Blogs > HNN > Is There an Anti-Iraq War Movement?

Nov 4, 2006 2:57 pm

Is There an Anti-Iraq War Movement?

According to the polls, opposition to the war in Iraq is the most important issue in this election. I recently gave an interview to a journalist who wanted me to compare the current antiwar “movement” to that of the Vietnam era. As I fielded his questions, it occurred to me that although we have reached the point where 60 percent of the population now opposes the president’s policies in Iraq, this shift in opinion has apparently occurred without much prodding from an identifiable antiwar movement. To be sure, a variety of organizations have sponsored national and regional rallies, marches, and other antiwar activities, but if that constitutes an antiwar “movement,” it does not look very much like the anti-Vietnam War movement in terms of size, breadth, depth, and, especially, media attention. As someone who has written about the earlier movement, I wouldn’t know where to begin were I to try to characterize the current organized opposition to the Bush Administration’s policies in Iraq. Am I missing something in the world of blogs and other internet innovations and their relationships to twenty-first century protest movements?

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Andrew D. Todd - 11/5/2006

Some of the most militantly antiwar people I have come across are retired colonels and master sergeants, and they are only saying publicly what the serving ones are saying privately. They weren't antiwar per se, but their sense of institutional well-being is intimately bound up with their ability to recruit nice kids into the enlisted ranks. Their longstanding nightmare is the memory of the post-Vietnam period when they had to take the druggies and suchlike. They get very upset about the idea of making the Army into a "foreign legion." Career soldiers tend to be religious on the subject of training, and if combat expediency cuts into the Army educational system, that hurts a lot. You tell them that the new recruit is going to spend eight years as an infantryman in the Middle East, and then get out of the service without ever having learned a skill which enables him to get a civilian job, and that, by that time, he'll be too old to go to school, and the career army are going to be really ripping mad. That means that the "backdoor draft" is calculated to antagonize them. Likewise, they tend to be unhappy about anything which leads to antagonistic relations with the respectable parents of their troops, such as recruiting underage high-school students without parental permission. Once they figured out that Bush was not going to institute regular conscription, their commitment to a war was zilch.

Take a look at George C. Wilson' _Supercarrier_ (1986, pbk. ed. 1988). Here is a quotation showing a navy captain dealing with the last of the post-Vietnam syndrome.

"[Captain] Wheatley had heard enough. He delivered a nonstop blast across the lectern at Fireman G. His words ricocheted off the steel walls, causing the marine aide standing in back of the captain to wince. 'You're obviously a sea lawyer and a liar! You're no dummy! You know what you're doing! You're manipulating the system every chance you get! You blow smoke! You prevaricate! Oh, you're just a damn sea lawyer! You don't care about your shipmates! I don't know what you're doing in the Navy...'" (ch. 4, p. 58, pbk. ed.).

HNN - 11/5/2006

Today you wouldn't have counterculture types on TV burning US flags. But just as bad you'd have Rove buying TV time to demonize the extreme leftists who inevtiably would surface.

Melvin Small - 11/4/2006

In an interview in the mid-eighties, Bob Haldeman told me that the antiwar movement prolonged the war three-and-one-half years. That was his explanation for why no peace in 1969. What he meant was that without the antiwar movement, Nixon would have been able to bomb the hell out of North Vietnam until it accepted US peace terms.

Rick, you are correct in suggesting that an antiwar movement now, full of telegenic, unruly, counter-cultural-looking young people, might have impeded the development of general opposition to the war that grew because of the facts on the ground that escaped the White House spin machine. But I don't think the same applies to the Vietnam era when, in the long run, the antiwar movement helped to create far more opposition to the war than it created opposition to the antiwarriors. And more important, it certainly concerned the Johnson and Nixon administrations,and here I am back to my original posting, because of media attention.

Rick Shenkman - 11/3/2006

There are many reasons why no anti-war movement has appeared, one of which surely is the absence of a draft.

Some are dismayed by the absence of a movement. But it's possible that were one to have developed the "silent majority" may have been inclined to stick with Bush on the war out of pique.

This is suggestive for historians. It may be that we need to rewrite the history of the 60's. Is it possible that the Howard Zinn celebration of mass protests was misguided? They were a sign of healthy democratic protest, but they may also have prolonged the war. Some historians on HNN and this blog have indeed suggested as much.