Special Report

Pubes for Peace

War protesters get creative.

By 11.2.04

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It is a brisk, to-die-for October morning and a coterie of some fifty ladies are beginning the long, slow ascent to the top of the City Museum in downtown St. Louis. The Black Armor coal tar roof of a converted 19th century shoe warehouse might seem an odd place for a tea party, but this no tea and cakes affair. No, this is a T & A affair. And the girls have come not to gossip and nibble biscuits, but to protest the American troop presence in Iraq. Representing all imaginable colors, shapes and sizes, and seemingly without a gram of timidity, the ladies quickly shed their clothes and set about arranging themselves in the pattern of the symbol of peace. Meanwhile a photographer from the local alternative weekly scales a nearby water tower and snaps a few photographs, one which will grace the cover of that week's newspaper.

As an attention-grabber, the Riverfront Times cover was highly effective. But as a protest, the results were more mixed. First, there was no news story with the photograph -- just the bare-skinned broads. Well -- didn't that say it all? Apparently not. Soon the editorial offices of the RT were buzzing and bleeping with angry phone calls and emails, neither of which let up for a full week. Most of the letters were from angry soccer moms who didn't think the cover appropriate for a newspaper, especially one widely available in every pharmacy, restaurant and library in the St. Louis area, and readily glimpsed by the overly curious eyes of innocent eight-year-old soccer stars.

The fact was, the cover was, for gray pulp newsprint, remarkably graphic. In most images of naked protests the viewer is lucky (or unlucky) to see a few large bleary butt-cracks. But in this instance St. Louisans of all ages and creeds were treated to a Photoshop-sharp image of an overabundance of downy and clean-shaven crevices, fleshy cheeks and cracks, and floppy mammilla with sprightly pink and brown aureoles. Nor were the girls reluctant to reveal their more recognizable features. And from their looks, they seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely in their all-girl orgy of protest.

EVEN SO, AS A CREATIVE form of dissent the nude protest is already somewhat dated, which may explain why it has just now turned up in St. Louis, a city which seems to perpetually lag a decade or so behind the rest of the country. And while some may applaud the protesters' creativity, originality, the "thinking outside the box" (those fully-clothed marches on D.C. were dull, dull, dull), these recent nude protests are in fact soooo 1970. Has the anti-war movement already forgotten John and Yoko's naked exploits? Their "Grow your hair for Peace," the famous "Bed-in for Peace"?

At times the nude protesters seemed more like exhibitionists than political dissenters. Take the recent New Zealand Penis Protest demonstrating against the ban on health ads featuring the male member, or last June's World Naked Bike Ride where nude bicyclists streaked through 11 U.S. cities, as well as cities in Canada, South America, South Africa, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand and Europe. These raw riders legitimized their exhibitionism by calling their actions a "protest against oil." Organizers were quoted as saying, "Naked bike riding is an effective way to wake people up to how conditioned we are in the ways we act and think." It's also an effective way to gross people out. The site of bearded, middle-age nude men on bikes doubtless put several observers off their feed for the rest of the day.

But it was the site of all those pale, flaccid privates that got the attention of the media and soon became the real focus of the protests -- not the American troop presence in Iraq, or GM food, or the WTO, or fur coats or whatever the cause du jour. At one protest in Boulder, Colorado, a cyclist, wearing only a sweat sock over his genitals, was "excitedly" speaking to reporters from the local Daily Camera, and these reporters were not in the least discomfited -- or so they pretended -- taking notes and snapping photos and asking questions with all the coolness and ennui usually associated with covering a city council meeting, while the guy with the sweat sock on his schlong was saying, "We're pointing out the irony that we can kill 9,000 to 10,000 Iraqi citizens for corrupt interests, but that it's illegal to display the human body."

But the occupation of Iraq is only one of innumerable excuses protesters are finding to show off their atrophied and shrunken private parts. Other recent nude demonstrations have protested animal research, fur coat manufacturing, cruelty to animals in transit, the WTO, George W. Bush, genetically-modified foods. Sometimes the nudies are not so much protesting as advocating a particular cause, which usually means abortion rights, gay-marriage, and increased AIDS funding. Fine liberal causes all. As of this writing there have been no counter-demonstrations featuring nude conservatives wearing only Armani silk neckties and carrying Colombian leather executive briefcases down the center of Haight-Asbury to protest high taxes, social engineering, and big government.

PERHAPS BECAUSE WAR PROTESTS seldom have much real impact, unless the conflict drags out interminably and seemed rather pointless to begin with, like Vietnam, or involved withholding something essential, as the Greek women did in Lysistrata (withholding themselves). That said, there has never been a war that did not spark some dissent. Thoreau protested the Mexican-American War and spent his memorable night in jail. The Civil War draft riots in New York left nearly 100 dead. Mark Twain was among the many outspoken critics of the Spanish-American War. World War I was extremely unpopular, especially among the quarter of the population that was from Germany or of recent German ancestry. Even World War II had its share of dissenters, including Charles Lindbergh's America Firsters.

But with the exception of Vietnam, the protesters have been largely an insignificant number of crackpots. Ask your typical American and he'll likely say war protests embolden the enemy, and he'll point out that after the Vietnam War the North Vietnamese admitted that Hanoi Jane Fonda and her ilk gave their side great encouragement. Which is not to say most protest movements are ineffective. But effective protests, like those for civil rights in the U.S., and those against South African apartheid, East European communism, and the British Raj were effective precisely because they did not resort to silly shock tactics and exposed naughty bits. However when a cause is not very popular war protesters have no choice but to shoot the moon.

It seems likely the nude war protests will have a double effect. First, as with all well-publicized protests, they will embolden and encourage America's enemies and their fanatical supporters. Second, they will remind the Islamic cutthroats why they hate Western civilization. Ironically, the outspoken and uninhibited nude women atop the City Museum thought they were making a profound statement in support of peace. But it is precisely such outspoken and uninhibited women that the terrorists hate most of all.

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About the Author
Christopher Orlet writes from St. Louis.