It was encouraging and unquestionably good for my own morale to
participate in the “Anti-War Summit” put on in San Mateo, Calif., June
12 by Antiwar.com and the Center for Libertarian Studies. But I wonder,
now that the active bombing has stopped and the slow, mostly undramatic,
perhaps interminable slogging on the ground has begun, whether a
significant anti-war movement in the United States can be sustained.
The anti-war movement that eventually became such a significant part of
American life during the Vietnam era has been romanticized by a lot of
people who weren’t around then and by quite a few who were around.
But it’s worth remembering a couple of important items. The anti-war
movement was tiny and virtually powerless until the Vietnam War had been
under way, and was even producing a few American casualties, for several
years. It wasn’t until the number of body bags became rather
large and the war had been covered incessantly on television that most
Americans turned against it.
And opposition to the draft was a more significant portion of anti-war
sentiment than is widely acknowledged. After the “lottery” system was
instituted and especially after President Nixon ended the draft and made
the military a volunteer force — which happened before the war was
ended, remember — public displays of anti-war sentiment declined
dramatically. The numbers of people at rallies and the number of rallies
fell. Young men who didn’t face the imminent danger of conscription
found it a somewhat lesser priority to remind the world that they hated
war as such. In fact, some of them didn’t hate war as such and have
supported every war since then. They just didn’t want to go to Vietnam.
So with the War Party shrewd enough to inflict damage in ways that
produce hardly any American body bags and with no draft, what are the
chances of a significant anti-war movement in the United States? Has war
been sanitized sufficiently as to be immune from effective protest?
Let’s take the heartening news first. The conference drew several
hundred enthusiastic participants and featured uniformly excellent
talks, most of which balanced a fine-honed indignation with sharp
analysis — which isn’t as easy as it sounds. I expected Lew Rockwell to
be insightful on why having the Wall Street Journal beat the drums for
war is destructive to the cause of capitalism in the long run, for
example, and I already knew that Ralph Raico, who teaches history at
Buffalo State, was a thoughtful but provocative analyst of the roots of
the American empire.
But I hadn’t talked with Jon Basil Utley, son of the brilliant
anti-communist writer Freda Utley, before, and was glad to know he is
both thoughtful and persistently stubborn about his principles. I was
pleased to meet Norman Solomon, a media critic who tends to concentrate
on concerns about corporate control of the media (some valid and some
bogus) and has been honorably and eloquently opposed to this war and the
pathetic way most of the media have covered it from the outset.
Events are making for alliances that might otherwise seem strange.
Patricia Axelrod, director of the Desert Storm Think Tank used her
expertise as a weapons analyst to shed new light on the claim that we
could have a nice, surgically-clean, utterly sanitary war dominated by
“smart bombs.” Ronald Maxwell, writer and director of the motion
picture “Gettysburg,” reminded us that even in Hollywood, there are
people who understand that, as he put it, originality consists in
thinking for yourself, not in thinking differently from other people.
The talks by Justin Raimondo and Eric Garris, the two most directly
responsible for the Antiwar.com website,
were encouraging. While the Vietnam War has been called the “living room
war” because it was the first war in our history brought into our
living rooms each evening by television, the Kosovo war might be viewed
as the Internet war. At the beginning of the war the site was getting
maybe 1,000 hits week.
Before long it was getting 50,000 visitors a week and then 1.5 million.
In a very real sense, the Internet — not just Antiwar.com but sites
like WorldNetDaily.com and literally hundreds of others — performed a
successful end-run around the mainstream media.
In addition, as Eric Garris put it, people who had for a long time
thought of themselves as either Left or Right had no idea how much they
had in common on the war issue. Coalition politics was to some extent
shaped by the links various webmasters chose. People met one another
over the Web and on occasion in person, and some came to like one
another. Even those who didn’t come to understand or like one another
felt a certain moral imperative to put aside some of their old
prejudices and unite around this issue. It will be easier and faster to
form an effective anti-war movement the next time one is needed — and
you can be reasonably sure that one will be needed.
Still, at the end of the day there was no ongoing anti-war organization
in place. The military occupation of Kosovo has already produced sad or
tragic incidents, outrages, and deaths. But will the outrages be
objectionable enough to produce the kind of sustained outrage on the
other side that seems to be necessary for an ongoing movement.
Things have changed with the Internet. I believe if the war had
continued in an active bombing phase for much longer that physical
protests — crowds in the street and all — would have been forthcoming,
of surprisingly large sizes. I think the War Parties sensed this too.
And it will take much less time to crank up opposition to the next
But as the American Empire settles down to “peacekeeping,” it could be
difficult to sustain an anti-war fervor.