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Where Did the Antiwar Movement Go?


Where Did the Antiwar Movement Go?

Tom Engelhardt

Let me tell you a story about a moment in my life I’m not likely to forget even if, with the passage of years, so much around it has grown fuzzy. It involves a broken-down TV, movies from my childhood, and a war that only seemed to come closer as time passed.


Where did the anti-war movement go?

It went away with the draft.


Bingo! We weren't war protestors for the most part, we were draft protestors. We didn't want to go. Period. I didn't. The pentagon got the message. I am glad of that. Right now, the Mideast endless war - not my problem, dude. The professionals in the military are all volunteers getting what they have asked for, so why should I interfere with their dreams? Sure I would rather have those tax dollars back in my pocket so I could buy more booze and weed and stuff, but I know that's not gonna happen. If the wars end, the boys and girls in DC will just find some other noble cause to spend my money on. I will never see a dime of the savings from ravaging the military, but the politicos who then see my money now going to their favorite causes will assure me that now the money is being spent wisely in the pursuit of justice and fairness for all and I should be grateful. Sure. So, yes, we are quite apathetic. Or is it pathetic? Or both....


We can all take a tip from the Buddhist teaching and beware of the stories we tell ourselves. This is one such story, and I can think of none any more dangerous: "In the badlands and backlands of the planet, however, the spectacle of slaughter never ends, even if the only Americans watching are sometimes unnerved drone video analysts. Could there be a sadder tale of a demobilized citizenry than that?" That is a conclusion one may reach watching too much lamestream television, and paying too little attention to one's own neighbors.

My neighbors are not likely to read that story, and certainly not here, though I have invited them to read here many times. They prefer their own stories.

And for good reason. That story doesn't speak to them, and neither do most of the stories here. We can all create our own versions of the gloom-and-doom scenarios playing our before our very eyes, more so anywhere but on television.

That is another story. If you want to hear it, and if you want to help create it, listen to your neighbors. They may surprise you with their story-telling finesse.

With some exceptions, mi neighbors watch very little television, and mostly prefer the company of one another.


The anti war movement did not stop the Viet Nam war. The American forces were sent, unceremoniously, packing.


Just as we stay clear of a mortally wounded animal, we stay clear of a disinter grating Empire in it's death throes. We watch it die...why should one protest that?


Hardly! you old hippies must be really out of touch - oh well, you been all sold-out since 1972 anyway.

Where were you on February 15, 2003, or March 20, 2003, or in DC on September 24-25, 2005? or at the numerous other anti-war protests between 2001 and 2007? My city, Pittsburgh, had its largest antiwar protest ever - in spite of a driving snowstorm, on January 25, 2003.

No, what ended the anti war movement was that its organizers (possible exception being ANSWER) ultimately proved to be Democrat Obamabots and with the election of Obama they totally closed-shop. "United for Peace and Justice" was most disgusting with this regard - refusing to organize as much as a tea party even as Obama was continuing every one of Bush's atrocities. God damn them!


A renewed draft would instantly resurrect the antiwar movement.

With social media, and outraged parents aplenty, the hordes would rightfully descend upon DC again. There would be political upheaval in the United States. Genuinely leftist, genuinely antiwar candidates would emerge, challenging not only the war(s), but the domination of American culture by the MIC and the One Percent. The bloody, involuntary sacrifice of middle-class kids on the altar of Neocon madness would not be tolerated.

The One Percent and their meatpuppets in DC are well aware of this. Therefore, there will be no draft in America.


Yes, the US military got its nose bloodied in Viet Nam. But the anti-war movement did have an effect on the political establishment and though most of those subject to the draft were protesting the draft, there was just enough questioning of the morality of US foreign policy to help turn the tide against continuing there. Believing, in '71, that I was going to be drafted, I joined instead (my life was going nowhere at the time.) I was very certain, reading the mood of the country, that I would never have to go into combat and have to kill someone or have someone try to kill me. So it played out, but I could have been wrong. Reckless youth.

I was marching in DC on that cold winter day before we illegally invaded Iraq, and we there, as well as other millions worldwide witnessed that no matter how large a crowd we could amass, that the msm could very well ignore us, and the fitful slumber of our countrymen would not be disturbed.


As long as there is a professional army, there will be wars of choice, I've quoted Senator Fulbright upteen times on these pages. Bring back the draft, again, the only legitimate army is a citizen army.

'There seems to be a lack of concern among too many people about the state of the nation, and a too easy acceptance of policies and actions of a kind that a generation ago would have appalled the citizenry. The apparent broad acceptance of the "volunteer army" idea comes to mind- a concept completely at variance with our historic development. Up to now, a blessing of our system has been that those who go into the military service, whether by enlistment or through the draft, could hardly wait to get out. But today, because of the exigencies of the times, there is a chance that we may turn our back on this fundamental principle: a large, standing professional army has no place in this Republic." ... The Pentagon Propaganda Machine.


I find your post somewhat opaque. At first you suggest Engelhardt is spinning a fictional tale in describing U.S. drone pilots witnessing murders that most U.S. citizens are unaware of and seem not to care about, a fiction that you confusingly attribute to "watching too much lame stream television," as if mass media TV is commonly reporting on or telling tales about U.S. drone pilots doing such witnessing. In the rest of your post, you suggest that we can create our own reality by tuning out of "doom and gloom" stories, such as the ones about U.S. drone pilots witnessing murder by U.S. drones (which has actually happened, by the way, if we are to believe testimony by some of these pilots and corroborating video), and instead turn our attention to "the company of one another."

We do need to be wary of the stories we tell ourselves, stories of any stripe. We even need to question what we hear and see directly, as actually everything we experience is almost always filtered through the very complex, often self-centered mesh and wonder of our minds. But we also have a responsibility to act for the benefit of others and ourselves, to engage with compassion, love, openness, and sometimes this means speaking up for peace, justice, equality, health, and sane public policy. When there is great evidence of harm--such as the harm done by U.S. drone strikes around the world, both to the immediate victims and to the prospects for world de-escalation of wars and for world peace--then stories about this harm need to be told and heard if they are generally not told and heard, particularly in the land responsible for perpetrating such gloomy and doomy events.

We don't end doom and gloom by ignoring it--Buddhism does not teach this. We end doom and gloom by investigating it, by uncovering how it is created, seeing that it need not be this way, and then by seeing there is a way, ways to be free of the doom and gloom created by ourselves and by everything in our world. We then must engage these ways, practice these ways to free ourselves and others of the doom and gloom.

They say in Buddhism that the path to freedom and true peace and understanding is not easy, but it is far easier than the alternative.


The msm ignored us, but I'm not sure those massive marches and the disruptive civil disobedience (in the SF financial district, for example, when the bombs started dropping) had no effect. Were they included in government calculations about how much they could get away with without pushing the country into unmanageable rebellion, that is, did they convince some in the establishment not to institute a draft, and so not to go quite as big as they'd wanted? Did they keep alive a sense in the U.S. that people have a right or duty to protest the "terror" wars, to protest and act in ways that may eventually have a greater impact? We cannot know, but I don't think any efforts for peace are pointless, even if just in that they keep alive an awareness that it is not okay to accept this militarism.


We're all wearin' stupid ass ball caps and writing obvious, time wasting trivialities.


I agree, and haven't given up hope entirely. To do nothing, is, well, to do nothing.

btw: just recently travelled to SF for the first time. I am not a city person, a truly provincial country bumkin (got easily hustled out of $20 there) and was glad of the chance to visit there before I pass. Think I must have co-mingled with every nationality on this planet and heard about every human language spoken there. Very humbling. The "sanctuary city" concept showed in the number of homeless living in the streets; though this shows a sense of compassion, it hardly solves the problem. The problem though has many roots.

The letter to the Ed of my local paper which I posted here recently was verified by the paper yesterday. It is not much, but NO-ONE else in this locale is even questioning the anti-Iran hysteria or remembering the load of outright bullshit that cowed most Americans into silence while our government began the widespread destruction of the greater Middle East.


The anti-war movement did indeed end the war or have you not noticed that we are still in Iraq and the middle east? What the antiwar movement did was to force the generals to say it is over. That they did not want to do. Compare Vietnam with Korea. Why the different end result? The Vietnamese fought against incredible odds as the horrendous death toll shows - between 2 and 3 million people vs 58,000 American troops. However America did not have to stop the war because of economics nor a shortage of material nor even a shortage of troops (with the draft). What was in short supply in America was support for the war. America had lost the support for its own war and faced a permanent antiwar mentality rising to acceptance in the public's mind. America continued to make war movies but found that they now needed an antiwar sentiment to be popular now. America still made toy soldiers but the no toy guns movement was taking hold. The military wasn't so popular in general.

Things weren't the same for the American war machine like they had been after the WW2. Korea shook up the complacency towards war and Vietnam took away the certainty of success. The draft was eroding the military and deserters were big news and not all that uncommon as many will remember. The American military leadership and civilian leadership of the military said we have to stop or else the public will demand that we disarm! So we stopped and concentrated on using the Russians and Chinese as an excuse to keep our military at wartime levels.

From then on, the Military Industrial Complex was even more intent on infiltrating our way of life almost as if we were an enemy target. The concept of demilitarization (a real thing after Vietnam... the non existent peace dividend) made them subvert our institutions and the revolving door became typical. The end result of their efforts was the permanent full strength military that hadn't existed before WW2 but had continued to exist after it and continues to this day.

Most Americans can't even conceive of not always having a gigantic military ready to fight TWO wars at the same time... not just one ... two. Before Pearl Harbor, we didn't have that gigantic drain on our economy. Now we are like addicts with a crushing habit that drains our life away to feed it.

The antiwar movement did stop the war and the draft btw. To preserve the military, the government had no choice but to end the draft because the antiwar movement had radicalized the public against the draft and by extension, making the military unpopular. Once the draft was gone and the pressure was off, it took only a few years to formalize the new militarized economy and make it permanent.

The antiwar movement did stop the Vietnam war but didn't stop militarization. So we could have kept right on bombing and defoliating and napalming and watched it all on TV at night... we could have but not with the antiwar movement causing a ruckus like it did. That was how the antiwar movement ended the war... in case you haven't noticed... we left Vietnam. We stopped bombing.

Does the phrase 'endless war' or 'forever war' in the middle east ring a bell? The antiwar movement prevented a continual 'forever war' scenario in South East Asia.

So yeah... the antiwar movement stopped the war. America would rather pay mercenaries twice and three times what it pays enlisted men than deal with antiwar sentiment again. Much of the middle east war (all the rest besides the actual troops) is mercenary and privatized. You almost have to wonder whose war is this that we pay for but have no say in.

Mercenaries? Privatized war making corporations? Oligarchy in your future?


"In other words, amid all the military failures of this era, there was a single hardly mentioned but striking victory: no antiwar movement of any significance proved to have staying power in this country. Osama bin Laden can, at least in part, be thanked for that. The 9/11 attacks, the shock of the apocalyptic-looking collapse of those towers in New York, and the loss of almost 3,000 innocent civilians inoculated America’s second Afghan War -- launched in October 2001 and still ongoing -- against serious protest."

The mythology that just keeps on keeping on.

No, this is not a personal attack on this author, but it is such a tragedy and such an irony that such State propaganda is repeated in such a context. The lynchpin of the whole bloody mess is what was likely a false flag attack.

Pardon the truther in me. Almost 14 years later and hardly a serious question has been asked by the Fourth Estate which proves the absolute efficacy of the shock and awe of that seminal event. Instead, the Fourth Estate can be counted on left, right, and center to repeat the utterly absurd narrative time and time again.

Every single war post 9/11 has been "justified" by the architects of those wars, as being a response to the events of 9/11. Empire coming home with a vengeance (NSA wiretapping, the Patriot Act, NDAA, militarization of police depts) has all been "justified" by pointing to 9/11.

Yet, all of these years later the carnage continues overseas all wrapped up in some iteration of 9/11 packaging.

To grasp the magnitude of crimes against humanity that have occurred post 9/11, one must at least consider the possibility that the official narrative might not be true to begin with, and it doesn't take much digging to soon discover the vastness of the landscape that constitutes unanswered questions 14 years hence!

The answering of those questions is an absolute necessity for a fully conscious anti-war movement. And no I didn't just assert that there be no anti-war movement that exists apart from that reckoning.


you use the media to make heros of soldiers, crash the economy to destroy the job market, contract for services out side the military$$$$$$' stop all live footage of war by embedding, hide the destruction from the people hide the real costs, run the war from beyond range and get main street to fight over gays, abortions, race etc.


So, you think, once the US forces were run out of town, we would have bombed Saigon had the anti war movement not stopped them? Unlikely. Bomb and defoliate? To what end? We love to think our actions had some effect on the outcome. Vietnam was overrun by Vietnamese. It was multi generational struggle against the Japanese, French and Americans. An heroic struggle, I might add. (I swam in 1000lb bomb craters in D zone.)


A great article by Mr Engelhardt, replete with moral insight and keen social analysis. The implications of Mr Engelhardt's thesis are appalling: if the American populace is unwilling or unable to restrain the monstrous appetite of the Empire for war and more war, then, who, on this benighted suffering planet, will step up to the task with an equal chance of success? Iraqis, Iranians, Afghans, etc, etc cannot prevail against the American behemoth. It's true that the US military hardly "wins" any of its numerous wars. The Pentagon can ravish and wreck just about any country on earth, but it lacks the intelligence, humanity and moral character to set up a political structure that will allow it to rule. Notice that even Afghanistan, one of the poorest countries in the world, has been able to resist American hegemony. Like all Empires, the American Empire is a corrupt and violent project that must one day come to an end, for the good of humanity.

The American populace is a complex phenomenon. Apathy, fear, indifference, callousness are some parts of the story explaining the extinction of the anti war movement. One should also take note of state repression, left defeatism (and realism!), and the general hopelessness that pervades American society. The absence of the draft is a significant factor. But so, too, is the Nazification of perhaps as many as a quarter of the American populace. Flags are everywhere, as are mindless injunctions to "support the troops," no matter what mayhem they are committing in unoffending countries thousands of miles away. Support the troops hardly means more social benefits for veterans; it essentially means support the brutality and murderousness of the American government, as it devastates whole countries in the name of corporate, capitalist rule.

The American populace has a special moral responsibility to confront the crimes of the American government. It may well be that 100 million ordinary Americans are the last best hope for humanity. If we leave the world to the Pentagon, those soulless, vicious bastards will surely destroy the world sooner or later....


I do indeed think that the war would have continued with troops on the ground and failing that with a continuation of the bombing and support for the South Vietnamese government.

Yes we would have reformed (either through assassination or subversion or whatever it took) and removed the South Vietnamese corrupt government and installed another corrupt government in its place. Yes we would have reorganized the South's forces yet again. Yes we would have ignored every sign that told us we should leave rather than appear to lose the war.

What you see now in the middle east is an example. War by proxy. No matter how corrupt the forces we employ as our proxies, we continue our presence in country.

But we couldn't do that back then because the draft kept the American people's attention focused on ending the war. The draft involved people in the war. They weren't able to tune it out or change the channel. Graduate high school young man, register for the draft!

None of that happens now. An all volunteer army allows for an uncommitted population or rather a population that is not focused on the war or how the war is progressing. That couldn't happen during the Vietnam War days. Everybody... every family with a draft age son, brother, boyfriend or husband stayed focused on what was happening.

That lack of support made progressing with the war difficult. Otherwise the generals would have pulled back, regrouped, fortified (siege mentality) the south better and bombed till kingdom come.

Except the antiwar movement wanted the bombing stopped. There was the difference.