The United States of America has an unfortunate trend of fighting for democracy and freedom abroad without giving those same rights to its own people. When America becomes militarily involved, its democratic shortcomings are often highlighted on a world stage. The hypocrisy of America’s actions has resulted in the mobilization of millions of people. Some of these social movements were so successful that they were able to influence policy and legislation (Nielsen and Reynolds, 2011). One thing that is clear is, wars are breeding grounds for social movements because American people believe they should have the very rights they are dying for. Progressive changes amongst the ranks of the U.S. Military, such as desegregating troops or allowing women to serve, are therefore often catalysts for social change at home.
The exhibition starts with World War I and the women’s suffrage movement and concludes with the Iraq War and the push for LGBTQ+ equality. The exhibits go according to chronological order because many of the movements have overlapping similarities. Therefore making it difficult to group into structured subcategories.
Throughout this time period there have been incalculable social movements in the United States. Wars were catalysts for a lot of these movements for numerous reasons. Wars expose service members to a life of equality that could not be unseen once they returned to America. While serving as Switch Board operators and nurses during WWI, women witnessed equality for one of the first times in their life. When they returned home it was hard for women to forget the independence they had. This led many to seek jobs outside of their own homes, which led to a demand for economic independence and then social independence (Cobbs, 2017).
Sometimes wars are able to mobilize people out of fear. This is shown with the birth of the Religious Right. Most people think of the 1970’s as the start of the Religious Right due to the popularity of religious leaders such as Jerry Falwell or Billy Graham. However it was formed in the 1950’s in response to the fear of a communist takeover (Hatfield, 2013). Communism is inherently anti-religious and opposes any worship of a higher power. Therefore religious Americans wanted to help combat communism and joined the Republican Party since that was the party that was taking a hard stance against the U.S.S.R.
Other times it was because war exposed the undemocratic nature of American politics and led to a demand for equality. For example, women were able allowed to risk their life to serve in Europe during WWI, yet were still not to vote at home (Bryant, 2009). This angered women because the government was selectively picking when women could and could not be citizens. This occurred again in WW2 with black soldiers and again throughout the Vietnam War. Civil Rights leaders pointed out how unjust it was for black Americans to be forced to serve for a country that does not serve them (Lucks, 2014).
If a war is unpopular, such as the Vietnam War or the Iraq War, then it can lead to a lot of anti-war protests. As the platform for these protests grow, so do the amount of protesters. Thus creating a cycle where protesters and platforms are expanding and can be accredited to the original mobilization of anti-war protesters. This cycle is shown as Code Pink expanded from being an anti-war organization to and organization that advocates for reproductive rights, fair treatment of Muslim-Americans, and more (Mele, 2017).
All of these are reasons for why mobilization occurs. However they do not answer what amounts from the social movements. Mobilization during a war proves to be extremely affective. This is because America is often the self-proclaimed model democracy. This proclamation is hard to defend when there are protesters in front of the White House demanding freedom and democracy for themselves. Thus the U.S. government is more inclined to pass policy that gives equality to people so that it seems more unified and democratic while on a world stage.
Wars are also means of mobilization by nature. During periods of war there is a demand of industrial output unlike at any other time and there is less digression of who works these jobs. This is seen in allowing women to join the industrial workforce during WWI and WWII when there was a vacancy of workers. Black Americans also were able to work industrial jobs, which were previously declared white-only, and led to the second great migration. 700,000 black workers migrated north for these new jobs; escaping from the perpetual cycle of poverty they faced farming in the south (Foner, 2017).
Lastly, mobilization that arose during times of war during the 1960’s led to a lot of progressive policy being passed in the 1960’s-70’s. Protests against the draft and the Vietnam War itself led to the U.S. Government abandoning the draft and lowering the voting age to eighteen in 1971 (Cornell Law School, 2019). Protests that intertwined the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement helped mobilize more people, and forced the government to address the civil rights issue in America. The result of this was legislation, such as the Voting Rights Amendment or the Civil Rights Act, that ended segregation and allowed people of color to vote unhindered (Lucks, 2014).
Even today, wars help expedite change in American society. This is shown in the legalization of same sex marriage just four years after “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” was repealed (Bumiller, 2011). Thus it can be concluded that social change in the military can, and still does, dictate mobilization and change stateside.