We were driving home the other night and she asked me this question: “Why isn’t there an anti-war movement, like there was in the sixties?”

I’ll tell you some of what I told her, and I hope you’ll chime in with your thoughts … whether you agree or disagree … or whether you think I’m totally nuts ;-0
Taken at face value, the question is based on a faulty premise. There IS an anti-war movement. But it’s certainly true that the anti-war movement of today is nothing like what we saw in the sixties. And one interesting question is “Why not?”

A few reasons are obvious, no? Let’s get them out of the way quickly.

[1] There’s no draft this time. Granted, the current policy is insane and there is de facto conscription, but there’s no draft per se. It makes a big difference whether all the young men in the country are at risk, or only those who sign up. Even if they thought they were signing up for something else. The point is, the guys who sign up come from a part of the population who are inclined to sign up. There’s another part, the part who wouldn’t sign up in a million years if you gave them a billion dollars. It’s an entirely separate part of the population; never the twain shall meet; and if these people ever got motivated the impact would be enormous.

[2] The major media coverage of the war in Vietnam was graphic and heart-rending and continuous. Today the war coverage is almost entirely fictional. It takes a significant effort to find out what’s going on, whereas 35 or 40 years ago it was in your face every night.

[3] Pro-military propaganda is much more prevalent in the schools now than it was then. It’s more prevalent in the entire culture, for that matter. Just one meaningless yet horrifying example: during the Vietnam war the CIA ran a program called “Operation Phoenix” which was supposed to be about interrogation but which quickly degenerated into mass murder. But today, if you do a Google search for the phrase “Operation Phoenix”, the vast majority of your hits will pertain to a video game. How sick is that?  

Other reasons are a bit less obvious, perhaps, but there are a lot of them:

[4] Major media coverage of everything other than the war is almost entirely fictional. Back in the 60s, if there was trouble in certain cities, or unrest on certain campuses, we knew about it. And we got this information from the mass media. If government officials were telling obvious lies about anything, the mass media were reporting that, too. So anti-government positions in general seemed a lot more reasonable then than they do now.

[5] Infiltration of what should be the base of the anti-war political alliance is clearly visible, and it has been much more effective than the relatively low-level subversion of the previous anti-war movement.

[6] Neither major political party opposes the war. This point isn’t so clear-cut because perhaps the Democratic candidate in 1968 wasn’t the most peaceful candidate who ever ran for office. But at in 1968 there were several serious anti-war contenders for the Democratic nomination. And in 1972 there was actually an anti-war Democratic candidate. But in 2004 there was only one anti-war Democrat in the whole raft of “contenders” … and when the Democrats chose their eventual “challenger”, it turned out that he wanted to send more troops to Iraq than the incumbent.

[7] Important basic rights which “protected” the anti-war activists of the 60s and 70s have been shredded. Anti-war activists today know that the rights their predecessors enjoyed — the right of peaceful assembly, basic freedoms of expression, protection from unreasonable searches, the right to a fair and open trial — are all a distant memory.

Much more current are whispers of anti-war activists, people organizing peaceful protests, being visited by FBI agents who reminded them that their citizenship could be taken away and they could be declared terrorist sympathizers if they persisted.

And of course they knew that losing their citizenship and being declared terrorists or suspected terrorists or terrorist sympathizers could lead to some really nasty treatment, and they backed off … wouldn’t you?

By this point she was saying “So maybe that’s why most of the Democrats won’t stand up against the war. They might just disappear.”

… which told me she had had enough. So I didn’t say much more. Should I say more now? I’ll offer one more observation before I give my patient readers a turn…

[8] The anti-war movement of today is badly split. The anti-war movement in the 60s was a broad coalition that itself could be described as “split”. But the divisions in the current anti-war movement strike me as far more significant. For instance…

On one hand we have people who realize that the official story of 9/11 was a hoax, that the invasion of Afghanistan was not about “smoking Osama bin Laden out of his cave”, and that the entire “global war on terror”, now morphing into a “struggle against violent extremism”, was and still is a sham.

On the other hand there are those who believe the official stories about 9/11 and who think that the American invasion of Afghanistan was justified but the diversion of American forces into Iraq was not. So we have a difficult situation, where the anti-war movement is divided on basic issues, like whether or not we should be in Afghanistan, like whether we should be involved in a global war against anything.

This seems like a good place for me to stop and for you to start. Why not tell me what you think?