Protest Comparisons with Vietnam


In her IAWM update in the News Section of this website, IAWM Secretary Aoife Ní Fhearghail writes:
 
Soldiers like US marine Lance Corporal Stephen Funk who refused to report for duty in January and has since been sentenced to 6 months in jail, are speaking at anti-war rallies across the States. Obviously the situation is not identical to Vietnam where there was an organised national liberation struggle, but parallels are being drawn.
 
I can certainly understand why many activists should feel this way, that current efforts are seemingly somewhat lagging behind similar organised anti-war struggles during the Vietnam era, a comparison that is invoked with increasing regularity in protest discourse. However, and rest assured, there is around the world and in the United States opposition to the present wars (Iraq principally, but allied with those in Afghanistan, in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, etc) that is at a level which is completely unprecedented in US or European history both in scope and in the wide diversity of parts of the general population it draws on. Indeed, there appears never to have been a time that I am aware of when there was such massive opposition to a war before it had even started, an opposition that continues to grow as that war now takes its ugly further course into devastating civil war. And it extends itself far more broadly in that it's not just opposition to war but also a fundamental - and disillusioning - lack of faith in the leaderships (Bush, Blair, Sharon, and their lapdog minions), along with their - though still repressed -  deeper general malaise with western contemporary, postmodern consumer culture.
 
So the demonstrations that have occured to date - before the war/invasion, during it, and since Bush announced his Hollywood-film-spectacle virtual/hyperreal victory - that has never happened before. If you compare it with the Vietnam war (again, the US never even declared that illegal invasion as a war, just as a "police action", a defence of South Vietnam etc), the current stage of the war with Iraq is approximately like that of circe, or just after, 1962, with the US bombing of South Vietnam and driving millions of people into concentration camps and chemical warfare and so on, but there was no real protest anywhere at that time. In fact, so little token protest that virtually nobody can even remember.
 
The serious protests didn't actually begin to develop until several years later when large parts of south Vietnam were being subjected to saturation bombing by B-52s, hundreds of thousands of troops were there [over half a million], hundreds of thousands of civilians and soldiers had been killed, and then even after that, when the protests finally did develop in the US and Europe it was mostly focused on a side-issue - the bombing of north Vietnam [no public knowledge, then, of the secret bombings of Cambodia and Laos] which was undoubtedly a crime, though it was far more intense in the south which was always the US target. And more to the point, the introduction of the Draft, around the time of the Tet Offensive in 1967/68 (though only around 70,000 were ever actually finally drafted) - it's introduction sealed public opinion against the war, once again a very real current possibility in the present US (see this article, for example: Neocons Admit They've Blown It - Is the Draft Next?). By historical analogy, we can also see the effect of Britain's attempt to introduce conscription or the draft in Ireland during WWI: almost the whole population immediately responded by voting for Sinn Fein in the subsequent General Election, in the process wiping out all the existing political parties -  and the rest, as they say, is - war of independence then civil war - history ...
 
Furthermore, as Chomsky has recently stated [I'm collating from a number of interviews]:
 
When the first Bush administration came in 1989 parts of their intelligence assessment were leaked, and they're
very revealing about what happened in the subsequent 10 years about precisely these questions ... The parts that were leaked said that it was about military confrontations with much weaker enemies, recognising they were the only kind we were going to be willing to face, or even exist. So in confrontations with much weaker enemies the United States must win "decisively and rapidly" because otherwise popular support will erode, because it's understood to be very thin. Not like the 1960s when the government could fight a long, brutal war for years and years practically destroying a country without any protest ... The main attack was against South Vietnam and there was never any serious protest
against that ... Not now. Now they have to win. They have to terrify the population to feel there's some enormous threat to their existence and carry out a miraculous, decisive and rapid victory over this enormous foe and march on to the next one.
 
The more protest there is the more tightening there's going to be, that's routine. When the Vietnam War protests really began to build up, so did the repression. I was very close to a long jail sentence myself and it was stopped by the Tet Offensive. After the Tet Offensive, the establishment turned against the war and they called off the trials. Right now a lot of people could end up in Guantanamo Bay and people are aware of it.
 
If there's protest in a country then there's going to be repression. Can they get away with it? - it depends a lot on
the reaction. In the early 50s in the US, there was what was called Macarthyism and the only reason it succeeded was that there was no resistance to it. When they tried the same thing in the 60s it instantly collapsed because people
simply laughed at it so they couldn't do it. Even a dictatorship can't do everything it wants. It's got to have some degree of popular support. And in a more democratic country, there's a very fragile power system. There's
nothing secret about this, it's history. The question in all of these things is how much popular resistance there's going
to
be.
 
Actually, there is another article in the New York Times that describes how the [current] professors are antiwar activists, but the students aren't. Not like it used to be, when the students were antiwar activists. What the reporter is talking about is that around 1970 - and it's true - by 1970 students were active antiwar protesters. But that's after eight years of a U.S. war against South Vietnam, which by then had extended to all of Indochina, which had practically wiped the place out. In the early years of the war - it was announced in 1962 - U.S. planes are bombing South Vietnam, napalm was authorized, chemical warfare to destroy food crops, and programs to drive millions of people into "strategic hamlets," which are essentially concentration camps. All public. No protest. Impossible to get anybody to talk about it. For years, even in a place like Boston, a liberal city, you couldn't have public meetings against the war
because they would be broken up by students, with the support of the media. You would have to have hundreds of state police around to allow the speakers like me to escape unscathed. The protests came after years and years of war. By then, hundreds of thousands of people had been killed, much of Vietnam had been destroyed. Then you started getting
protests. 
 
Mainstream discourse ensures that all of this is wiped out of history, out of the  - popular - historical record, because it tells too much of the truth. The historical reality is that the Vietnam anti-war movement involved years and years of hard work among an initially fairly small group of people, mostly young, which finally succeeded in catalysing, orchestrating and expanding an effective protest movement. Clearly, today, it is far beyond that stage. But such people as the New York Times reporter whose article Chomsky cites above cannot even begin to comprehend that particular historical reality. And it is more than likely that the reporter is being genuine [much like the widespread mindset today that somehow, paradoxically, can be anti the Vietnam war ("because "obviously" it was wrong, and shure, didn't we lose anyway?") but pro the Iraq war, oblivious slaves to the status quo of contemporaneous establishment  - political and media - norms]. The reporter, certainly, is essentially articulating precisely what I think she, as with numerous others, was taught  - that there was a huge antiwar movement - unlike today, of course - because the actual documented history has to be wiped out of people's consciousness. Under no circumstances are you to be permitted to learn that prolonged, dedicated, committed effort can ultimately provoke significant transformations in consciousness and understanding.
 
As Chomsky concludes, That's a very dangerous thought to allow people to have. 
 
 


Created By: Padraig L Henry