*Where Have All The Protests Against The Iraq War Gone?
MAKE NO MISTAKE-THE PARLIAMENTARY ANTI-WAR OPPOSITION HAS FAILED-IT IS NOW UP TO MILITANTS TO FRATERNIZE WITH THE TROOPS IN IRAQ IN ORDER TO ORGANIZE AN IMMEDIATE WITHDRAWAL
UPDATED: NOVEMBER 16, 2006
Below are some thoughts concerning the lack of major street protests against the war in Iraq despite the rise in opinion polls of opposition to the war which will apparently filter through the upcoming midterm election results. These thoughts are a response to an article in the IDEAS section of November 5, 2006 Sunday Boston Globe entitled-“Where Have the Protests Gone?” The theme of the article is the rather apparent contradiction between the rise of opposition to the war and the lack of response on the streets in comparison to various stages of the Vietnam War.
Some of those interviewed commented that the lack of a draft and therefore a general immediacy of the effects of the war on vast sections of the population as a reason. Others argued that the movement was alive and well but that the parliamentary route was the way to go. Others that the rise of high technology has changed the nature of opposition. Yes, okay but we still have the damn hard fact of political life that the war continues unabated, will continue unabated and that unless we take action outside the parliamentary framework and off the Internet that will continue to be the case. In any case, here are a couple of points to consider.
The writer came of political age during the Vietnam War. Here are a few thoughts from someone who came to protesting from a leftist political perspective the Vietnam War rather late (1968) and the Iraq War very early (early summer of 2002) who also wonders where the heck the protests have gone.
I am as enamored of the potential political uses of today high speed technologies as the next person but let us face it this is a very passive medium. One cannot create social change or create “community” in the privacy of one’s office or recreation room. In fact a very good argument can be made that current technological uses are making us more individualized, or as someone recently put it hyper-individualized, beyond the trends noted in the book Bowling Alone. There is no substitute for face to face organizing. One of the most interesting parts of organizing against the Vietnam War was when local PTA-type groups would ask me, a known radical at the time, to come and talk about the war. While these suburban matrons did not come away as devotees of Ho Chi Minh they did take what I had to say seriously. To finish the thought up in one sentence- if the revolution will not be televised neither will it be broadcast over the Internet.
A thought on the effectiveness of street protests. Most people I know believe that the huge anti-war rallies were decisive in ending the Vietnam War. Wrong. In the final analysis it was the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam and the North Vietnamese Army that sent the United States packing. Please remember (or find a photo of) those evacuations from the roof top of the United States Embassy in 1975. I have, as others have as well, noted the many differences between Vietnam and Iraq but every week Baghdad politically looks more and more like Saigon 1975. That said, it is still necessary for the good of our political souls as well as an act of elementary political hygiene to hit the streets to protest this war- against the policies of both Republicans and Democrats.
While the initial strong opposition to the Iraq War was welcome, if surprising, I believe that it was (and is) more shallow that the opposition to the Vietnam War. Vietnam occurred in the, perhaps, unique context of the 1960’s. No only were there many movements going on or created like the black liberation struggle, women’s liberation and assorted anti-imperialist struggles but fights to create alternate cultural traditions in music, the arts and social life in general were everywhere. That most of these failed or still have not achieved their goals does not negate the effect that it had on the times. When there was, for example, a vibrant Student for a Democratic Society (SDS, one of the main villains for most conservatives at that time) in places like South Dakota you knew something was giving way at the base of society.
In contrast, today’s protesters have virtually no connection with past social and political struggles which could help to drive the movement forward. And to some extent, from my experiences, they willfully do not want to know these lessons. Taking to the streets en masse again in 2008 after the Democrats fail to get the troops out of Iraq is way too late. Additionally, almost forty years of relentless right-wing attacks that would have made Genghis Klan blush have made many fearful of challenging this government. But that is another story for another time.
I have noted the following point previously, but as we close in on the 89th Anniversary of the Russian Revolution on November 7th, it bears repeating. That revolution was truly the only time that I know of that an anti-war movement actually ended a war. Without going into all the details here or all the many causes for it the Bolshevik seizure of power from those in the Russian Provisional Government who were committed to continuing Russian participation in World War I on the Allied side graphically points out our dilemma. The Russian soldiers, aided by Bolshevik propaganda, voted with their feet to leave the trenches. The American troops should do the same. Who will help them?