The Risible Rise of the American Anti-War Movement

american anti-war movementFor 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.

On MSNBC or in The Nation Magazine we see the pro-Obama Melissa Harris-Perry or the ex-Republican Cenk Uygur. Van Jones just can’t stop apologizing to Republicans.

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.

jonathan david farleyThe 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.



  1. Donna Warren says

    Why isn’t Dr. Jonathan David Farley on MSNBC? They certainly need to hear his take on where we are in the progressive movement. I’ll send his article to MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and to Ed Schultz in hopes they are smart enough to invite Dr. Farley onto their shows. We all need to hear Dr. Farley’s very reasonable, clear, and intelligent voice.

  2. Joe Weinstein says

    Both author Farley and prior commenter Williams have made well-taken points. Without contradicting them, I would urge everyone still to remember that – altho it may not be even half full – the glass isn’t totally empty either. Yes, anti-war sentiments and movements arguably have taken longer to have effect in the case of Iraq and Afghanistan than in the case of Vietnam. But in the case of the later wars, the extra lag in anti-war sentiments gaining traction is partly explained by key factors not noted by Farley and Williams.

    First, remember that the warmongering politicians and generals learned their lesson well from Vietnam – don’t do the utterly stupid thing that LBJ did: which was to fight a war with involuntary middle-class draftees.

    Second, remember that active US intervention in Vietnam actually lasted a longer time than often credited: it started years before any massive intervention by regular military). In the early 1960s, US antiwar sentiment and movements focused on nuclear holocaust and bomb tests, as meanwhile Vietnam intervention quietly intensified.

    Third, unlike Vietnam, in the later cases both of Iraq and Afghanistan, (1) it was clear that the war could do some real good – namely remove Saddam or Taliban from control of the central government – and (2) the war was rapidly successful in these immediate aims.

    Finally, anti-Iraq-war sentiment arguably did have a profound effect – tho maybe not ultimately in the intended direction. It likely made the telling difference for the Dems nomination of Obama rather than Clinton.

  3. Jon Williams says

    As you’ve said, no mainstream media outlets are offering a real platform to anti-war voices. I marched with three quarters of a million anti-war Americans around the GWB White House and we were ignored by politicians and newspapers alike. Celebrities who spoke out for peace were demonized and after Obama was elected, even progressives shushed those who criticized him for feet-dragging and stepped up drone attacks. Back in 2003, when it had become obvious that polite picketing and letters to the editor weren’t going to be enough to turn the tide, I asked on an anti-war listserve if it was time “to start breaking things,” meaning taking actions that would be sure to attract media attention. I got a horrified “no!” from one prominent critic of militarized America. Now Ron Paul is showing us that conservative voters are sick of the long wars. But legislators are ignoring us. Voters aren’t the power in Washington. If they were we’d be at peace by now. The only way we can make our majority voice heard, I fear, is by starting to break things. What and how, I don’t know, but Washington, right and too much of the left alike, refuses to listen to reason isn’t listening reason, has no moral compass, and answers only to dollar signs.

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