[This war will not end until there is a unified group of serious-minded individuals who will not allow the war continue.]
In the last post, I suggested that the real analogy between Vietnam and Afghanistan is that, in the end, neither really matters to us.
Vietnam was never a place of intrinsic significance to America. It mattered only as part of something else: the Cold War, perceived credibility around the world, domestic politics, Beltway politics, inter-service rivalries, etc. Because it had no objective reality to us, we could define it any way we wanted, use it in any way we chose, and when it no longer mattered, cast it away. Because we never really sought victory in Vietnam, endless other agendas dominated the conduct of the war and the manner of our departure.
Afghanistan is today no different. It matters only as part of something else, as we define such.
And now it is time to apply the same notion of equivalence to the anti-Vietnam movement back then and to the anti-Iraq/Afghanistan “peace movement” that has yet to materialize in any significant way. And this comparison is even uglier.
Vietnam, it is said, had a massive protest movement because there was a draft on. True. From which it follows, supposedly: Since there is no draft today, there is no motivation to protest the war. But let’s look a little closer at the Vietnam protest movement before addressing that.
American military strategy in Vietnam never envisioned or sought victory. In like measure, the “Movement” never really sought to end the war. One statistic tells the whole story. 26,800,000 men turned draft age during Vietnam. Of these, less than 3,500 went to prison for all draft-related offenses, including conscientious refusal to accept induction.
But what would have happened if tens of thousand of young men, especially the “Best and Brightest,” had said the following:
“This war is wrong. We’re going to end it. Here’s how. We’re not going to let you buy us off with student draft deferments, National Guard slots and the endless other dodges you’ve provided us in order to defuse middle-class opposition to the war. Instead, we’re going to turn in our II-S student deferments, demand accelerated induction and then refuse to take that one step forward at the induction ceremony.
“For every one of our brothers who comes home in a body bag, one or five or ten or twenty of us is going to prison.”
How long might the war have gone on with privileged young men, and others, going to prison by the thousands, or at least seriously challenging the government to take them away? Massive disobedience on such a scale can work in democracies.
Of course, it didn’t happen that way. What we got was a carnival superimposed upon a tragedy – a carnival of self-righteous excess that actually prolonged the war by making popular support for the war a way of opposing the peaceniks and hippies.
And, like the war itself, the Movement evanesced when it became . . . boring.
So why is there no serious anti-war movement today as President Obama, according to reports, plans to commit another 30,000 troops and lock in another trillion dollars or so. Lack of a draft is one reason, albeit a craven one: If I or my family is not involved, who cares? So is the fact that much of the political Left does not want to go too openly against President Obama, at least not before the next (and the one after that) election. Nor does much of the political Right, they who, despite their bellicosity, would love nothing better than to see Obama go the way of LBJ.
But a greater reason is that, a few sincere pacifists and others aside, the anti-war movement has never gotten over its carnival aspects. Code Pink provides a perfect example. Come express your creativity; engage in silly gestures; offend your fellow Americans. Feel good about yourself. Bask in the unearned self-esteem.
To borrow from World War I Poet Rupert Brooke: “Come protest with us. It’ll be great fun.”
Karl Rove’s worst nightmare was never Code Pink. It was ten million sober, dignified, modestly-attired, serious Americans all proclaiming, “This war is wrong and we want it ended. This is a people’s Army and we want it back.”
But this is no longer a serious country, inhabited by serious citizens. We are, instead, a people akin to the rich, self-obsessed Buchanans in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. “They were sloppy,” wrote Fitzgerald. “They left messes for others to clean up.”
So does America. But – Lord in Heaven – wouldn’t it be wonderful if enough of us, after all these decades of spin and stupefaction, woke up and got serious again? Serious about ourselves as citizens. And serious about each other.
So how to get serious? Perhaps by accepting that “My end of the boat ain’t sinking” is no longer a viable strategy for survival. And then go from there.