Thursday, March 22, 2007

Tom Hayden on antiwar history

Tom Hayden recently posted about some of the history of the anti-Vietna War movement, focusing in particular on lobbying Congress, in Cutting Off Funding for War: The 1973 Indochina Case Huffington Post 03/20/07. He has a book, Ending the War in Iraq, coming out in June.

One of the things he mentioned was how antiwar activists struggled with their own initial unpopularity. This is not about the Repubublican pseudo-history of dirty hippies spitting on soldiers; the antiwar movement of those days was not hostile to soldiers or veterans. In fact, Vietnam veterans were active in the movement from the beginning.

Hayden writes:

The emphasis was on campaigning as action, not a permanent bureaucracy competing with other groups. The tool was an "Indochina Peace Pledge" for organizing pressure on elected officials to cut off aid to the dictators in Saigon and Pnomh Penh. Building a power base in keystates and congressional districts was the strategy.

Many of us were recovering from the intense radicalism, sectarianism, militancy, and resistance to repression that occurred throughout the late 1960s. To say the least, the anti-war movement was not popular with representatives of the State, nor even with a majority of Americans. Many individuals, collectives and organizations fragmented, collapsed from within, burned out, or suffered marginalization and counter-intelligence blows. Yet by 1969, just when everything seemed hopeless on the surface, millions of Americans began to wake up and take a more welcoming attitude to peace initiatives. My dad was a classic example; as a former Marine, he disowned me for fifteen years over Vietnam. But as he discovered that his own president was lying over matters of life and death, that the protesters were right after all, it became possible to thaw and reconcile our relationship. Such transformation was occurring on a much larger scale, paradoxically at the moment many movements of the 1960s were exhausting or marginalizing themselves for deeply understandable reasons. Some of us realized that we couldn't win the American people if we were disgusted by them at the same time. Dialogue and persuasion were the way, and any confrontations had to be consistent with that process. ...

Noteveryone in the movement was synchronized. There were those who opposed lobbying Congress and electoral politics for ideological reasons. They believed in an escalation of radical tactics. Others moved along to other issues, sensing that it would be harder to continue while the war was "winding down." Others thought the old establishment - the "wise men" - would intervene to end the war from the top down, for the broader interests of US imperialism. There was no need and little possibility for a continuing movement, these voices said. But it required a sustained effort for three years - 1972 through 1975 - to end the war, and the danger of re-escalation of the war, through hard-won congressional action in response to a shift in public opinion. By July 1973, Gallup polls showed 2:1 opposition to the Cambodia bombing, and at the end of 1974, Gallup showed that 60 percent of Americans favored an amnesty for draft resisters. The war was ended by a movement that overcame its outsider status to engage the soul of America, and learned the insider skills of pressuring the system. Post-war normative lessons had been absorbed widely as well: no more land wars like Vietnam, no more policing the world, no more imperial presidencies. This was the "Vietnam Syndrome", a profound democratic threat to empire.
Hayden's post is a reminder that the politics of opposing the Vietnam War seemed incredibly discouraging at times, but there were also moments of surprisingly rapid progress.

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