Modern US History

All the modern US history fit to print

Category: Frances Taylor (page 1 of 2)

Introduction

America has had a rich history of antiwar dissent in the past century. Antiwar protests are especially significant in the United States because they are an exercise of the First Amendment, something central to America’s understanding of freedom and democracy. America’s contributions to international warfare have represented turning points in its history in a multitude of ways. A country’s participation in war is a controversial subject and has always garnered dissent from citizens. Antiwar dissent has always coincided with eras of significant social change. Antiwar dissent holds a significant bearing in U.S. history since 1877, especially in the 20th and 21st centuries, because it has served as a platform for domestic social change, represented an avenue of communication with the government, and demanded accountability from the system which represents Americans.

This project will define antiwar dissent as any organized action against government involvement in war. It will assess a diverse array of dissent; direct and indirect action against war, songs, speeches, newspaper articles, photos, and political cartoons. Each manifestation of dissent – whether it contributed to achieving peace or not – shows the importance of free speech to democracy. All forms of dissent are effective in that they contribute to the cultivation of democratic norms in America. The investigation will begin in 1914 with the start of the World War One and end in present day, noting our omnipresent involvement in Afghanistan.

It is no coincidence that American involvement in war has coincided with profound social and political change. The onset of the Great War revealed the challenges of globalization and the complicated nature of progressively intertwined international relations[1]. Countries who were in opposition with each other engaged in conflicts over respective spheres of influence – for the United States, American Exceptionalism drove foreign policy. On the domestic front, race and gender divisions became more and more apparent as minority groups grew tired of a government which did not act in their best interest.

Following the First World War, the United States enacted isolationist policy in an attempt to confront adversity along racial, economic, and gender lines. The Second World War forced the United States out of isolation. An international showdown against Nazism and Fascism demonstrated that war’s purpose in America had shifted. Gone was the era of warfare over small-scale ideological or geographical disputes. By 1941, war had become a mechanism for preventing the spread of ideologies the United States saw as irreconcilable with its ownWhat ensued was a four-year-long all-out assault on governments and political views that would not submit to the agenda of the American government. This new perception of warfare’s purpose continued across multiple generations, partly in thanks to the Cold War and unwavering fear of weapons of mass destruction. In the past half century, war’s boundaries have dissolved: it has become much more violent, all-consuming, and driven by ulterior motives. Countries have become much more willing to sacrifice civilians and make assaults on the personal lives of those involved through the media

In a majority rules system, there will always be groups who feel unheard by their government. America’s foundational document, the Constitution, ensures the freedom to publicly voice one’s opinion, whether that be through speech or assembly. Dissent is an important part of America’s status as a healthy democracy as it allows average citizens to subvert political bureaucracy. After the invention of the atomic bomb, antiwar dissent became more common than previous wars as a result of the heightened stakes contingent on such a destructive weapon[4]. During the Cold War, administrations from both parties questionably inserted American forces into proxy battles against communism. Involvement in wars that did not directly impact the status of the United States left the American populous questioning the government’s true intentions and dedication to the notion of equality along race and gender lines. Many correctly feared that the government’s inaction on civil rights would be exploited by the Soviet Union to portray the United States as hypocritical and weak[5].The Cold War era also yielded heightened media coverage of how the government operated and Americans became increasingly aware that politicians operated with tunnel-vision – every political quarrel returned to communism and how it could be destroyed[6]. The release of the Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam era became one of many catalysts for heightened awareness of suspect government operations. In modern American history, antiwar protests became an important part of a society mobilized for war. Civil Rights oriented groups utilized these protests to pursue racial equality[7]. Antiwar protest during World War One was used by women to dismantle biases ­– which had prevented them from political involvement – that had been ingrained in society worldwide for thousands of years[8]. In later wars, women found themselves in a political culture more open to their voices and opinions. The rise of the Civil Rights Movement provided an space for African-Americans to give their perspective on war’s connection to their struggle for civil rights and freedom. Groups with a diverse array of motivations used antiwar dissent pursue their own (often intersectional) agendas. These factions operated differently given their different motivations and grievances, but all found successes in objecting against war.

The beginning of modern warfare (WW1) marked a shift towards long-term wars which held deep implications for American life. There will be analysis of American involvement in World War 2 and the heightened the stakes of conflict. The Cold War engulfed American society, as proxy battles between the United States and the U.S.S.R. infiltrated and changed life as Americans knew it. These proxy battles exposed racial and gender injustices within America and showed that the government was not as direct and honest with its citizens as once previously believed[9]. Given the successes of the Civil Rights movement, dissent became a popular way to put pressure on the government. Recent wars have failed to recreate the spirit of dissent during the Vietnam era, but popular media has bolstered the ability to do so.

The purpose of this project is to show that American wars since 1900 have had different core motivations, therefore yielding a diverse array of dissent in form and purpose. This project ultimately demonstrates that antiwar dissent is significant to American history in that it has served as a platform to confront social inequality and hold the government accountable for its questionable actions when they did not represent the population’s desires. War protests have also served to expose the government’s conditional dedication to civil liberties, and revealed the hypocrisy in America’s participation in wars that are fundamental to American history. Ultimately, the government’s ignorance towards the destructive impact inherent to war shows the ugly story behind the perceived glory of America and its values.

[1] Strikwerda, Carl1. 2016. “World War I in the History of Globalization.” Historical Reflections 42 (3): 112–32.

[2] Levy, Alexandra F. 2015. “Promoting Democracy and Denazification: American Policymaking and German Public Opinion.” Diplomacy & Statecraft 26 (4): 614–35.

[3] Larson, Eric V., Bogdan Savych, Project Air Force (U.S.), and Rand Corporation. 2007. Misfortunes of War : Press and Public Reactions to Civilian Deaths in Wartime. Rand Corporation Monograph Series. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation.

[4] Howlett, Charles F. “Studying America’s Struggle against War: An Historical Perspective.” The History Teacher 36, no. 3 (2003): 297-330.

[5] Foner, Eric. Give Me Liberty! An American History. 5th ed. Vol. 2. Seagull. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 935

[6] Foner,  Give Me Liberty! An American History, 1005

[7] Foner, Give Me Liberty! An American History, 935

[8] Galt, Margot Fortunato. 2000. “The Movement beyond the Movement.” In Stop This War!, 38. Lerner Publishing Group.

[9] Burns, Ken, dir. “Ken Burns Vietnam: Riding the Tiger In Ken Burns Vietnam, produced by Lynn Novick. PBS. September 19, 2017. 49:45:00

World War One: 1914-1918

Women’s Peace Parade

Photo from Women’s Peace Parade, August 29th, 1914

At the onset of the Great War in 1914, thousands of women descended on New York in the first-ever women-only protest against American participation in war. Photographers found women wearing black, a symbol of death, contrasted by one woman wearing white (symbolizing life) holding a peace flag. The beginning of the 20th century brought women into the public sphere in an unprecedented fashion. Women were eager to redefine their role in society and demonstrate that, as half the populous in America, their voices deserved to be heard as well[1]. The push for peace resonated especially deeply with women because they bore the brunt of conceiving, raising and protecting the life of a child[2]. The opening to redefine women’s role in political society came with World War One. Brave women used marches like this to assert that as half of the American population, their antiwar position deserved to be represented in the government. Most women found that not only were they opposed to the governments actions, but their voices were ignored in the decision making process leading up to a declaration of war. This antiwar march was significant because it indirectly confronted gender issues within the United States’ political sphere, and contributing to expanding the scope of political participation. It also served as a reminder of the government’s indifference to the deadly impact of war. Like Winsor McCay’s cartoon, reminded its observers that the only inevitable part of war is death. Direct action such as marches have served as an effective way to check the government’s actions due to their high visibility, but did not prevent the United States’ entry into a costly, deadly war.

[1] Ramsey, E. Michele. 2006. “Driven from the Public Sphere: The Conflation of Women’s Liberation and Driving in Advertising from 1910 to 1920.” Women’s Studies in Communication 29 (1): 88–112.

[2] Bennett, Scott H., and Charles F. Howlett. 2014. Antiwar Dissent and Peace Activism in World War I America : A Documentary Reader. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. http://envoy.dickinson.edu:2056/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=816773&site=eds-live&scope=site.

 

“His Best Customer”

Winsor McCay’s political cartoon is telling of the most basic truth of war.

Three years of war had shown the world the unprecedented depth of the trauma of war. This cartoon created by American artist Winsor McCay portrays a man labeled “war” with hundreds of dead bodies hanging behind him, serving the grim reaper (death) over a counter. The headline reads, “His Best Customer”. World War One, as previously stated, was the world’s first glimpse of all-consuming war. In just two short years, 116,000 Americans died[1]. Given the Wilson administration’s antidemocratic Espionage and Sedition acts, most protest required an exceeding willingness to sacrifice, or an indirect critique of government policy[2]. Much of the antiwar movement centered around a pro-life sentiment. Death is the most inevitable truth of war, and it is what many people fear most. McCay, in this case, appealed to this fear in his cartoon. Political cartoons have long-served as a pithy, accessible form of protest against the government’s actions. McCay’s shows the fear-laden response to increasingly destructive warfare. Like the Women’s Peace March, many were concerned with the preservation of life rather than the triumph of American values and policy; like the Peace March, its message was lost on the government.

[1] GUELZO, ALLEN C. 2018. “The Great War’s Great Price.” National Review 70 (21): 30–34. http://envoy.dickinson.edu:2056/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=132556967&site=eds-live&scope=site.

[2] Thomas, William H.. Unsafe for Democracy : World War I and the U. S. Justice Department’s Covert Campaign to Suppress Dissent, University of Wisconsin Press, 2008. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/dickinson/detail.action?docID=3444892.

 

Antiwar Meeting Breakup

In the early 20th century, new labor newspapers were created at a profound rate. The Seattle Daily Call served as a watchdog on the government’s response to labor-related issues, but this 1917 release served as coverage of the government’s forcible dispersal of anti-war meetings. It includes a powerful political cartoon depicting a man labeled “capital” watching “American Autocrats” gagging the “radical press” and the “labor press”. The heading reads, “in order to bring democracy abroad, we must submit to tyrants at home”. Wartime often serves as a test for the government’s dedication to civil liberties, and World War One was no exception. The government passed the Espionage and Sedition Acts which tightly restricted freedom of speech[1]. The press was especially restrained in its ability to criticize government affairs. Many Americans favored neutrality because of economic ties to Germany, and did not wish to see American lives committed to a struggle they did not deem their own[2]. This source’s purpose is twofold. The event that occurred demonstrates that the government was more dedicated to pursuing its agenda than the protection of the First Amendment. In breaking up a demonstration of free speech and freedom of assembly, the government sent the message that civil liberties were not a priority in wartime. However, the Daily Call’s coverage of the events reminded its readers that the press is a powerful check on the government’s actions when its actions do not align with its values and legal foundation.

 

[1] Kazin, Michael. 2017. “The Americans Who Opposed The Great War: Who They Were, What They Believed.” Oregon Historical Quarterly 118 (2): 252–55.

[2] Kazin, “The Americans Who Opposed the Great War: Who They Were, What They Believed”, 252-55

Coverage of an antiwar meeting breakup calls the government’s dedication to the first amendment into question.

World War Two

Protesting The Effects of War on American Society

Japanese Internment was condemned by many major news sources

Created by the American Baptist Society in response to EO 9066, this pamphlet demanded that Japanese Americans be treated as equals on the grounds of their contribution the cultivation of democracy in America’s society and economy. World War Two was a battle against Fascism, Nazism, and the Holocaust – things that clearly did not align with American values. Japan’s assault on Pearl Harbor was the first direct attack on American soil in years, and significantly bolstered American citizen’s support for American involvement. As a result, there was very little incentive for an organized antiwar movement. America has a long history with institutional racism towards Asians, and Pearl Harbor, followed by American participation in World War Two brought these racial tensions to a

front. Executive Order 9066 authorized the Secretary of War to create military zones, paving the way for the internment of racial groups, especially Japanese Americans. This pamphlet is therefore a two-sided protest of war’s effect on the integrity of the United States and its so-called dedication to democratic values. Despite widespread support for participation in the war, and its contributions to ending the Great Depression, internment was profusely antidemocratic and raised concerns over the contradictory nature of securing democracy in Europe[1]. By bringing attention to the antidemocratic notions of Internment Camps, the creator’s message indirectly asked: why is the United States fighting for democracy abroad when it is imprisoning those who fight for it on its own soil? This source represents a common thread of antiwar dissent in that war protests bring attention to the fact that America has a history of talking the democratic talk, but not walking the democratic walk at home. Internment was a clear violation of the civil liberties that Japanese Americans had earned, calling into question the government’s value of protecting the liberties of its citizens.

[1] Shaffer, Robert. 1999. “Opposition to Internment: Defending Japanese American Rights During World War II.” Historian 61 (3): 597-618.

 

The Korean War

W.E.B. Du Bois’ A Plea and A Protest

In a circular letter published by the Council on African Affairs, W.E.B. du Bois makes a compelling argument that America’s involvement in the Korean War was driven by racial oppression and desired only by “hate preaching executives, trigger-happy generals, backed and encouraged by corporate wealth”. Du Bois finds it hypocritical that the U.S. government was seeking to secure freedoms abroad that had not been ensured for minorities at home. Further, he claims that requiring African-Americans to fight for Korean liberation was a façade for securing a familiar form of colonialism – duplicitous at best, and history repeating itself at its worst. After World War Two, the United States asserted itself as the World Power. Nonetheless, America found itself in the throes of the Cold War against communism. President Harry Truman’s foreign policy was driven by the Domino Effect: the fear that if one country fell to communism, the result would be a world driven by communism[1]. Domestically, fear of communism and the atomic bomb was rampant, but so was African-American’s fear of racially charged violence. Du Bois himself was arrested after he refused to identify himself as a communist[2]. This Du Bois circular looked to emphasize the connection between the plight of African Americans and America’s foreign policy. The release was a powerful reminder to Americans that their society consumed by fear was a society distracted from pressing domestic issues. Du Bois’ circular is effective in conveying that the Korean war was not a war driven by justice, rather by the ulterior motives of the powerful minority. The governmental minority, he found, had incorrectly prioritized waging war over facing racial inequality which consumed society. It also reminds its readers that regardless of its claim to fighting for democracy, the government was distracting the public with foreign affairs as opposed to securing equality and justice for its own citizens. W.E.B. Du Bois’ powerful dissenting letter served to confront racial inequality, check its government’s actions, and question the justice of the sacrifice that war required.  

[1] Merrill, Dennis. 2006. “The Truman Doctrine: Containing Communism and Modernity.” Presidential Studies Quarterly 36 (1): 27–37

[2] Foner, Eric. Give Me Liberty! An American History. 5th ed. Vol. 2. Seagull. New York: W.W. Norton and Company.

Vietnam War

Beyond Vietnam: MLK as a Voice of Reason

Despite a delayed announcement of opposition to American involvement in Vietnam, Preacher Martin Luther King Jr. delivered a powerful speech in 1967 describing his quarrels with the government’s actions. He questioned the logic of the government’s focus on a costly war abroad despite their lack of attention to poverty and racial inequality. As a Christian, King took issue with the inevitability of American soldiers’ deaths in the war. He asserted that the government’s willingness to sacrifice thousands of American lives for a questionable cause had become a byproduct of the government’s indifference toward holding itself accountable for its actions. Earlier in the 60’s, King had spearheaded peaceful protests against the federal government’s lacking responsiveness to calls for democracy and civil rights for African-Americans. He had observed the ugliest forms of race-based violence and seen the results of legal inequality under the façade of democracy. King saw that the American government was involving itself in a violent, destructive war for the same liberties and values that had not been fulfilled for minorities in the U.S. The Civil Rights Movement served as a necessary precursor to the antiwar movement’s constant indictment of government officials[1]. King had a huge following at this point. He was a powerful orator, and used his platform to create a powerful antiwar message. Like W.E.B. du Bois, Martin Luther King touched on the hypocritical notion of fighting for democracy abroad when it was not flourishing in the States. His speech demonstrates that war often served as a distraction from confronting domestic issues both for the government and its constituency. In line with many other sources, King’s speech confronts a multitude of issues with government, called out government official’s perceived amorality and questioned the conditional commitment to civil liberties from the government.

[1] Harrison, Benjamin T. “Roots of the Anti-Vietnam War Movement.” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism16, no. 2 (April 1993): 99-113

Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, I need not pause to say how very delighted I am to be here tonight, and how very delighted I am to see you expressing your concern about the issues that will be discussed tonight by turning out in such large numbers. I also want to say that I consider it a great honor to share this program with Dr. Bennett, Dr. Commager, and Rabbi Heschel, some of the most distinguished leaders and personalities of our nation. And of course it’s always good to come back to Riverside Church. Over the last eight years, I have had the privilege of preaching here almost every year in that period, and it’s always a rich and rewarding experience to come to this great church and this great pulpit.

I come to this great magnificent house of worship tonight because my conscience leaves me no other choice. I join you in this meeting because I am in deepest agreement with the aims and work of the organization that brought us together, Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam. The recent statements of your executive committee are the sentiments of my own heart, and I found myself in full accord when I read its opening lines: “A time comes when silence is betrayal.” That time has come for us in relation to Vietnam.

The truth of these words is beyond doubt, but the mission to which they call us is a most difficult one. Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover, when the issues at hand seem as perplexing as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict, we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty. But we must move on.

Some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak. And we must rejoice as well, for surely this is the first time in our nation’s history that a significant number of its religious leaders have chosen to move beyond the prophesying of smooth patriotism to the high grounds of a firm dissent based upon the mandates of conscience and the reading of history. Perhaps a new spirit is rising among us. If it is, let us trace its movement, and pray that our inner being may be sensitive to its guidance. For we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us.

Over the past two years, as I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart, as I have called for radical departures from the destruction of Vietnam, many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path. At the heart of their concerns, this query has often loomed large and loud: “Why are you speaking about the war, Dr. King? Why are you joining the voices of dissent?” “Peace and civil rights don’t mix,” they say. “Aren’t you hurting the cause of your people?” they ask. And when I hear them, though I often understand the source of their concern, I am nevertheless greatly saddened, for such questions mean that the inquirers have not really known me, my commitment, or my calling. Indeed, their questions suggest that they do not know the world in which they live. In the light of such tragic misunderstanding, I deem it of signal importance to state clearly, and I trust concisely, why I believe that the path from Dexter Avenue Baptist Church—the church in Montgomery, Alabama, where I began my pastorate—leads clearly to this sanctuary tonight.

I come to this platform tonight to make a passionate plea to my beloved nation. This speech is not addressed to Hanoi or to the National Liberation Front. It is not addressed to China or to Russia. Nor is it an attempt to overlook the ambiguity of the total situation and the need for a collective solution to the tragedy of Vietnam. Neither is it an attempt to make North Vietnam or the National Liberation Front paragons of virtue, nor to overlook the role they must play in the successful resolution of the problem. While they both may have justifiable reasons to be suspicious of the good faith of the United States, life and history give eloquent testimony to the fact that conflicts are never resolved without trustful give and take on both sides. Tonight, however, I wish not to speak with Hanoi and the National Liberation Front, but rather to my fellow Americans.

Since I am a preacher by calling, I suppose it is not surprising that I have seven major reasons for bringing Vietnam into the field of my moral vision. There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I and others have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor, both black and white, through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam, and I watched this program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything on a society gone mad on war. And I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic, destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.

Perhaps a more tragic recognition of reality took place when it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home. It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population. We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem. So we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. So we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would hardly live on the same block in Chicago. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.

My third reason moves to an even deeper level of awareness, for it grows out of my experience in the ghettos of the North over the last three years, especially the last three summers. As I have walked among the desperate, rejected, and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked, and rightly so, “What about Vietnam?” They asked if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.

For those who ask the question, “Aren’t you a civil rights leader?” and thereby mean to exclude me from the movement for peace, I have this further answer. In 1957, when a group of us formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, we chose as our motto: “To save the soul of America.” We were convinced that we could not limit our vision to certain rights for black people, but instead affirmed the conviction that America would never be free or saved from itself until the descendants of its slaves were loosed completely from the shackles they still wear. In a way we were agreeing with Langston Hughes, that black bard of Harlem, who had written earlier:

O, yes, I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Now it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war. If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read “Vietnam.” It can never be saved so long as it destroys the deepest hopes of men the world over. So it is that those of us who are yet determined that “America will be” are led down the path of protest and dissent, working for the health of our land.

As if the weight of such a commitment to the life and health of America were not enough, another burden of responsibility was placed upon me in 1954.* And I cannot forget that the Nobel Peace Prize was also a commission, a commission to work harder than I had ever worked before for the brotherhood of man. This is a calling that takes me beyond national allegiances.

But even if it were not present, I would yet have to live with the meaning of my commitment to the ministry of Jesus Christ. To me, the relationship of this ministry to the making of peace is so obvious that I sometimes marvel at those who ask me why I am speaking against the war. Could it be that they do not know that the Good News was meant for all men—for communist and capitalist, for their children and ours, for black and for white, for revolutionary and conservative? Have they forgotten that my ministry is in obedience to the one who loved his enemies so fully that he died for them? What then can I say to the Vietcong or to Castro or to Mao as a faithful minister of this one? Can I threaten them with death or must I not share with them my life?

Finally, as I try to explain for you and for myself the road that leads from Montgomery to this place, I would have offered all that was most valid if I simply said that I must be true to my conviction that I share with all men the calling to be a son of the living God. Beyond the calling of race or nation or creed is this vocation of sonship and brotherhood. Because I believe that the Father is deeply concerned, especially for His suffering and helpless and outcast children, I come tonight to speak for them. This I believe to be the privilege and the burden of all of us who deem ourselves bound by allegiances and loyalties which are broader and deeper than nationalism and which go beyond our nation’s self-defined goals and positions. We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation, for those it calls “enemy,” for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.

And as I ponder the madness of Vietnam and search within myself for ways to understand and respond in compassion, my mind goes constantly to the people of that peninsula. I speak now not of the soldiers of each side, not of the ideologies of the Liberation Front, not of the junta in Saigon, but simply of the people who have been living under the curse of war for almost three continuous decades now. I think of them, too, because it is clear to me that there will be no meaningful solution there until some attempt is made to know them and hear their broken cries.

They must see Americans as strange liberators. The Vietnamese people proclaimed their own independence in 1954—in 1945 rather—after a combined French and Japanese occupation and before the communist revolution in China. They were led by Ho Chi Minh. Even though they quoted the American Declaration of Independence in their own document of freedom, we refused to recognize them. Instead, we decided to support France in its reconquest of her former colony. Our government felt then that the Vietnamese people were not ready for independence, and we again fell victim to the deadly Western arrogance that has poisoned the international atmosphere for so long. With that tragic decision we rejected a revolutionary government seeking self-determination and a government that had been established not by China—for whom the Vietnamese have no great love—but by clearly indigenous forces that included some communists. For the peasants this new government meant real land reform, one of the most important needs in their lives.

For nine years following 1945 we denied the people of Vietnam the right of independence. For nine years we vigorously supported the French in their abortive effort to recolonize Vietnam. Before the end of the war we were meeting eighty percent of the French war costs. Even before the French were defeated at Dien Bien Phu, they began to despair of their reckless action, but we did not. We encouraged them with our huge financial and military supplies to continue the war even after they had lost the will. Soon we would be paying almost the full costs of this tragic attempt at recolonization.

After the French were defeated, it looked as if independence and land reform would come again through the Geneva Agreement. But instead there came the United States, determined that Ho should not unify the temporarily divided nation, and the peasants watched again as we supported one of the most vicious modern dictators, our chosen man, Premier Diem. The peasants watched and cringed and Diem ruthlessly rooted out all opposition, supported their extortionist landlords, and refused even to discuss reunification with the North. The peasants watched as all of this was presided over by United States influence and then by increasing numbers of United States troops who came to help quell the insurgency that Diem’s methods had aroused. When Diem was overthrown they may have been happy, but the long line of military dictators seemed to offer no real change, especially in terms of their need for land and peace.

The only change came from America as we increased our troop commitments in support of governments which were singularly corrupt, inept, and without popular support. All the while the people read our leaflets and received the regular promises of peace and democracy and land reform. Now they languish under our bombs and consider us, not their fellow Vietnamese, the real enemy. They move sadly and apathetically as we herd them off the land of their fathers into concentration camps where minimal social needs are rarely met. They know they must move on or be destroyed by our bombs.

So they go, primarily women and children and the aged. They watch as we poison their water, as we kill a million acres of their crops. They must weep as the bulldozers roar through their areas preparing to destroy the precious trees. They wander into the hospitals with at least twenty casualties from American firepower for one Vietcong-inflicted injury. So far we may have killed a million of them, mostly children. They wander into the towns and see thousands of the children, homeless, without clothes, running in packs on the streets like animals. They see the children degraded by our soldiers as they beg for food. They see the children selling their sisters to our soldiers, soliciting for their mothers.

What do the peasants think as we ally ourselves with the landlords and as we refuse to put any action into our many words concerning land reform? What do they think as we test out our latest weapons on them, just as the Germans tested out new medicine and new tortures in the concentration camps of Europe? Where are the roots of the independent Vietnam we claim to be building? Is it among these voiceless ones?

We have destroyed their two most cherished institutions: the family and the village. We have destroyed their land and their crops. We have cooperated in the crushing of the nation’s only noncommunist revolutionary political force, the unified Buddhist Church. We have supported the enemies of the peasants of Saigon. We have corrupted their women and children and killed their men.

Now there is little left to build on, save bitterness. Soon the only solid physical foundations remaining will be found at our military bases and in the concrete of the concentration camps we call “fortified hamlets.” The peasants may well wonder if we plan to build our new Vietnam on such grounds as these. Could we blame them for such thoughts? We must speak for them and raise the questions they cannot raise. These, too, are our brothers.

Perhaps a more difficult but no less necessary task is to speak for those who have been designated as our enemies. What of the National Liberation front, that strangely anonymous group we call “VC” or “communists”? What must they think of the United States of America when they realize that we permitted the repression and cruelty of Diem, which helped to bring them into being as a resistance group in the South? What do they think of our condoning the violence which led to their own taking up of arms? How can they believe in our integrity when now we speak of “aggression from the North” as if there was nothing more essential to the war? How can they trust us when now we charge them with violence after the murderous reign of Diem and charge them with violence while we pour every new weapon of death into their land? Surely we must understand their feelings, even if we do not condone their actions. Surely we must see that the men we supported pressed them to their violence. Surely we must see that our own computerized plans of destruction simply dwarf their greatest acts.

How do they judge us when our officials know that their membership is less than twenty-five percent communist, and yet insist on giving them the blanket name? What must they be thinking when they know that we are aware of their control of major sections of Vietnam, and yet we appear ready to allow national elections in which this highly organized political parallel government will not have a part? They ask how we can speak of free elections when the Saigon press is censored and controlled by the military junta. And they are surely right to wonder what kind of new government we plan to help form without them, the only real party in real touch with the peasants. They question our political goals and they deny the reality of a peace settlement from which they will be excluded. Their questions are frighteningly relevant. Is our nation planning to build on political myth again, and then shore it up upon the power of a new violence?

Here is the true meaning and value of compassion and nonviolence, when it helps us to see the enemy’s point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessment of ourselves. For from his view we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition.

So, too, with Hanoi. In the North, where our bombs now pummel the land, and our mines endanger the waterways, we are met by a deep but understandable mistrust. To speak for them is to explain this lack of confidence in Western worlds, and especially their distrust of American intentions now. In Hanoi are the men who led this nation to independence against the Japanese and the French, the men who sought membership in the French Commonwealth and were betrayed by the weakness of Paris and the willfulness of the colonial armies. It was they who led a second struggle against French domination at tremendous costs, and then were persuaded to give up the land they controlled between the thirteenth and seventeenth parallel as a temporary measure at Geneva. After 1954 they watched us conspire with Diem to prevent elections which could have surely brought Ho Chi Minh to power over a unified Vietnam, and they realized they had been betrayed again. When we ask why they do not leap to negotiate, these things must be considered.

Also, it must be clear that the leaders of Hanoi considered the presence of American troops in support of the Diem regime to have been the initial military breach of the Geneva Agreement concerning foreign troops. They remind us that they did not begin to send troops in large numbers and even supplies into the South until American forces had moved into the tens of thousands.

Hanoi remembers how our leaders refused to tell us the truth about the earlier North Vietnamese overtures for peace, how the president claimed that none existed when they had clearly been made. Ho Chi Minh has watched as America has spoken of peace and built up its forces, and now he has surely heard the increasing international rumors of American plans for an invasion of the north. He knows the bombing and shelling and mining we are doing are part of traditional pre-invasion strategy. Perhaps only his sense of humor and of irony can save him when he hears the most powerful nation of the world speaking of aggression as it drops thousands of bombs on a poor, weak nation more than eight hundred, or rather, eight thousand miles away from its shores.

At this point I should make it clear that while I have tried to give a voice to the voiceless in Vietnam and to understand the arguments of those who are called “enemy,” I am as deeply concerned about our own troops there as anything else. For it occurs to me that what we are submitting them to in Vietnam is not simply the brutalizing process that goes on in any war where armies face each other and seek to destroy. We are adding cynicism to the process of death, for they must know after a short period there that none of the things we claim to be fighting for are really involved. Before long they must know that their government has sent them into a struggle among Vietnamese, and the more sophisticated surely realize that we are on the side of the wealthy, and the secure, while we create a hell for the poor.

Surely this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroy, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor in America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home, and dealt death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as one who loves America, to the leaders of our own nation: The great initiative in this war is ours; the initiative to stop it must be ours.

This is the message of the great Buddhist leaders of Vietnam. Recently one of them wrote these words, and I quote:

Each day the war goes on the hatred increased in the hearts of the Vietnamese and in the hearts of those of humanitarian instinct. The Americans are forcing even their friends into becoming their enemies. It is curious that the Americans, who calculate so carefully on the possibilities of military victory, do not realize that in the process they are incurring deep psychological and political defeat. The image of America will never again be the image of revolution, freedom, and democracy, but the image of violence and militarism.

Unquote.

If we continue, there will be no doubt in my mind and in the mind of the world that we have no honorable intentions in Vietnam. If we do not stop our war against the people of Vietnam immediately, the world will be left with no other alternative than to see this as some horrible, clumsy, and deadly game we have decided to play. The world now demands a maturity of America that we may not be able to achieve. It demands that we admit we have been wrong from the beginning of our adventure in Vietnam, that we have been detrimental to the life of the Vietnamese people. The situation is one in which we must be ready to turn sharply from our present ways. In order to atone for our sins and errors in Vietnam, we should take the initiative in bringing a halt to this tragic war.

I would like to suggest five concrete things that our government should do to begin the long and difficult process of extricating ourselves from this nightmarish conflict:

Number one: End all bombing in North and South Vietnam.

Number two: Declare a unilateral cease-fire in the hope that such action will create the atmosphere for negotiation.

Three: Take immediate steps to prevent other battlegrounds in Southeast Asia by curtailing our military buildup in Thailand and our interference in Laos.

Four: Realistically accept the fact that the National Liberation Front has substantial support in South Vietnam and must thereby play a role in any meaningful negotiations and any future Vietnam government.

Five: Set a date that we will remove all foreign troops from Vietnam in accordance with the 1954 Geneva Agreement. [sustained applause]

Part of our ongoing [applause continues], part of our ongoing commitment might well express itself in an offer to grant asylum to any Vietnamese who fears for his life under a new regime which included the Liberation Front. Then we must make what reparations we can for the damage we have done. We must provide the medical aid that is badly needed, making it available in this country if necessary. Meanwhile [applause], meanwhile, we in the churches and synagogues have a continuing task while we urge our government to disengage itself from a disgraceful commitment. We must continue to raise our voices and our lives if our nation persists in its perverse ways in Vietnam. We must be prepared to match actions with words by seeking out every creative method of protest possible.

As we counsel young men concerning military service, we must clarify for them our nation’s role in Vietnam and challenge them with the alternative of conscientious objection. [sustained applause] I am pleased to say that this is a path now chosen by more than seventy students at my own alma mater, Morehouse College, and I recommend it to all who find the American course in Vietnam a dishonorable and unjust one. [applause] Moreover, I would encourage all ministers of draft age to give up their ministerial exemptions and seek status as conscientious objectors. [applause] These are the times for real choices and not false ones. We are at the moment when our lives must be placed on the line if our nation is to survive its own folly. Every man of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits his convictions, but we must all protest.

Now there is something seductively tempting about stopping there and sending us all off on what in some circles has become a popular crusade against the war in Vietnam. I say we must enter that struggle, but I wish to go on now to say something even more disturbing.

The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality [applause], and if we ignore this sobering reality, we will find ourselves organizing “clergy and laymen concerned” committees for the next generation. They will be concerned about Guatemala and Peru. They will be concerned about Thailand and Cambodia. They will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa. We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy. [sustained applause] So such thoughts take us beyond Vietnam, but not beyond our calling as sons of the living God.

In 1957 a sensitive American official overseas said that it seemed to him that our nation was on the wrong side of a world revolution. During the past ten years we have seen emerge a pattern of suppression which has now justified the presence of U.S. military advisors in Venezuela. This need to maintain social stability for our investments accounts for the counterrevolutionary action of American forces in Guatemala. It tells why American helicopters are being used against guerrillas in Cambodia and why American napalm and Green Beret forces have already been active against rebels in Peru.

It is with such activity that the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago he said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” [applause] Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments. I am convinced that if we are to get on to the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin [applause], we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see than an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. [applause]

A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, “This is not just.” It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, “This is not just.” The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.

A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, “This way of settling differences is not just.” This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death. [sustained applause]

America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing except a tragic death wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood.

This kind of positive revolution of values is our best defense against communism. [applause] War is not the answer. Communism will never be defeated by the use of atomic bombs or nuclear weapons. Let us not join those who shout war and, through their misguided passions, urge the United States to relinquish its participation in the United Nations. These are days which demand wise restraint and calm reasonableness. We must not engage in a negative anticommunism, but rather in a positive thrust for democracy [applause], realizing that our greatest defense against communism is to take offensive action in behalf of justice. We must with positive action seek to remove those conditions of poverty, insecurity, and injustice, which are the fertile soil in which the seed of communism grows and develops.

These are revolutionary times. All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression, and out of the wounds of a frail world, new systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before. The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light. We in the West must support these revolutions.

It is a sad fact that because of comfort, complacency, a morbid fear of communism, and our proneness to adjust to injustice, the Western nations that initiated so much of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world have now become the arch antirevolutionaries. This has driven many to feel that only Marxism has a revolutionary spirit. Therefore, communism is a judgment against our failure to make democracy real and follow through on the revolutions that we initiated. Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism. With this powerful commitment we shall boldly challenge the status quo and unjust mores, and thereby speed the day when “every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low [Audience:] (Yes); the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain.”

A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.

This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class, and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all mankind. This oft misunderstood, this oft misinterpreted concept, so readily dismissed by the Nietzsches of the world as a weak and cowardly force, has now become an absolute necessity for the survival of man. When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I’m not speaking of that force which is just emotional bosh. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality. This Hindu-Muslim-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the first epistle of Saint John: “Let us love one another (Yes), for love is God. (Yes) And every one that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love. . . . If we love one another, God dwelleth in us and his love is perfected in us.” Let us hope that this spirit will become the order of the day.

We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate. As Arnold Toynbee says: “Love is the ultimate force that makes for the saving choice of life and good against the damning choice of death and evil. Therefore the first hope in our inventory must be the hope that love is going to have the last word.” Unquote.

We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity. The tide in the affairs of men does not remain at flood—it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, “Too late.” There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. Omar Khayyam is right: “The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on.”

We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent coannihilation. We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world, a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.

Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful, struggle for a new world. This is the calling of the sons of God, and our brothers wait eagerly for our response. Shall we say the odds are too great? Shall we tell them the struggle is too hard? Will our message be that the forces of American life militate against their arrival as full men, and we send our deepest regrets? Or will there be another message—of longing, of hope, of solidarity with their yearnings, of commitment to their cause, whatever the cost? The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise, we must choose in this crucial moment of human history.

As that noble bard of yesterday, James Russell Lowell, eloquently stated:

Once to every man and nation comes a moment do decide,
In the strife of truth and Falsehood, for the good or evil side;
Some great cause, God’s new Messiah offering each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever ‘twixt that darkness and that light.
Though the cause of evil prosper, yet ‘tis truth alone is strong
Though her portions be the scaffold, and upon the throne be wrong
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.

And if we will only make the right choice, we will be able to transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of peace. If we will make the right choice, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our world into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. If we will but make the right choice, we will be able to speed up the day, all over America and all over the world, when justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream. [sustained applause]

The National Anthem, Revisited

In 1969, Jimi Hendrix took the stage at Woodstock and played the guitar like it had never been played before. His rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner mimicked the sounds of bombs, explosions, gunfire, and screaming. The only words he sang were, “and the flag was still there”. 1969 was a tumultuous year for America in Vietnam and at home. The Tet Offensive bolstered the antiwar movement, and Americans became increasingly aware of the profound injustice of the war. Richard Nixon brought a promising resolution with Vietnamization, but the truth that Americans were in Vietnam dying for a cause that was not their own, remained. During the Vietnam era, music had become a popular avenue of protest. Hendrix used his musical talents to protest what the National Anthem, and the flag itself, stood for. He found that behind the symbolism of the flag stood the ugly truth of American Exceptionalism gone too far. Hendrix found that the government used the flag, and democratic values, as justification for war, destruction, and terror. His performance’s significance is often lost outside the context of Vietnam: as a black man in 1969, he faced large-scale threats of violence because of his direct questioning of the integrity of the United States[1]. The dissent Hendrix put forth was widely accessible, as he was one of the most popular musicians of the time, and his performance effectively communicated that the ugly parts of American history should not be forgotten. Hendrix’s protest was also symbolic of a new  facet of antiwar protest: musicians had inserted themselves into political matters through their music. The violence Hendrix illustrated in his music showed that behind American values was an ugly path to achieve those values elsewhere. Long term, his protest against the Anthem lay the foundation for people like Colin Kaepernick to protest social injustices in America’s political sphere. Click on the header to view the video.

[1] Braunstein, Peter, and Michael William. Doyle. Imagine Nation: The American Counterculture of the 1960s and 70s. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis, 2013.

Veterans Protest at the Capitol

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This newspaper article from the New York Times covered a 1971 protest at the Capitol spearheaded by veterans. In this protest, the veterans symbolically threw the medals they had earned from their service in Vietnam at the Capitol, over a makeshift fence erected in anticipation of the march. Despite Nixon’s Vietnamization efforts, a growing number of Vietnam veterans found that they had engaged in a disrespectful loyalty to the government’s agenda. The truth remained that Americans were fighting and dying for a cause that was not their own. At home, Veterans faced disrespect from antiwar protestors while the Vietnam Veterans Against the War gained traction[1]. This protest shocked the American populous given the symbolism of war medals within the military. Antiwar dissent organized by veterans was extremely powerful because they were connected to the war in a way that most could only imagine. Many veterans returned home guilt-ridden and contributed to the antiwar movement, which indicated to the government that it was necessary to remove American forces from Vietnam[2]. For many, it was inspiring and compelling to see the same men who laid their lives on the line in a war display such profound disgust for the war and for them to reject the blood-stained symbols of honor and valiance that they had earned from the establishment. Like Hendrix’s National Anthem protest, veterans found success in protesting ideas and concepts that were symbolic to America’s status as a democracy. The rejection of the military by former military members was unique to the Vietnam era, and this notion was rejected in later antiwar protests.

[1] America in Protest. [Electronic Resource] : Records of Anti-Vietnam War Organizations, The Vietnam Veterans Against the War. 2010. Archives Unbound.

[2] Foner, Eric. Give Me Liberty! An American History. 5th ed. Vol. 2. Seagull. New York: W.W. Norton and Company.

 

Muhammad Ali’s Stance on Vietnam

In an interview which would contribute to the loss of his heavyweight title and a jail sentence, Muhammad Ali articulated his reasons for conscientiously objecting to the draft and the war itself. He justified his actions by saying that no Vietnamese has ever slurred at him, or oppressed, or lynched his racial group, or profiled him. Because the Vietnam draft exempted those enrolled in higher education, African Americans were drafted, and then died, in disproportionate numbers[1]. This garnered profuse criticism from many given the “inconsistency of fighting for freedom in South Vietnam at a time when African Americans were not yet free at home”[2]. Deep racial biases – which were reflected in the Vietnam war – still plagued American society at this time. Ali’s interview aligns with a common perspective on Vietnam from minority groups. For minorities, Vietnam represented the government’s perpetual apathy towards enforcing civil rights at home despite African-American’s far-reaching sacrifices to guaranteeing them overseas. The interview portrays the consistency of racial inequality in American history, and shows that antiwar protest often included calling the government out on its contradictory actions. Ali’s words were a direct result of the government’s continuous granting and defending civil liberties on a conditional basis and reflected the fact that many African Americans questioned the morality and logic of their contribution to the war effort.

[1] Jeffreys-Jones, Rhodri. “African Americans.” In Peace Now!: American Society and the Ending of the Vietnam War, 93-141. Yale University Press, 1999.

[2] Jeffreys-Jones, Rhodri. “African Americans.” In Peace Now!: American Society and the Ending of the Vietnam War, 93-141

The Gulf War

Gulf War Peace Marches

This newspaper article covers a march that occurred in January of 1991 in protest of American participation in the Gulf War. The article, and those interviewed, drew parallels to Vietnam’s peace movement, and noted that few government officials contributed to any of the marches nationwide. It highlights that unlike Vietnam, pro-troop sentiment was central to the march. Many Americans felt they could breathe a sigh of relief in 1991 as the Cold War came to a close. President George H.W. Bush was dedicated to building on Reagan’s reparation of the international image of America. America’s Gulf War began after Iraq’s Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait over an oil dispute. While many validated American involvement, others were plagued with the “Vietnam Syndrome” – aversion to American involvement in overseas conflicts. The latter group emphasized lacking transparency from the government,  which had been a concern since Vietnam. The protest that ensued after American forces began Operation Desert Storm showed a return to themes tapped in previous wars, and ignored during the Vietnam era – the marches demonstrated concern for preserving the lives of the troops whose lives were committed to the war[1]. Like the Women’s Peace March of 1917, the march drew on the mortality of humans to remind Americans that war is death. And, unlike the marches during the Vietnam era, a pro-troop sentiment was at the forefront of many peace marches during the Gulf War. Marches like these, however, did not reach the government, and the Gulf War ultimately laid the foundation for Bush’s son’s war in Iraq.

 

[1] Mirra, Carl. 2011. “The Mutation of the Vietnam Syndrome: Underreported Resistance during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.” Peace & Change36 (2): 262–84. doi:10.1111/j.1468-0130.2010.00691.x.

Laura Flanders Speech

At the same rally in 1991, Laura Flanders gave a speech demanding accurate media coverage of the antiwar demonstrations. Flanders was employed at a nonprofit which worked to hold the media accountable in the name of fair, representative, unbiased reporting. She argued that coverage of the war focused on military successes rather than the impacts of the war on non-Americans, and portrayed the antiwar movement as anti-troop. The Vietnam era was widely recognized as an era hostile towards troops, partly because the media portrayed the antiwar movement to be so[1]. The media carried this notion into the antiwar protests of the 90’s despite a lacking foundation for these claims. Reagan, Nixon, Bush, and Carter had all contributed to the resurgence of a society that supported its troops[2]. Despite this, many were eager to move past the culture of the Cold War, which included the impending fear of imminent warfare, which translated into the antiwar movement during the Gulf War. It is often said that actions speak louder than words. The power of the two combined, however, rises above their respective abilities to compel people into action. The Gulf War marked a shift in the attitude of antiwar protestors towards the army in that there was no longer hostility toward the armed forces. Flanders’ speech reminded its audience that the independent media in a democratic state should transcend the notion of American Exceptionalism and give its consumers the full scope of the impacts of war. Her words serve as an illustration of the growing number of minorities who participated in dissent, and the political sphere as a whole. Without diversity in perspective, the government is able to act in its own interests rather than the interests of American people, which is an unfortunate common trend in war. Flanders’ message effectively contributed to the rejection of idealistic reporting in future wars.

 

[1] Beamish, Thomas D., Harvey Molotch, and Richard Flacks. “Who Supports the Troops? Vietnam, the Gulf War, and the Making of Collective Memory.” Social Problems 42, no. 3 (1995): 344-60.

[2] Beamish, Thomas D., Harvey Molotch, and Richard Flacks. “Who Supports the Troops? Vietnam, the Gulf War, and the Making of Collective Memory.”  344-60.

 

 

Invasion and Involvement in Afghanistan

Special Order Remarks

Following the September 11 attacks, news quickly circulated that the Bush administration was seeking a declaration of war on Afghanistan. Georgia representative Cynthia McKinney released a statement asserting that war would reduce civil liberties and sacrifice American lives for an cause with no decisive plan. 9/11 brought widespread hysteria within the government and the greater American populous. Many of the proponents of war with Afghanistan were chicken hawks – people who had avoided military service yet advocated for war. The Bush administration did not outline a clear plan for the invasion, and planned to reduce or eradicate civil liberties for Americans they deemed dangerous. It was not lost on many that similar actions in other countries had garnered criticism from the Bush administration[1]. Nonetheless, large numbers of people saw the need to locate Osama Bin Laden and retaliate. McKinney’s remarks are unique in that Operation Enduring Freedom was widely popular with government representatives. Nonetheless, her comments about the reduction of civil liberties in wartime were applicable to every preceding American war and foreshadowed the Bush administration’s actions. McKinney’s dissent perpetuated the trend of clear hypocrisy within the government during wartime. Ultimately, people like McKinney decide the direction of the country, and the undertaking of war is a massive commitment. As a government official, McKinney’s act of dissent perpetuates the idea that civil liberties should be central to American lives, and war provides an opening to reduce them.

Mr. Speaker,

Our armed forces are poised to conduct military strikes in foreign lands. My own State of Georgia is contributing significantly to our overseas forces with troops being committed from the:

116th Bomb Wing from Robins Air Force Base in Warner Robins in Savannah

117th Air Control Squadron, from Hunter Army Airfield in Warner Robins

293rd MP Company from Fort Stewart in Augusta

224th Joint Communications Support Squad. Brunswick, GA

I have no doubt that men of the elite 75th Ranger Battalion from Fort Benning are currently, or will soon be, deploying overseas.

I pray for God’s intervention in ensuring the safe return of our many young men and women who are now being sent off to fight this war against terrorism. They face tremendous dangers and uncertain futures and their families will endure many long and sleepless nights waiting for their safe return. We must remember them all, including their families and loved ones, and acknowledge the great personal sacrifices they are going to have to make on our behalves in the coming days.

Mr. Speaker, our nation suffered a terrible injury last week with the attacks in New York, Washington DC and Pennsylvania. Many thousands of our innocent civilians were unjustly taken from their families and loved ones and we as a nation must now respond. We must find and hold accountable all those who perpetrated those most terrible crimes against our nation and its people. But just how we should do that and how should we respond to these attacks, both internationally and domestically, is now giving rise to considerable debate.

We have read and heard the Bush Administration’s call to arms to fight the first war of the 21st century. I understand that our nation’s full military resources are soon to be turned against, not just the terrorists responsible for last week’s attacks, but international terrorism generally. Our intelligence agencies have allegedly identified terror cells in some 60 countries and that, whether or not Afghanistan actually surrenders Osama Bin Laden, the alleged master mind of last weeks attacks, our military intends fighting a long and bitter worldwide campaign against international terrorism in many of those 60 countries. Or as Secretary of Defense Rumsfield announced this earlier this week, “We intend to drain the swamp”.

And now we hear calls from the Bush Administration asking, cajoling and even demanding additional wide ranging law enforcement powers and suspensions of fundamental civil liberties in order that our nation might better fight terrorism.

I understand a draft bill, which is the first of a far larger package of anti-terrorist legislation, is now circulating Capitol Hill and I am told it proposes giving law enforcement the power to detain non-US citizens for indefinite periods without charge, giving immigration authorities greater and accelerated powers to deport non-US citizens, and at the same time curtailing rights of non-US citizens to judicial review and appeal. Many of these reforms that the Bush Administration is now proposing are the very same types of state powers that we routinely criticize other nations for possessing in our State Department’s annual report on international human rights – prolonged and arbitrary detention, denial of access to legal counsel and limited judicial review of government decision making to name but a few.

I am greatly concerned that we are about to engage in an extremely hazardous military campaign of unknown duration, with unrealistic objectives and perhaps even ultimately harmful long-term consequences for our nation. Already there is growing disquiet in the Muslim world that the US is poised to turn its terrorist campaign into a war against Islam. The Bush Administration has already had to change the name of the military mission once when it used the term Crusade and they are now about to change it a second time because of the term Infinite Justice is still offensive to the world Muslim community. All these gaffes feed the growing Muslim fear that this impending US military action could become a broader campaign against them. Mr. Speaker, I know I don’t need to address the impending catastrophe should large sections of the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims unify and turn against the US.

I am also worried that by enacting the anti-terrorist legislation proposed by the Bush Administration we will be eroding long standing fundamental freedoms, many of which form the bed rock of our nation’s political and social justice systems. And more importantly, we still won’t know that by enacting this legislation if we will really have any positive impact on preventing or even reducing terrorist acts at all. It would be ironic indeed if we as a nation destroyed democracy in the name of saving democracy.

Surely, before we grant more powers and massive resources to our law enforcement, military and intelligence communities we should be examining why they didn’t detect the threat of these and other attacks. Especially, since we’re being told the attacks last week were sophisticated, involved many people over a considerable period of time and maybe even involved assistance from a foreign government. We knew, or should have known, that Bin Laden was capable of attacking our major cities. Just 7 months ago during the trial of suspects charged with the embassy bombings in Africa federal prosecutors detailed the Bin Laden network in open court. Details of Bin Laden’s business and financial history, his international terror network, as well as, his hatred for America were all systematically dissected by federal prosecutors. Given these revelations it was clear, or should have been clear, that our nation and its citizens were in grave danger from Bin Laden and his supporters.

I don’t understand how our intelligence services have the ability to penetrate, analyze and publicly distribute records of Bin Laden’s alleged cellular phone traffic in the hours immediately after the bombings and from these conversations we learnt of Bin Laden’s alleged celebrations with supporters. But in stark contrast these same US intelligence services appear to have heard nothing at all of Bin Laden’s planning and preparations of the attacks, or any of the other attacks that we attributed to him, in the months and years prior to September 11th.

I am deeply concerned at recent reports in the press of specific, credible and quite extraordinary warnings of terrorist attacks on our citizenry, which were ignored by our government. And Mr. Speaker, some of these warnings directly referred to the use of hijacked aircraft attacking the WTC. For example: –

The LA Times reported on 20 September, 2001 that MOSSAD, the Israeli Intelligence Service, had warned FBI and CIA officials that a major terrorist force of some 200 individuals was entering the US and planning a major assault on the United States. MOSSAD cautioned that it had picked indications that a major US target had been selected and that Americans would be very vulnerable.

The Advertiser Newspaper from the Murdoch Group reported on Monday 17th September, 2001 that a man in the Cayman Islands wrote to US authorities on August 29th and warned them that he had just overheard 3 Afghan men in a bar talking of impending attack on US targets. The CIA is said to have followed up the report on September 6th but apparently did not take it any further because of a shortage of staff. And then it’s also reported that a week later an Iranian in Hamburg, Germany contacted police and warned them of an impending terrorist attack against the United States using hijacked planes. Apparently, his warning specifically mentioned the World Trade Center. The same news paper report also speaks of FBI agents tracking some of the alleged terrorists at their flight schools in the US and that the CIA was told as long as 2 years ago that a suspicious group of Middle Eastern men were gathering in Florida.

But Mr. Speaker, NOTHING, and I repeat NOTHING was done with any of this extraordinary information. Mr. Speaker, it appears that possible that the tragic attacks on New York, Washington DC and Pennsylvania could have, or indeed should have, been prevented.

And tragically I am forced to say this doesn’t appear to be the first time our intelligence services have been caught flatfooted. Earlier this year Jamal Ahmed al-Fadl, a former aide to Osama Bin Laden, while testifying in New York against the four men accused of the US Embassy bombings in Africa, said that he told US officials that Bin Laden’s group was trying to make war on the United States and in particular would bomb a US embassy. Similarly, Prudence Bushnell, the US Ambassador in Nairobi, warned the State Department of the poor security of her embassy in Nairobi. Regrettably, and with tragic consequences, these warnings appeared to be ignored. Not surprisingly, our government now finds itself subject to civil actions by survivors and family representatives of those killed in the US Embassy bombings in Africa for failing to heed these warnings.

But whatever the state of our intelligence agencies precise knowledge of these attacks surely, given Bin Laden’s history of violence against our nation in recent years I would have thought that our law enforcement and intelligence agencies would have long had Bin Laden and his network under a microscope.

I don’t want to be unduly critical, but I do think the observation needs to be made at this time. Count up the combined assets of our nations law enforcement, military and intelligence agencies charged with fighting terrorism over the last 10-15 years and you have budgets worth billions and billions of dollars, space age technology that most nations only dream of and staffing levels made up of tens of thousands of men and women. And despite all these resources we’ve sustained terrible attacks upon our military bases, our embassies, our warships and now even our own cities. In my view this is not a problem of resources but rather a failure of implementation on a scale that shames us all. Indeed, I note that yesterday Senator Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee told CNN: “I think it was a debacle. It was a real massive failure…In my judgement too many bureaucratic failures, not enough coordination between the Agencies.”

But what frustrates me most is that no one in a position of leadership in our nation has yet sought to seriously ask why has our nation been attacked in this way. Why have our cities, our embassies and our military forces been systematically targeted by terrorist organizations. Why is it that our nation and its people are being attacked in these ways? Our politicians and political observers have for years been ready, willing and able to analyze and then discuss the complex reasons why groups such as the IRA waged war on England, why the Shining Path fought in Peru and why Red Brigade terrorized Italy. But now when it comes to our own recent exposures to terrorism all our national debate appears to be focused on the “how to respond to” question without ever really stopping to ask the “why did it happen” question. And unless and until we analyze why these attacks against us occurred then how can we realistically ever really hope to develop a coordinated course of actions that will ensure that they will never happen again.

People I have spoken to who have lived in cities under siege from terrorism, like London for example, tell me that increased law enforcement and military measures only go so far to combat terrorism. Indeed, they only seem to deal with the symptoms and not the root cause. These people have told me that ultimately, the long-term solution to terrorism is found in policy and not war, diplomacy not military subjugation. Secretary of State Colin Powell is absolutely right: Give diplomacy a chance.

We must honestly ask ourselves what is the root cause of this war being waged on our people and our country. I suspect that we will need to look at altering some of our foreign policy positions in some parts of the world. Unless we do this I fear that a military campaign, unsupported by sound foreign policy strategies, will only cause immeasurable civilian suffering throughout the world and may well actually lead to more terrifying attacks upon our cities and our citizenry.

I would ask our President to sidestep the rambos in the White House and The Pentagon who are reported to want to use nuclear weapons and free our Secretary of State to do his job.

Finally, I pray that common sense and reason will prevail.

[1] Acharya, Amitav. “State Sovereignty After 9/11: Disorganised Hypocrisy.” Political Studies 55 (2): 274–96

 

Anniversary March

Protest in Times Square on the 10th anniversary of the war in Afghanistan – New York, NY – Oct 7, 2011 (credit: Monica Miller / WCBS 880)

On the 10th anniversary of America’s invasion of Afghanistan, an antiwar rally was held in Times Square. This photo shows a woman holding a sign that says, “Imagine how the $1 trillion to kill people in Afghanistan and Iraq could have been used here: job creation, education, health care”. In May of 2011, Osama Bin Laden was located in Pakistan and killed. Bin Laden was one of the driving factors of the invasion, so after his death, questions of the war’s purpose rose to prominence once again. As American society distanced itself from the Bush administration, many came to see that the War on Terror had been a costly sham plagued by xenophobia and fear[1]. Many felt that the Bush administration’s goals had not been realized, and the resources had been misplaced, especially after the financial meltdown of 2008[2]. This sign represents a common trend in antiwar dissent history: in times of war, Americans often ask, why is tax money being used to kill rather than improve the quality of life for Americans? The brunt of the cost of war often falls on those who had no say in its inception. In a country presently plagued with issues that impact a great deal of the populous, antiwar protest serves as an opportunity to confront the impact of war on the government’s attitude towards rectifying injustices at home.

 

[1] Howell, Jude, and Jeremy Lind. 2010. “Securing the World and Challenging Civil Society: Before and after the ‘War on Terror.’” Development and Change 41 (2): 279–91

[2] Howell, Jude, and Jeremy Lind. “Securing the World and Challenging Civil Society: Before and after the ‘War on Terror.’”, 279–91

 

 

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