My original intention was to name this blog post, We Have Won The War: Now, Let’s Finish The Job. But I know it is dangerous to be declaring “Mission Accomplished” too soon. And what I really mean is this: the anti-war movement has done an amazing job. And we might as well call this one a success.
But…wait! What do I mean by calling the movement a success? The war is still raging. Troops are still on the ground. The budget for the battles is skyrocketing. The death toll is high. And there is no end in sight. How could it be that we have succeeded?
And you are right on all those points. Time wise, we have put our troops in harm’s way somewhere between the active combat eras of World War II and Viet Nam. We still have troops in Korea, stationed on the Demilitarized Zone—that place between North and South Korea where American Troops keep patrol, fifty years later. Talk of another “Surge” strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan is frightening because, just like Korea, there seems to be no way out.
People turn to me and ask: What is wrong with Your generation? Why aren’t they out in the streets like Viet Nam?
Massive rallies and protests like we saw in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s are important and crucial tactics necessary to the success of a movement. But they are not the movement. Being wed to a tactic is counterintuitive and counterproductive to the growth of a movement. Without lobbying, creating new alternatives for social structures and international relations, gathering research and support, or working with changing landscapes, a movement will become mired in a crisis mode. No sustainable growth can come out of that.
Being stuck in one strategy creates room for dangerous tactics. Movements begin to find themselves panicking with the fear that nothing is happening. That the cause is dying and that we need one last radical—and often violent—grasp at success. But destructive tactics often alienate and burn out people who are loyal to the movement, thus causing more harm than good. Power holders know this and know how to capitalize on opponents’ radical tactics to help discredit the people’s movement.
While it is extremely important to keep focused on all our goals, ignoring our success in this struggle is deadly for the success of the movement. People’s movements take time. They work to create the small changes that make up the big changes. We cannot expect a few protests and rallies to change things overnight. As Mr. Rogers once said, “All things that are worthwhile surely do take a while.”
What if a five-year-old just completes Hop on Pop by herself for the first time? Do you hand her Proust next? What if your seven-year-old takes the training wheels off his bike? Do you send him to the Tour Du France? Sustainable social change takes time.
Rather, at this time when it looks like movement is coming to an end, we must reject nihilistic strategies and count our successes. Giving up due to an apparent “failure” will become a self-fulfilling prophesy. But counting our successes gives us the spiritual recharge necessary to counteract the feelings of burnout.
So what exactly have we done in less than five years? The successes are many. They include but are not limited to:
- Revealing the torture tactics being utilized in Abu Ghraib.
- Revealing similar techniques used in Guantanamo Bay Prison as well as the use of Extraordinary Rendition in secret Eastern European CIA prisons.
- Exposing the incompetence of the Veterans Affairs Office, including Walter Reed Hospital.
- Acknowledging the increasing number of soldiers returning home with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
- Successfully recalling government officials like Rumsfeld and Bolton.
- Successfully electing a Democratically-controlled Congress in 2006.
- Changing rhetoric in the Administration, Congress and American Society is a sure sign that the anti-war movement has been successful in influencing the status of the war.
- Support for the war has fallen from more than 70% of the American People supporting it immediately after the initial bombing of Iraq by US Forces to about 70% of the American People now opposing it.
- Having major Presidential candidates opposing the war including a Republican
- Successfully halting a potential war in Iran
- Revealing the vigilante work of Blackwater and other contractors.
Participation rates of national protests may have slipped but local, grassroots efforts have increased. Organizations like Iraq Veterans Against War, Women Against Military Madness, and Military Families Speak Out have started. And older organizations like War Resistors League, American Friends Service Committee, and The School of Americas Watch have all seen increased participation. All of these organizations are working hard to create sustainable, lasting social change. This war has left an extremely bitter taste in our mouths. Real change to prevent future wars is done by institutions and individuals utilizing a plethora of techniques and tactics.
Do not be disappointed by the lack of success the movement has seen. Be proud of all the things we have done! As a movement, we have repeatedly countered the tactics of the power holders. We have stood up for real American values. We have put pressure on our government to end this war and bring every one home safely. And while there is much to do, so much has already been completed. Be proud of your anti-war movement; have faith in it.