For years, its leaders told us to not worry, that the anti-war movement took years to build for Vietnam. But now that we have the longest war in U.S. history, and another war almost as long that “ended”―if we ignore the U.S.-sponsored mercenaries―only because the U.S. government wanted the right to continue committing war crimes with impunity, then we have to admit:
The American anti-war movement has been a laughable failure.
The reasons are twofold: First, the American liberal has a penchant for picking the wrong champions.
Recently, on Ed Schultz’s radio show, a caller criticized the new bill that legalizes the military’s detaining U.S. citizens indefinitely without charge. The host merely said that this was something Obama has to fight, as if Obama had expressed any interest in fighting it. Liberals reject the evidence of their senses.
The guest on Schultz’s show actually said that the Iraq War helped America. If I wanted to hear opinions like that, I’d tune in to Fox.
Liberals love Rachel Maddow, Schultz’s colleague on MSNBC, but in the years I’ve listened to her I don’t really recall hearing her utter many left-wing sentiments, if any. She even once said that she considered joining the U.S. military―presumably so she could also participate in atrocities―but didn’t because of the ban on gay soldiers.
Once a colleague of mine, a liberal Democrat, was looking for someone to speak about Iraq. I pointed out that, while it sounded immodest, I would be happy to speak: The Stop the War Coalition in England had invited me to speak at a demonstration in London that drew 100,000 people. At the time I was a Science Fellow at Stanford University’s Center for International Security. My colleague instead wanted someone at the Naval Postgraduate School, who indeed was a scholar studying Iraq, but was not anti-war.
The second reason the American anti-war movement failed is that it neglected to groom future leaders. Around 2005, CSPAN cameras caught me asking Noam Chomsky at Boston’s Trinity Church if he had any successors. His glib reply was that anyone can speak: when he first started, he had an audience of four people.
Anyone can speak, but not anyone gets listened to. Besides, why leave it up to chance? Chomsky could pick his successors. Right now there is no professor at MIT, or at any of the elite universities, who shares Chomsky’s views. Even Clay Carson at Stanford, who has done research related to the Black Panther Party, does not himself support the goals of the Black Panther Party.
The aversion to anointing successors, which goes back to Martin Luther King, is almost a madness of the left, like the aversion of an OCD man to touching door handles. Bob Moses, a leader of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, now runs the Algebra Project: teaching African-American kids algebra is, says Moses, the civil-rights struggle of this century. I knew Moses’ daughter in college, I have a doctorate in math, which only five African-Americans get each year, and I am among only a half-a-dozen research mathematicians in America, black or white, who care about K-12 education, so you would think Moses would want to work with me; but he didn’t.
About the best we have is Glenn Greenwald, but I have not seen him on BBC World Television or in the pages of the New York Times (I’ve been on or in both twice). Instead, we still see Amy Goodman lamenting the loss of octogenarian Howard Zinn on a television network only a few thousand people watch.
The American anti-war movement failed to promote the truly left-wing voices in America and it failed to develop new ones. It failed to stop the war in Iraq and it failed to end the war in Afghanistan. It is “anti-war” the same way that a fly is anti-swatter.
It has been a risible failure.
Jonathan David Farley
Jonathan David Farley is a mathematician and associate of The Warren Group, advisors for the Democratic Party’s 2010 nominee for U.S. Senate in South Carolina.