Where are the protests about the war?
The war in Iraq is as unpopular today as the Vietnam War was at its height -- yet there are no mass demonstrations on America's streets. Can an antiwar movement confined largely to the Internet and the voting booth change the course of a war?
ON MARCH 22, 2003, two days after the start of the bombing campaign that began the US-led invasion of Iraq, more than 100,000 people took to the streets of New York City in protest. At a rally there the month before, organizers had claimed that a crowd of 350,000 had shown up, and twice in the previous six months tens of thousands of antiwar protesters had rallied on the National Mall in Washington against what already seemed an inevitable war. In mid-February, one million antiwar protesters had marched in London and another million in Rome. And in the invasion's opening weeks, American antiwar activists promised to continue their own fight with a campaign of civil disobedience: In San Francisco, Chicago, and Boston, traffic slowed to a halt as protesters blocked major intersections, waiting to be hauled away by police.
At the time, the war's opponents may have still been a minority among Americans, but they were making themselves seen and heard. The day after the March 22 demonstration in New York, the Columbia University sociologist Todd Gitlin, who as an undergraduate had helped lead protests against the Vietnam War as president of Students for a Democratic Society, wrote in an opinion piece in The Los Angeles Times that the anti-Iraq war movement had "mushroomed into a global force unprecedented in speed and scale."
That the bombs were falling in the first place showed the limits of that force, but there was nevertheless a sense of momentum.
During the Vietnam War, by comparison, the country didn't see major demonstrations until the US intervention was several years old and deeply unpopular. If millions worldwide were mobilizing at a time when polls showed 70 percent of Americans supported the invasion of Iraq, one would only expect the demonstrations to grow if the public mood shifted.
Today, of course, public anger and frustration over Iraq is the dominant issue as the country heads into Tuesday's midterm congressional elections, in which Democrats are expected to make significant gains. A USA Today/Gallup Poll released late last month showed that 58 percent of Americans now think invading Iraq was a "mistake" -- the same level of antiwar sentiment that polls found in 1968, when the country was convulsed by some of the largest antiwar demonstrations in its history.
And yet since the start of the Iraq war -- and the loss of more than 2,700 American, and untold Iraqi, lives -- the country hasn't witnessed anything analogous to the mass demonstrations of the Vietnam era. There have been rallies and marches -- including one last year in Washington that drew an estimated 100,000but nothing that captured the public attention like the march on the Pentagon, the demonstrations at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, and the nationwide Moratorium of 1969, or the massive protests triggered by President Nixon's decision to expand the Vietnam War into Cambodia.
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Patrick Murray - 11/13/2006
The United States has an all volunteer military. College students need not march in the street to halt the war since they are not threatened by a draft. Would we have gone into this ill-conceived prememptive war if the sons and daughters of a cross section of America's upper class and upper middle classes were being killed?
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