Wednesday, July 06, 2005


Where's the antiwar movement?

There is an interesting article by Scott McConnell in the latest issue of The American Conservative.1 "How They Get Away With It" tries to ferret out why the current antiwar movement is so lame—
There were no major antiwar demonstrations this spring, no campuses shut down by protest, no marches on Washington big enough to notice. In the capital itself, a journalist can go to cocktail parties full of foreign-policy establishment types, all prudently opposed to the war, their talk spiked by witticisms about the failings and hypocrisy of the Bushites.

And McConnell sees the absence of a strong antiwar movement as the equivalent of giving the Bush administration carte blanche

The failure of Americans to generate a politically significant domestic opposition to the war is now one of the most important developments in world politics. It means that the Bush administration can contemplate, without any fear of adverse domestic political consequences, expansion of its war to Syria or a large-scale bombing of Iran. The only constraints on its behavior are international.

I hope that is overstated. While the Iraq invasion boosted Bush's poll numbers, I'm not so sure the trick will work again. A crisis would have to be manufactured such as "Fanatic Iranian about to obtain nuclear weapons" or "Syria conspires to aid the Iraqi resistance." But the public has begun to cast a jaundiced eye on the news coming from the White House.

In any case, McConnell attributes the current passivity to—

1. Absence of a draft

We fight in Iraq with a volunteer Army, working-class in origin—men and women who may have signed up originally for good pay and benefits or the possibility of a college education they couldn’t otherwise afford. The professional class is hardly represented, the political class not at all. Unlike the 1960s, the children of the establishment don’t have to calculate how they will avoid service or maneuver to find safe spots in the National Guard. This changes the political atmosphere on campus considerably, where there is now as much a likelihood of unrest about something to do with gays and lesbians or the wages of janitors as an aggressive war.

2. Greater economic insecurity

This was [in the 60s] a political economy that not only allowed dissent, but indeed one that seemed to make it, in economic terms, nearly cost-free. The contrast with the present day—where one hears continually from those with a stake in the middle-class that dissent is something only the wealthy (or very poor) can afford—could not be more striking.

3. The rightward turn of Jewish political leaders

Of course, it is true that most American Jews are still politically liberal and a majority now tell pollsters they oppose the Iraq War. But this is beside the point. Nowadays, political passion, engagement, and activism are as likely to be found on the Jewish Right—at least a Right favoring a pro-war, pro-imperialist (and very pro-Israel) foreign policy—as they are on the Left. Nothing could be more different from 1968.

4. The rise of the Christian Soldiers—the evangelicals

With the ... decline in political numbers and influence of the mainline Protestant churches, this increased energy on the evangelical Right changed dramatically the way most American Christians regard war. In the hands of evangelicals, Just War principles became, in Bacevich’s words, “not a series of stringent tests but a signal: not a red light, not even a flashing yellow, but a bright green that relieved the Bush administration of any obligation to weigh seriously the moral implications of when and where it employed coercion.”

And thus, in the developed world’s most devout country, Christian witness against war “became less effective than in countries thoroughly and probably irreversibly secularized.” Evangelicals have in great part transformed the Christian view of Just War into a crusade theory in which the United States is believed to embody God’s will and its enemies are “God’s enemies.”

Up to this point I'm with McConnell all the way. Then he makes a remarkable statement—

For those yearning for a revival of a peace movement that might slow down this administration, there is nothing reassuring about this analysis. It is far from clear that even the revival of the draft could ignite the kind of campus protest that would make an impression on Congress and the administration. Where would the leaders of campus protest come from? For if they are less likely, given the rise of neoconservatism, to come from ranks of activist Jews, it is even more implausible to imagine them emerging from the remains of the WASP establishment, whose children are not the academic and social leaders on the nation’s elite campuses. It is perhaps only slightly more likely to come from the new Asian immigrant groups, who are generally still focused on professional advancement or purely ethnic concerns. And only the wooliest of neo-Marxist romantics can see it emerging from the poor or working classes.

I guess that's what makes him a Conservative and me a ... well, whatever. When you can only imagine leaders coming from the ranks of activist Jews or the WASP establishment, you naturally slump into depression.

And I'm not sure it matters whose children are the current leaders on the nation's campuses, elite or otherwise. It may be that those who opposed the Vietnam War will just have to return to activism, as unwelcome as that may be. As for leaders, if we can't find anyone who'll do from the American lower or middle classes, maybe we can hire a Brit. George Galloway's coming in September.


1The magazine was founded by McConnell, Pat Buchanan and a columnist for the London Spectator Taki. The first issue came out in September 2002. It is antiwar and anti-neocon. [back]

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