Where’s the Anti-War Movement?

Thousands of people with signs of peace gather on Library Mall for the start of an anti-war rally protesting a potential United States-led war against Iraq. Protesters later marched up State Street to the Wisconsin State Capitol Building. ©UW-Madison University Communications 608/262-0067 Photo by: Jeff Miller

W.J. Astore

Yesterday, Ira Chernus had a stimulating article at TomDispatch.com in which he noted the present lack of an American anti-war movement.  When it comes to war and foreign policy, Americans face a Hobson’s choice: the Democrats with drones and Special Ops and bombing against evildoers, or the Republicans with even more drones and Special Ops and bombing against even more evildoers.  The American master narrative, Chernus noted, is essentially all war.

He’s right about this, and I think it’s mainly for five reasons:

  1. The military draft is gone, so our youth can safely (they think) ignore America’s never-ending wars. In Vietnam, with the draft, most of our youth didn’t have the luxury of apathy.  Today, our youth have little personal incentive (as yet) to push back against the prevailing war narrative.
  2. Militarism.  Creeping militarism has shifted the American narrative rightwards.  In the Vietnam period, General Curtis LeMay’s “bomb them back to the stone age” was a fringe opinion; now it’s mainstream with “carpet bombing” Cruz and Trump and Rubio, the “top three” Republican presidential contenders after the Iowa caucuses.
  3. The Democrats have also shifted rightwards, so much so that now both major political parties embrace endless war. War, in short, has been normalized and removed from partisan politics.  As Chernus documents, you simply can’t get an alternative narrative from the U.S. political mainstream.  For that, you have to look to much smaller political parties, e.g. the Green Party.
  4. The U.S. mainstream media has been thoroughly co-opted by corporations that profit from war.  Anti-war ideas simply don’t get published; or, if they do, they’re dismissed as unserious.  I simply can’t imagine any of today’s TV talking heads coming out against the war on terror like Walter Cronkite came out in the 1960s against Vietnam. There is simply no push back from the U.S. media.
  5. Finally, a nebulous factor that’s always lurking: FEAR.  The popular narrative today is that terrorists may kill you at any time right here in America.  So you must be ready to “lockdown“; you must be ready to “shelter in place.”  You must always defer to the police and military to keep you safe.  You must fully fund the military or YOU WILL DIE. Repeated incantations of fear reinforce the master narrative of war.

Chernus makes many good points about how America’s constant warring in the Middle East only feeds radical Islam.  In short, it’s vital to develop a new narrative, not only because the current one feeds war and death, but also because it’s fated to fail.

I doubt pacifism will fly in warrior corp USA.  But why not containment?  Containment worked against the Soviet Union, or so most Americans believe.  If it worked against the far greater threat posed by the USSR, why shouldn’t it work against radical Islam?

Containment suggests several concrete actions: American troops should pull out of the Middle East.  Bombing and drone strikes should stop.  Establish a cordon sanitaire around the area.  Lead a diplomatic effort to resolve the conflicts.  And recognize that violent civil and ideological wars within Islam may need to burn themselves out.

One thing is certain: Because violent U.S. actions are most likely to act as accelerants to radical Islam, we need to stop attacking.  Now.

Yes, the U.S. has a responsibility to help the peoples of the region.  American actions helped to create the mess.  But you don’t “solve” the mess by blowing more people and things to smithereens.

Containment, diplomacy, humanitarian aid.  Not a chest-thumping course of action celebrated by the likes of Trump or Cruz or Clinton, but a new master narrative that would be more likely to spare lives and reduce the chaos in the Middle East.

8 thoughts on “Where’s the Anti-War Movement?

  1. I can’t take much exception to the analysis presented about the anti-war movement. The pressure to be “patriotic” robots waving the flag and “honoring our hero-warriors” is utterly stifling. There are weekly pro-peace vigils held all around the country, but of course one won’t see them on the evening TV news. As for “containment” of radical Islam, that is a hard sell. Though the right constantly seeks to blow the threat way out of proportion, the fact is that, yes, individuals bent on acts of terrorism on US soil MIGHT try to get here, or more immediately into Europe, by posing as refugees from conflict (the conflict ignited by US policies, of course). So how to completely shut down the movement of people out of the areas currently in chaos? Sounds like something Trump would call for, but how would it be realized practically? Given the state of US politics, there is no solution, only endless ongoing “War On Terror,” as promised us by Dick Cheney AND Pres. Obama. I am not backing Bernie Sanders and confess I don’t even know his position on the Middle East quagmire. But if we place Bernie within the mainstream (despite the silly “socialist” label), he in theory would be the only breath of fresh air there on these issues. Oh, can’t resist one last remark: as I understand it, the official government instructions to TSA/Homeland Security Agents working at US airports is that if gunfire erupts…RUN LIKE HELL!! Gee, that’ll make me feel extra secure next time I fly (which fortunately, for numerous reasons, is pretty rare).


  2. Oops, I neglected to point out that the draft is certainly not dead. In fact, just the other day, some Pentagon bigwigs recommended WOMEN be required to register upon turning age 18, since roles in combat are being opened to them. The draft is “waiting in reserve”; it was never terminated post-Vietnam.


  3. Yes, I saw that Greg. I’m wondering about the service chief’s strategy here. Many are opposed to opening all combat roles to women. So is this a case of the military saying, “Fine. You forced that down our throats. So now let’s push it to the limit and register all young women just like we do all young men. Your move, Congress.” In other words, it seems like a gambit in which the military can’t lose. Register all women — great. See how serious national “defense” is? Don’t register all women — why are you pushing us to integrate women into combat when you treat them differently?

    I don’t think I’m being too cynical here.


    1. First Vietnam was begun over 50 years ago. This article is foolish. The world, technology and the type of fears are very different.
      It takes two NOT to fight. Or to KEEP the peace .
      The power of individuals to create mayhem has increased geometrically.
      Currently we use drones. So will ISIS. We need to at least keep in check forces that cannot be negotiated with. Americans have always been naive when it comes to foreign policy. The comments here just prove that.


      1. That the United States continues to blunder about, devastaing much of the world today just as it did 50 years ago in Southeast Asia demonstrates nothing so much as the incredible inability of Americans to learn much of anything no matter how many decades you give them. What explains American foreign policy today explained American foreign policy half a century ago. Little, if anything has changed. Just follow the vast waste of money.

        As the late Gore Vidal once accurately noted: “Americans are among the most easily frightened people on earth.” Who else would fear various rag-tag collections of impoverished foreigners half-a-world away who have no need of drones or other high-tech weaponry when they can improvise the defeat of American forces time after time using only cheap left-over explosives from the last wars America lost?

        Any innocence about American foreign policy belongs to those who think that America actually has a foreign policy. It doesn’t. The ruling oligarchy — as George Orwell pointed out in The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism — merely foments endless, losing wars so as to use up the productive capacity of the industrial economy which otherwise might to towards raising the general standard of living. Foreigners have nothing to do with this, especially Asian peasants in black pajamas or poppy growing goat herders in the Hindu Kush.

        But thanks for sharing, anyway.


        1. Pop Quiz for flag-waving Americans: When did the United States last “win a war”??? Let’s work our way back through time. The War Against Saddam’s Iraq? Sure, Hussein’s Army That Couldn’t Shoot Straight crumbled in no time, and yet, and yet…aren’t some US politicians calling to put US boots back on the ground there? The conflicts in ex-Yugoslavia? The US designated the Serbs as the bad guys and dragged the UN into the matter. Lots of corpses, no clear outcome. Granada and Panama: oh yes, glorious victories over a tiny island nation and the Canal Zone, already under US control since its construction. Vietnam: a clear-cut military defeat, despite the deaths of incalculable numbers of Asian human beings. Korea: fought to a standoff by Kim Il-sung’s forces, with help of Chinese PLA. Ceasefire is in place; the war has not officially ended. World War II, you offer? The US entered the European theater as late as it thought it could get away with, while the Brits and Russians (and some French Foreign Legionnaires, perhaps) bled and bled. No question that the Pacific theater saw horrific action and bravery, but again, US was part of a coalition in the overall war and can’t claim a singular victory. World War I? Britain lost a whole generation of young men, Frenchmen were wickedly oppressed by their own officer corps (if you haven’t seen Stanley Kubrick’s movie “Paths Of Glory” you really, really need to!), and the USA entered as late as it could. No way can the US claim a “we did it all by ourselves” victory. Now we reach the “Spanish-American” or “War of 1898.” Fought supposedly to liberate peoples oppressed by Spanish colonialism, with the help of indigenous guerilla forces. End result: seizure of Cuba and the Philippines to be exploited by US business interests (with the guerilla allies in the Philippines betrayed and slaughtered by US forces), meddling for decades in the affairs of Central American nations, Haiti, Puerto Rico, etc. My, what a glorious track record for our brave fighting men and women!! If this be victory, if this be glory, I’ll have nothing of it.


  4. I read the Ira Chernus article and consider it generally accurate, except for the following misleading comment:

    “In the last two decades, we stayed out of brutal conflicts in places like the Congo and Sri Lanka. So a decision not to intervene militarily in a foreign civil war should be familiar enough to Americans.”

    I can’t speak for the Congo case of “non-intervention,” but as for Sri Lanka, the government of that country — not the government of the United States — made the decision not to allow American military participation in the island nation’s battle against the minority Tamil insurrection. I have this on the authoirty of the late Dr. Ananda W. P. Guruge, former Sri Lankan ambassador to France and the United States from whom I once took some graduate classes in Buddhism and sanskrit at a small start-up Buddhist college in Los Angeles. When I asked him once why his government refused America’s offer of military assistance, he stated simply:

    If the Americans come, they will just draw an arbitrary line through a temporary problem and make it permanent.”

    So, again, the American government — much less the American people — had no role whatsoever in the Sri Lankan civil war because the Sri Lankan government had the good sense and integrity not to allow it. So credit for governmental sanity belongs to the Sri Lankans and not to Americans or what they haplessly accept as a “government.” Ira Chernus should have known this.

    Almost ten years ago, while comparing the on-going criminal American destruction of Iraq with my own small part in America’s criminal destruction of Southeast Asia — Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos — I recalled Dr. Guruge’s concise, elegant summation of paralytic American military inertia and discovered that it fit quite nicely into the epic verse narrative I had begun composing about American intellectual, political, and cultural degeneration. Hence:

    Boobie Counter Insurgency
    (from Fernando Po, U.S.A., America’s post-literate retreat to Plato’s Cave)

    If offered help you’d best refuse
    For if you should relent
    They’ll draw an arbitrary line
    Through problems transient
    And complicate them all so as
    To make them permanent

    They’d like to spend a “night,” they say
    To get inside the door
    But after years you’ll find them fast
    Asleep upon your floor
    In no apparent haste to end
    Their stay that you abhor

    Like suitors of Penelope
    They make themselves at home
    In yours – till you will marry them
    Or read to them a tome
    That ends when brave Ulysses comes
    From back across the foam

    They start with talking of a “race”
    But just as a pretense
    Once underway, the “journey” talk
    Begins to change the sense:
    “Accomplished” missions leading to
    No perfect in their tense

    A hanging concentrates the mind;
    No hangings, the reverse
    When no one hangs for screwing up
    Results become perverse
    Rewards buy more incompetence
    And gild the golden purse

    Incompetents attract their ilk
    They know no other kind
    And so they concentrate like sludge
    A residue refined
    To gum up all the moving parts
    And leave them in a bind

    The Law of Parkinson explains
    Bureaucracy’s demands
    Just make more room to make more work
    For still more willing hands
    There’s room enough for everyone
    When all the yeast expands

    The Peter Principle sets in
    And all float to the top
    The good get out; the bad stay on:
    Promotion will not stop
    It doesn’t matter what they do,
    Or how they fail and flop

    “You fuck up then you move up” goes
    The slogan of the day
    Republican philosophy
    For how to make some hay
    Insurgencies have payrolls that
    Would tempt a Kenneth Lay

    To “counter” the insurgency
    You first put on your crown
    And then “elect” your puppets till
    You start to spiral down
    To end up with the worst of all:
    George Bush and Michael Brown

    Great nations, so the saying goes,
    Cannot fight little wars
    It just makes them look little
    Like the whores that staff the bars:
    Those widowed native women folk
    Whose men died for our cars

    We had to have the oil, it seems,
    To make our gas and fuel
    No matter that the price has soared
    While Halliburton gruel
    Fed to the troops to keep them fit
    Has made them mean and cruel

    But when a bloated, idle firm
    Has little real to do
    It either lays employees off
    Or makes a pooch to screw
    Then buys up some screwdriver stock
    With options for a few

    And then consultants come to call
    To market mantras cool:
    Some jaundiced, jaded, jargon jive
    To mesmerize the fool
    Which Dick and Don have taught to George
    To make of him a tool

    The trophy chief executive
    Requires the use of sound
    A propaganda catapult,
    Some noise he needs to pound
    He doesn’t have to know “above”
    From “under” or “around”

    Deciding to decide he picks
    Decision as his guide
    He chooses choices chosen for
    The options that they hide
    He puts them “on the table” then
    Onto the floor they slide

    He turns both tides and corners and
    He chews gum as he walks
    Then chokes and stumbles, yanked by strings,
    As his bad puppet balks
    Refusing to “eliminate”
    The “enemy” he stalks

    Technology will save the day
    Or so we have been told
    Our vastly overpriced machine
    Will keep away the cold
    Although “insurgents” wreck it with
    “Improvisation” bold

    The war to have more war again
    Has made war without end:
    Careers for all the supple ones
    Whose rubber ethics bend
    Until their “honor” turns to rust:
    A blood-stain’s reddish blend

    But why not send some campaign staff?
    Those smarmy puerile jerks
    Who masturbate to thoughts of “war”
    With all its rank and perks
    Who find “good bidness” where it “is”
    And who cares if it works?

    They’ll camp inside the castle walls
    Some hamburgers to munch
    And never go outside the wire
    To brave the deadly crunch
    While talking tough about Tehran
    Where they’d be someone’s lunch

    The days and weeks and months go by
    With more excuses still
    For why the costs keep rising while
    The “enemy” we kill
    But, What the hell? It’s free-lunch war!
    The kids will pay the bill

    Republicans can talk a fight
    Until the buildings fall
    They then attack the innocent
    And squawk a shrieking squall
    Producing only years of talk
    To cover for it all

    So “Hell is on the way,” alright,
    Dick Cheney’s vow fulfilled
    They fell asleep on watch and got
    Three thousand of us killed
    Then ran off half a world away
    To have some oil wells drilled

    In only six more months of this
    The numbers will accrue
    To show we’ve lost three thousand more
    With no apparent clue
    Explaining why we’ve spent more time
    Than fighting World War Two

    We used to have great enemies
    But now we’ve only small
    We shot a cannon at a wasp
    Collapsing hive and hall
    And now upon our bee-stung ass
    The insects swarm and crawl

    We’ve bought another cannon, though,
    Because it makes more bang
    And generates huge profits for
    The ones who hire the gang
    Who, when the sand gets in the gears,
    Ignore the clunk and clang

    The blowback, though, comes round in time;
    No one has yet escaped.
    Vietnamized; Iraqified;
    Corrupted by the raped,
    The “victors” thus are vanquished by
    The monkeys that they aped.

    Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright 2006


    1. You’ve said it before, Mike: An “enduring” war is a lost war. Afghanistan? Iraq? War on terror? 800 bases around the world? Africa next? It just never ends.

      And that’s why America is in decline. Year after year, never-ending war and enormous military budgets, all sold, perversely, in the name of “peace.”


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