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The Antiwar Movement Then and Now

Date: Jan. 31, 2003
Contact: Mary Bridget Reilly
Phone: 513-556-1824

January has already seen large marches in Washington D.C., representing the largest anti-war demonstrations since the Vietnam War era.

On Jan. 29, the day after President Bush's State of the Union address, the anti-war organizations promise even more demonstrations in cities across the nation. For those who remember the marches of the 1960s and '70s, the peace demonstrations seem familiar, and this week's University of Cincinnati e-briefing compares today's anti-war movement to that of the Vietnam era as well as those of previous periods in American history.

More anti-war protests are promised in February when International ANSWER, the same organization that spearheaded the Jan. 18 marches in the nation's capital, plans another week of anti-war protest beginning Feb. 13 and culminating with a Student and Youth Day of Action on the anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X on Feb. 21. The same group also has joined a call by the European anti-war movement to make Feb. 15 another step in the worldwide anti-war movement.

Table of contents:

1. A history of troubled waters

A. An inheritance of scepticism
B. Beating out the mid-60s
C. As we go marching on
D. Old traditions, new-ish field of study

2. Protest in the info age

A. Web-bing up the opposition
B. 1960S still an influence
C. An eye out for trouble

3. Where have all the students gone?

A. The disappearing generation gap
B. Tone a-changin' without the draft
C. Learning from the frustrations of Vietnam

4. Some anti-war Web sites


University of Cincinnati Professor Emeritus of History Herbert Shapiro marched with students in protests against the Vietnam War as a young faculty member at UC. Today he believes the anti-war movement has drawn from the experience of the earlier war and people are therefore more skeptical about what the U.S. government says about international affairs. He also finds that the current demonstrations have organized earlier with bigger crowds in advance of the war, rather than years after the conflict began like the Vietnam War. "The opposition on campuses was relatively small at first," he said of the Vietnam War. "It wasn't until later that it grew."
Contact: 513-861-4641

Today's anti-war demonstrations have started off bigger and sooner than those associated with the Vietnam War, agrees Jeff Kimball, professor of history at Miami University of Ohio and author of "Nixon's Vietnam War." Kimball participated in Vietnam War protests as a young faculty member. He notes the earliest small demonstrations against Vietnam occurred in 1963, well after U.S. intervention had begun. By 1965 they had grown into country-wide "teach-ins" and larger street demonstrations of 25,000. Those protests were considered enormous at the time, he said, but were dwarfed by the 100,000-plus demonstrations during subsequent years of the Vietnam War. Today's protests against war with Iraq have already drawn crowds of more than 100,000 on two occasions to Washington D.C. (in January 2003 and fall 2002).
Contact: 513-529-5125

Jeff Kimball, professor of history at Miami University of Ohio and author of "Nixon's Vietnam War" and "Nixon's Nuclear Ploy," argues that opposition and protest is part and parcel of U.S. history. "The whole history of the nation is written in protest and reform: from the Revolution to the abolitionist movement, to the women's suffrage movement and the civil rights movement. Like the anti-war movement, these were all grassroots movements speech and motivated by American ideals." Throughout U.S. history - not just during Vietnam and today - Americans have exercised the right to voice opposition to "unwise, unjustified military action and reforms in America society."

"The Quasi war with France, a naval conflict in the Caribbean from 1798 to 1800, was opposed by Jefferson's Democratic-Republican Party, while President John Adams tried to characterize and repress their opposition as disloyal and unpatriotic. A large number of New Englanders opposed the War of 1812. In the war with Mexico of 1846-48, the Whig Party and prominent Americans such as Abraham Lincoln and Henry David Thoreau protested the war." Among the numerous protests during the 20th century, the anti-nuclear movement of the 1980s "was probably the largest grassroots movement in the history of the world."
Contact: 513-529-5125

Irwin Abrams, a pioneer in the discipline of peace history and himself a conscientious objector in World War II, notes that the United States has a tradition of "critical thinking" about war policy before entering a war that goes back to George Washington's caution against "foreign entanglements." Abrams, an Antioch University Distinguished University Professor Emeritus of History, notes that the tradition also includes tolerance for the debate prior to entering an actual war but less tolerance once the war begins. "On the whole, however, I think our country, compared to other countries, has a pretty good record in terms of tolerating opposition," said Abrams. Prior to Abrams' Harvard doctoral thesis on peace movements in Europe, completed in 1938, there weren't many scholars who looked at the topic of peace history. The field became more organized during the Vietnam War with the founding of the Peace History Society by scholars.
Contact: 937-767-5771


A. WEB-BING UP THE OPPOSTION John Delicath, University of Cincinnati assistant professor of communication who specializes in social movements, says there are three basic differences between the anti-war protesters of today and Vietnam:

  • Drawing on and learning a lesson from Vietnam, this movement is really a peace movement. "Organizations and individuals have mobilized to prevent a war before armed conflict has started."

  • The social demographic makeup. "I think it's more diverse racially, economically, ethnically and in terms of age. I think this peace movement is generally older, consisting of people in their 30s and older."

  • Organizing through the Internet and the Web is obviously having an impact. "Their ability to get a large number of people together in a short amount of time has been impressive." The Internet has been valuable in organizing and making announcements, and planning for trips to mobilize people. For example, the Jan. 18 Washington DC protest was expected to have one busload from Cincinnati but with the help of the Internet there were three and lots of car pools, he said.

  • In addition to the Internet's impact on both the dissemination of information by e-mail and the creation of anti-war sites, there has been a growing influence from an 'AlterNet' - the independent media on the Internet who give voice to the demonstrations and the anti-war activities. "I don't know if the anti-war war movement would be as big as it is without the Internet's independent media," Delicath said.
    Contact: 513-556-4442

    Richard Duncan, a 30-something volunteer with International ANSWER and a New York resident, points out that today's anti-war activists have been influenced by the Vietnam War. People are more questioning of the government now. "It really took some 10 years before" there was mass opposition to the Vietnam War, he says. "With this one, I don't want to say the war hasn't started yet because there is bombing in Iraq on a weekly basis. But we've already had a half million people demonstrating in Washington D.C."

    Duncan also points out that the Internet has been a major help, but stresses that the anti-war movement requires old-fashioned grassroots tactics. "There is still a lot of beating the pavement, a still a lot of photocopying, still a lot of phone calls, still a lot of grass roots meetings at churches," he says.
    Contact: 212-633-6646

    Howard Tolley, a University of Cincinnati professor of political science, remembers the experience of having his car's license plate photographed when he participated in civil rights protests in Alabama in the 1960s. He hasn't forgotten how that made him feel as the current cycle of anti-war protests have sprung up. "The parallel between now and then is a palpable fear of the government," he says. "I would feel a hesitation today about taking an international visitor to a peace march. I would worry that they may become a target for suspicion by our government or end up on a 'watch list.' It creates a chill on free speech."

    Tolley's deepest concerns are with balancing measures that impinge on the Bill of Rights with necessary safeguards in light of terrorism. He is watching closely developments like the USA Patriot Act passed by Congress after 9/11, which authorized broad new governmental powers. "I'm also alarmed by terrorism," he says. "I've been a passenger on a plane and reported someone acting suspiciously to the flight attendant. The key is we have to find the right balance."
    Contact: 513-556-3316


    Daisy Quarm, a University of Cincinnati sociologist who protested the Vietnam War as a college student at Mount Holyoke College, recently joined in a brief demonstration near the UC campus to oppose a war against Iraq. Now 54 and an associate professor, she notes that the anti-war opposition seems to involve a greater number and much broader array of religious groups. She also notes that the ages represented among the protesters seem to be a bit older. "I don't know that youth are less involved this time. I just think the middle-aged and older people are more involved this time," she says. She also notes that members of her generation, who are now parents, may prove to be more understanding about their children's opposition to armed conflict.
    Contact: 513-556-4704

    University of Cincinnati sociologist Rhys Williams, an expert on politics and sociology, suggests that without the military draft, the current anti-war movement seems to be much more widely distributed across age groups and the population. "Because of the small standing army, the issue affects more reservists, and therefore it affects more people more deeply into the community," he says. Williams has seen outdoor signs saying "Grandmothers for Peace" in a front yard in Louisville, Ky. and in Grand Rapids, Mich., a sign outside a Catholic church saying, "Pray for Peace."

    "I have been struck by how dispersed some of the anti-war sentiment seems to be. The Vietnam War activism was very much centered on college campuses - it was the heartbeat because it was young people who were drafted. I don't want to say that young people are not involved this time. But it is not a student-led movement this time. There are lots of other groups involved." Williams also adds that President Bush faces a significant dilemma because at least some of these peace advocates are members of his electoral base.
    Contact: 513-556-4717

    Frustration over the drawn-out Vietnam War was not only felt at home, but also in combat. That was because of the micro-management of the war from Washington by President Lyndon Johnson and Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, according to George F. Hofmann, a University of Cincinnati military historian and author. "McNamara was a quantitative analyst and everything had to be quantified." Hofmann adds that although the current conflict is also being "hashed out in Washington," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld "is a micromanager, but not in the sense of McNamara. Rumsfeld is trying to change the military pretty quickly, and in doing so, he has gone against the grain of military tradition."
    Contact: 513-347-9529


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