No War: The movement that has dissolved itself

left-wing buttons

Although in the last several years there has been scarce any mobilization against the war to speak of, a majority of the North American and European citizens are still in favor of the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Iraq: however, their voices are not being heard by the political establishment. There is a growing crisis of political representation in the West. Democracy is becoming hollow.

Well, there have been a few sizable mobilizations but none have approached the massive millions in the streets of 2003. Maybe people got discouraged, or got turned off by hard Left speeches at the marches, or didn’t feel directly affected because there’s no draft. Hard to know just what happened, but it certainly appears that people in the streets (unless they number in the tens of millions) can’t force political solutions.

Yes, such protests and demonstrations were successful and effective during the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War protests. But that was a different era. Things are much more media-driven now, with rapid response teams and spin doctors instantly ready to diffuse or counter antiwar sentiment. Most of all though, maybe it’s because mass antiwar protests simply aren’t compelling or even newsworthy any more. “Been there, done that” seems to be the view, for both those opposed to the wars and for the mass media.

Also, if the populace generally opposes the wars but clearly is not interested in joining in mass protests, then we are not reaching them and need to listen to what they are saying, then devise new tactics and approaches.


  1. The latest Smithsonian Magazine has an article on LBJ that points out an interesting divergence between the Vietnem-era protests and those of today: In the 1960s, the issues of war and civil rights were in many ways tied together, giving the protests more immediate relevance. The war, really, was not in Vietnam: it was here at home, and “we” won.

    Today, with the vast majority of Americans living comfortable lives (and with the Vietnam-era counter-culture matured and firmly in control of government), there’s much less personal immediacy to the issue. Discrimination, though not entirely eliminated, is at least prohibited by law. Plus the number of American casualties in Iraq, though criminal, is not really on a war footing. Consider: since 9-11, about 3,100 people have been murdered on the streets of Los Angeles. The casualties in Iraq just aren’t above our level of tolerance.

    American casualties in Iraq pale in comparison with casualties from major mobilizations of the past: 116,000 in WWI, 407,000 in WWII, and 970,000 in the Civil War. From the Iraq perspective, the numbers look a bit different– but it’s hard to get comfortable Americans out in the street over the deaths of people they don’t know.

  2. It’s easy to overestimate the impact of the Vietnam War protests – some of the worst atrocities of that conflict were toward the end of the war, so it obviously wasn’t that great a hindrance to the Hawks.

    In the end the conclusion of the war came down to the Vietnamese people’s determination to keep fighting and the massive deterioration in US troop morale (certainly something that the protests back home contributed to).

    In terms of direct pressure on politicians I don’t think it had that great an impact.

    The movement against the war in Iraq (what movement?) has the reverse political momentum to that of the Vietnam protests. Which is perhaps why it seems less formidable. In late 60s, early 70s America you have a society clearly in a state of constant conflict, over subversive youth cultures, civil rights, workers’ rights, welfare rights. In that case you have a civil society that mobilises all sorts of people for diverse aims, most often defending their self-interest. In that context, the developing politicisation that went on over Vietnam was far more threatening. The campaign against the war in Iraq started with widespread, active opposition and diminished. It is not a process of politicising angry people, but of diverse groups having already expressed their grievances now leaving the field.

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