion Monitor February 18, 2003 (

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