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Sunday, September 03, 2006

He believes the protests work too much

Andrew Rosenthal writes in the NY Times about the seeming dearth of protests:
When you hear Young and Company sing of "four dead in Ohio," their Kent State anthem, it's hard to imagine anyone on today's campuses willing to face armed troops. Is there anything they care about that much?

Student protesters helped drive Lyndon Johnson--in so many ways a powerful, progressive president--out of office because of his war. In 2004, George W. Bush--in so many ways a weak, regressive president--was re-elected despite his war. And the campuses were silent.
I was born in 1958, so I was a little young to participate in Vietnam War protests, but my older brother did, and I followed the news closely back then. I admired (and admire) those who protested back then, as I do those who protest now. But I think Rosenthal is engaging in a fair amount of revisionism, inflating the importance of the protests. Serious US involvement in Vietnam began in 1964, with little protest (at least compared to the 2003 protests against the Iraq war). LBJ won the election that fall in a landslide. The protest movement grew over the years, and apparently did have some impact on LBJ and McNamara. But I think the fact that they recognized the failures of their war had more to do with LBJ's not running again than did the protests. (Unfortunately, our current gang of idiots won't recognize their failures until they actually do have to fight the "terrorists" here--if then.) Many of the biggest protests--the Democratic Convention in Chicago and the marches on Washington in 1969--happened after LBJ decided not to run.

Still, the war continued for years. And Nixon waited until AFTER he was re-elected to sign the peace treaty (which he could have done four years earlier) and bring the troops home, having handily defeated an anti-war Democrat in the 1972 election. Unfortunately, to me that shows what little effect the anti-war movement actually had, eight years into a brutal, pointless war that had cost billions, killed 58,000 Americans and millions of southeast Asians.

Right-wingers still like to blame the protesters for losing Vietnam, but I think they're wrong. Vietnam won that war, as Iraq will win this one--they kept fighting until the American ruling class finally decided that greater profits were to be made elsewhere (or in other ways, since American corporations now regularly exploit dirt-cheap Vietnamese labor). Protests may have played a role in that decision, but only a small one.

In a sick way, I think that our rulers actually appreciate the protests to some degree. The marches in the winter of 2003 got lots of people involved. I went to one in Washington in mid-March 2003. The weather was beautiful, one hundred thousand gathering on the lawn of the Washington Monument and then marching around the White House (W was at Camp David, of course). At the end of the march, many of us were so exhilarated that we were saying "No way they can start the war now!" Of course they did, four days later. The disillusionment that obviously pervades everything I'm writing here began in earnest then, and I'm sure I wasn't the only one.

Many of us fought on, though. I worked on the Kucinich campaign; many others signed up with Howard Dean. Kucinich was systematically ignored, while Dean was pumped up like the housing bubble, only to be popped by a media blitz shortly before the Iowa circuses (sic intended), and especially afterward. Dean's rapid demise, and replacement by the hapless pro-war Kerry, disillusioned millions of Deaniacs who thought they could actually make a difference. (And I'll bet there was at least as much chicanery involved in getting Kerry the nomination that spring as there was in defeating him in the election that fall.) Many of those students Rosenthal doesn't see protesting still have a bitter taste in their mouth from that.

Still, I like the protests. They cheer us up, at least for a while, and demonstrate to the country and the world that many of us here don't agree with our country's policies. I'm just afraid they don't do much to change those policies.

What will work? I don't really know. It's not like we live in a democracy. Gore Vidal said recently that only a massive economic collapse is likely to topple the current American system of mis-government. For better or worse, that is probably right around the corner!