Monday, January 29, 2007

Demonstration phobia: I don't get it

Steve Gilliard is one of my favorite bloggers on political and military topics.

But he is completely down on the idea of antiwar demonstrations.  In Myth and reality 01/28/07, he even argues, absurdly, that:

... the anti-[Vietnam]war movement failed. Badly.

It alienated the middle class, it failed to gain any congressional victories and anti-war legislators were defeated (Al Gore,Sr, Ralph Yarborough) while US troops were in Vietnam. It also led to two Nixon elections.

This is all but incomprehensible to me.  The "antiwar movement" against the Vietnam War was always a lot more than demonstrations, though demos loom large in television retrospectives because they were dramatic.

But the antiwar movement, with not just demonstrations but "teach-ins" and alternative newspapers and political actions and various educational campaigns did raise public awareness about the problems of the Vietnam War and the unjustness and unnecessariness (if that's a word!) of it.

Since "antiwar movement" is a vague term convering people of diverse political interests, then and now, it's painfully simple to find this or that to object to about "the movement."

Also, its true that Nixon's use of what we now call "culture war" themes was partly directly at antiwar demonstrators.  But you don't have to look any farther than our esteemed President today to find good white, conservative Republican and even prowar families who were not thrilled about the prospect of their own darling boys going off to fight the Great Communist Menance in Vietnamese jungles.

But saying the antiwar movement "led to two Nixon elections" is as ahistorical as what we expect to hear from our Big Pundits.  To quickly mention some of the factors, you would have to include: the fact that the Vietnam War was rightly perceived as an enterprise of the Democratic Party; Nixon's "secret plan" to end the war; the shock of the Tet Offensive in early 1968; worries over drugs and teenage promiscuity and the birth control pill and guys wearing their hair long

Then there was not only the peaceful civil rights movement and its successes, which a lot of white folks chose to interpret as something like the collapse of civilization.  There had also been several major urban riots that were freaking out the public.  In 1968, the assassination of Martin Luther King sat off an unprecedented series of urban riots.  White voters no doubt reacted absurdly to some of those events.  But were Nixon voters in 1968 or 1972 more worried about guys with long hair and women in tie-dyed clothing and jeans demonstrating against an unpopular war than about their overheated images of rioting urban dwellers and "uppity" black people?  I don't think so.

I don't know about Gilliard in particular.  But I've always thought that the sqeamishness a lot of liberal bloggers seem to have about the whole idea of street demonstrations must be partially a reflection of the decline in union membership in the US.  If you've ever been out to picket your employer, or even a part of a union that was prepared to do so, demonstrating in public doesn't seem like a terribly shocking thing to do.

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