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Sunday, January 21, 2007

Why are there few mass US anti-war protests?

It would seem that the lack of the draft plays an important part in the lack of a mass movement against the war. The voluntary armed forces allows those with limited economic opportunities, often minorities, to "get ahead" -or killed or wounded.
The huge change in priorities of the young and well-educated is another factor no doubt. I was quite surprised to find that so many young people nowadays are so focused on financial success. The consumerist society is still around with a vengeance. All the concern about the environment, food safety, organic and green production doesn't really seem to change the fight for the dollar and more goodies.

Missing in Antiwar Action

By John McMillian

Saturday, January 20, 2007; 12:00 AM

Recently I finished teaching a freshman seminar at Harvard called "From
Reform to Revolution: Youth Culture in the 1960s." When I built the
syllabus, I asked students to ponder a single, overarching question:
"How did the youth rebellion of the 1960s happen?" That is, what caused
millions of young people to pierce the bland and platitudinous din that
characterized the early Cold War years? Why did so many youths -- many
of them affluent and college-educated -- suddenly decide that American
society needed to be radically overhauled?

But as the semester progressed, my students frequently turned the
question around: Why is there no rising protest movement among young
people today? At the very least, they asked, shouldn't we be seeing
more
antiwar activity? According to a CNN poll this month, 67 percent of
Americans oppose the war in Iraq, and more than half would like to see
all U.S. troops home by year's end. Given that it was not until August
1968 that a majority of Americans began calling the Vietnam War a
"mistake," this is a remarkable statistic. By 1968, of course, antiwar
teach-ins, sit-ins and marches were commonplace on many campuses;
demonstrators had violently clashed with soldiers on the steps of the
Pentagon; and the Democratic National Convention had descended into
chaos over the war.

Today, grass-roots antiwar activism has not been entirely absent. But
one would be hard-pressed to argue that we're on the cusp of a rising
protest movement. Why not?

First, the civil rights movement exerted a forceful influence on
left-wing protesters in the 1960s. When African Americans bravely stood
up against attack dogs, cattle prods and fire hoses, they dramatically
demonstrated the power of collective action to foster social change.

Second, the draft personalized the Vietnam War not just for the
hundreds
of thousands of young men who were conscripted but also for their loved
ones. No matter how strained the U.S. military becomes, our
all-volunteer army -- widely regarded as a lethal "third rail" in
American politics -- isn't going away anytime soon. As a result, too
many of us enjoy the luxury of regarding the Iraq war as an
abstraction.
Among my 12 students, only two personally knew someone serving in Iraq.
One is a medic, the other a chaplain.

But my students suggested some other reasons today's youth seem so
passive. Although this high-achieving group was hardly representative,
many of them spoke plaintively about being pressured from an early age
to begin building their credentials for college. "Students are expected
to get perfect grades, excel in extracurricular activities, save the
world and be home before dinner time," quipped one freshman. These
demands seem to be common nationwide. The American Academy of
Pediatrics
warned this month of the physical and mental health problems that may
arise from the competitive and hurried lifestyles of many youths. In
such pressure-cooker environments, students are unlikely to become
committed organizers.

Nor are many students likely to be socialized into antiwar activism.
Every campus has its left-wing organizers, but today the gauzy idealism
that circulated among teenagers in the 1960s seems almost freakishly
anomalous. According to a recent U.S. Census report, 79 percent of
college freshmen in 1970 said that "developing a meaningful philosophy
of life" was among their goals, whereas only 36 percent said becoming
wealthy was a high priority. By contrast, in 2005, 75 percent of
incoming students listed "being very well off financially" among their
chief aims.

Some of my students suggested that they might not even be capable of
experiencing the kind of indignation and disillusionment that spurred
many baby boomers toward activism. In the Vietnam era, the shameful
dissembling of American politicians provoked outrage. But living in the
shadow of Vietnam and Watergate, and weaned on "The Simpsons" and "The
Daily Show," today's youth greet the Bush administration's spin and
ever-evolving rationale for war with ironic world-weariness and bemused
laughter. "The Iraq war turned out to be a hoax from the beginning?
Figures!"

The students who took my seminar were a particularly serious-minded and
delightful bunch. Most of them came to admire the pluck and panache of
the New Leftists we studied, and they were quick to recognize how
frequently the concerns of Vietnam-era protesters dovetailed with their
own complaints against the Iraq war. Some even wistfully remarked that
they would like to be part of a generational rebellion.


But they doubt that this is likely to happen. "Just like [in] the
1960s,
we have an unjust war, a lying president, and dead American soldiers
sent home everyday," one student wrote me in an e-mail. "But rather
than
fight the administration or demand a forum to express our unhappiness,
we accept the status quo and focus on our own problems."


The writer is a lecturer in history and literature at Harvard
University. He can be reached atmcmill@fas.harvard.edu.

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