I’m not sure how I feel about the fact that this month Antiwar.com celebrates its twentieth anniversary.
On the one hand, there’s definitely cause to celebrate. After all, we made it. And not only that, but we’ve made it in style: our readership has expanded exponentially. Looking at the fancy software that enables me to see where and when a reader comes onto our site is quite amazing: from Chicago to China, things are literally popping up all over. And then there’s that mysterious visitor in Vatican City, who checks us out on a daily basis….
In the beginning, a good day was when the readership of this column passed the one-thousand mark. Today, my readers can be counted in the tens of thousands: the total comes to much more if you add in the statistics for the whole site.
Not only that, but our influence is much wider than our burgeoning readership numbers would indicate. The “mainstream” media, which used to ignore us, now regularly comes to us for comments. That’s nice, but the real measure of our “coming of age” has to be our Drudge link: yes, Matt has put us up there between Adweek and The Atlantic, and that is something that makes me very proud. Matt Drudge has always been one of my personal heroes: he is, indeed, the father of the “alternative” media, the first one to challenge the Legacy Media and beat them at their own game. He was there at the very beginning of the Internet Revolution, and, like us, he has not only survived, he’s prospered.
Speaking of beginnings, let me tell you a little story about how Antiwar.com began.
One day the phone rang: it was Eric Garris, who would one day be our webmaster. Eric and I had been involved in many joint ventures over the years, mostly having to do with politics: we had both been very active in the Libertarian Party, and then gone on to found the Libertarian Republican Organizing Committee, an early effort (pre-Ron Paul) to “infiltrate” the GOP. But for a little while there was a brief interregnum: we had run out of projects, and were just sitting around twiddling our thumbs. However, Eric had a new idea, and our conversation that day some twenty years ago went something like this:
“So, we should probably get an Internet domain name,” he said.
“But why?” I answered. “I don’t want to have my stuff published on the Internet: I want it to be printed on shiny paper, in a real magazine! And anyway, this Internet thing is going to blow over. It’s a fad!”
“Well,” said Eric – and I could hear him sighing – “just in case it doesn’t blow over, what would be a good domain name?”
“Hmmmm. How about libertarian.com?” That, I was told, was already taken. “Okay, let me think for a minute – hey, how about Antiwar.com? They’re bound to start a few wars in the next couple of years….”
And so Antiwar.com it was.
The site went up: it was minimalist, at first. I wrote a few essays, but my heart wasn’t really in it. The Internet didn’t interest me: I wanted to write books, not articles – and I already had an outlet for my articles in Chronicles magazine. Sure, they had a small circulation, but they printed the magazine on shiny paper (they still do), and that’s what really counted as far as I was concerned. Yes, I was that thick-headed.
Then came the Kosovo war.
Back then, during the horrific Clinton Years, television was still the main means by which people found out about what was happening in the world. And there was only one cable news channel, CNN, which we used to call the “Clinton News Network.” So there I was, sitting there, listening to Christiane Amanpour “reporting” the war in such a blatantly propagandistic manner that it was hard to believe anyone would take it seriously. Married to the State Department’s chief spokesman, James Rubin, she had turned CNN into the media arm of the US government – and yet people were taking it seriously.
I found that so outrageous that I abandoned my “literary” pretensions and started writing a daily column for Antiwar.com, which I called “Allied Farce: A Wartime Diary.” The first one was published on March 3, 1999. Some diary entries were as long as five-thousand words, others were a couple of hundred, but all of them were written in a white heat of anger at the media bias that distorted coverage of the war.
September 11, 2001, marked a real turning point for us. It was hard swimming against the current in the immediate aftermath of that signal event: what often seemed like the whole country was against us. Even among ostensible libertarians, the war hysteria was rife: one prominent libertarian, writing in a well-known libertarian periodical, declared that “It is said there are no atheists in foxholes, and perhaps there are no true libertarians in times of terrorist attacks.” We were told we ought to get used to the idea of mass surveillance.
But there were libertarians – true ones! – in those days – namely, us. And we were ensconced in our foxhole, waging our own war – against the War Party, the neoconservatives who wanted to invade Iraq and the rest of the Middle East. It wasn’t easy. We didn’t have many allies, at least not at first, but that wasn’t a consideration. We didn’t crouch down and hide our colors, either. We stood up against the War Party, confident in the knowledge that history would prove us right. And it did.
Today, the conventional wisdom – even among Republicans – is that the Iraq war was a mistake. But it wasn’t easy advancing that position in the run-up to the invasion. Today it’s clear that Saddam Hussein didn’t have any “weapons of mass destruction,” but back then, when “everyone” was certain he did, it was almost impossible for skeptics to get a hearing.
It’s hard to be right when everyone says you’re wrong. Yet we stood our ground, and that made all the difference.
And now there are new monsters set loose by the War Party to scare us into submission: ISIS is the bogeyman of the day, rivaled only by the specter of a new cold war that sets up Vladimir Putin’s Russia as the latest “threat” to the American Empire.
Knock down one shibboleth and another one rises very quickly to take its place.
I said at the beginning of this column that I have mixed feelings about our twentieth anniversary, and you may be wondering: why? After all, didn’t we build an institution that has endured and will endure long after its founders are gone? Weren’t we proven to have been right all along – about Iraq, about Afghanistan, about the dangers posed by our foreign policy of perpetual war?
Yes, all that’s true, but what’s also true is that I’m twenty years older! I was a sprightly forty-four when I set down this particular career path – and now I’m not quite as sprightly anymore. Twenty years is a big chunk of time, and looking back on it I don’t regret much of anything – but you’ll forgive me if I feel just a little tired.
What particularly makes me feel the weight of the years is having to maintain our editorial independence by helping to raise the money we need to continue this site. We’ve always depended on our readers to support our efforts, and that hasn’t changed. As you may know, we have a fundraising drive four times a year to keep Antiwar.com going – and we’re in the midst of one right now. So you’ll forgive me if I go into fundraising mode just about now and ask you to please consider making a donation.
Your contribution is tax-deductible – and now is a perfect time to give. Not only in honor of our twentieth anniversary but also because we’ve raised $32,000 in matching funds, due to the generosity of some of our more well-heeled donors. The catch is: we have to equal that amount in smaller donations in order to receive the funds.