Why No Anti-War Movement?
To anyone who remembers the Sixties, the contrast with the Vietnam War is startling. Today there is no real anti-war movement. The initial protests have fizzled out. Why should this be?
There are two obvious reasons and a third one that is harder to define. The American casualty rate is much lower now, and todays young people arent worried about being drafted to fight and die. Our rulers have learned that they can wage war with impunity as long as most Americans dont feel personally threatened by it; with an all-volunteer military, we can all feel assured that someone else will be shedding the blood. And since last years elections, the Democrats have ceased trying to make the war a political issue; they have become a very, very loyal opposition. Howard Dean and Michael Moore already seem to belong to the distant past, almost like ...
Well, almost like Jane Fonda. She is now peddling her memoirs, and the only unpleasant incident reported so far has been a case of spitting: she got a faceful of tobacco juice from a bitter Vietnam veteran. Most of us no longer think of her as Hanoi Jane for her infamous visit to North Vietnam. As a Hollywood producer once said, We have all passed a lot of water since then.
So powerful is nostalgia that I find myself feeling affection for people I used to hate. When I was young, I regarded them as enemies; now, they have simply become endearing reminders of my youth.
Which brings me to what may be the deepest difference between the Vietnam era and this one. Vietnam was only part of an era of cultural change; anti-war protest helped propel that change in morals, manners, music, politics, and countless other things, including even religion. (Death of God theology became part of the general coolness.)
The Beatles and Bob Dylan supplanted Frank Sinatra and Lawrence Welk. Long hair replaced crew cuts. The Second Vatican Council changed the Catholic Church; the Pill changed marriage itself; civil rights, feminism, and sexual freedom were all hot new causes. The Kennedy and King murders intensified the sense of apocalypse and revolution. Political protest, especially but not only anti-war protest, became a campus fad, almost an obligation. Hippies were everywhere, even in your own family.
And somehow these things were all part of the same big, nameless thing, sometimes called the Movement. Politicians all seemed to be aping the Kennedys and calling for unspecified change. Rock music and the movies partook of political protest and sexual freedom.
It felt as if absolutely everything was changing. That wasnt true, but thats how it seemed. We hardly noticed the things that remained constant through it all. And change became synonymous with hope. Optimism was a virtual duty. It was bad manners to wonder whether things might be changing, at least in some respects, for the worse, or whether even good changes might come at heavy cost. Change was by definition good. It was even fun.
Progress, then, could go in only one direction, which it was both wrong and futile to oppose. So optimism became a form of fatalism. Good things were bound to happen, so you might as well help them happen. We now have a greying generation of reactionary optimists who still celebrate the Sixties without qualification, and who deplore anyone who, like the new Pope, wants to arrest, reverse, or just modify some of the changes of the period.
That old optimism is mostly gone now; only the fatalism remains. The anti-war activists of the Sixties could still assume that their efforts might change even the government. But today the Leviathan state is bigger than ever, still taxing and waging war, and everyone now understands that there is almost nothing we can do about it. So theres not much point in having an anti-war movement.
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