Anti War Protests In Society History Essay

3836 words (15 pages) Essay

1st Jan 1970 History Reference this

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There has always been war. It has permeated the very depths of society so that is has become a norm. But as surely as there have been always been wars, there have always been people who are opposed to them. People need to voice their opinions, and in America, they are free to do so. In every war America has been in, there have been groups against it. In this way, Americans express their views, with and without violence, about America’s foreign and internal policies. From the Civil War to the Iraq War, protests define wars and set precedents for future protesters. With wars come messy political entanglements, treaties, and bloody battles. There can be no peace without people who advocate for it, and that is precisely what anti-war groups are about.

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American protest groups were in place as early as the Civil War. At the time, the Republican Party was in power with Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief. The Democratic Party was opposed to the War Between the States and they were “the principal channel through which resistance to the Lincoln administration’s wartime policies flowed” (Field 580). The Democrats believed that the southen states’ secession was unconstitutional, but justified when considering the “legitimate fears of the Republicans” because they imposed their “radical ideas” on everyone (581). The Democrats supported the United States Army, but they were insistent upon limited warfare. To gain support in the elections, they introduced bills that would take troops out of the south and reduce taxes that supported the war. The Democratic opposition did not have the desired effect, however. Their peace movement “encouraged Confederates, strengthened the Republican Party, and divided Democrats,” proving that their attempts were highly ineffective (581).

Though there were political protests during the Civil War, there were also more physical protests. The New York Draft Riots of 1863 were caused by the Enrollment Act legislation that was put in place by the Lincoln administration. The law gave the federal government the power to enroll citizens in the army at their expense of $300, almost a years pay for a New York factory worker. Mainly Irish workers, they were opposed to fighting for the freedom of black men who, they were told, would take over their jobs for less pay. The riots started on Monday, July 13, and order was not restored until Thursday, July 16, when droves of federal troops came in to subdue the rioters. In the three days that the riot lasted, draft buildings were burned down, policemen were killed, and anyone who the Irish workers “suspected of having political and social allegiances to the Protestant and middle and upper classes” were in danger of being attacked (Gaul 1415). These riots did not amount to a change in policy, however, and the New Yorkers were eventually forced to accept their draft.

These early protests in American were just the beginning. After the Spanish American War, the United States started colonizing the Philippines, leading to “the greatest American anti war movement up until that time, the Anti-Imperialist League.” (Adams 3). Unlike the Spanish American War, the Philippine War was bloody and messy. American troops started to send letters back to the States that told family members how much worse the situation was than what the government said. Protests began as “a small group of intellectuals and businessmen in Boston [and became] a large nationwide movement [reacting] to the mounting casualties in the Philippine War” (Adams 3). The Anti-Imperialist League was essentially self-explanatory: a group opposed to America forming an overseas empire in Asia like much of Europe was doing. They supported the idea of isolationism and did not like American dealing in matters that were not focused on the mainland of America and its issues. The group tried to elect its supporter, William Jennings Bryan, to the presidency, but they did not succeed. After this defeat, the League lost strength. They did not have support of the working class, which added to their weakness. They lost much of their support when the government made threats to prosecute anti war protestors with treason and McKinley agreed to take volunteers off the front line of the war. The Anti-Imperialist League was destined to never make much of a difference, and the United States stayed in the Philippines for thirty years of colonial rule.

As World War I spread in Europe and America started to feel the impact, peace groups began forming in America to support isolationism and peace. The apparent head of the WWI peace movement was the People’s Council for Democracy and Peace, or PC. It had little support at its start, consisting of “peace activists, antiwar socialists, radical labor leaders, single-taxers, and disaffected intellectuals” (Steinson 454). It was seen as very radical, and its socialist ideals were mainly aimed at the working class. The leaders of the PC were Louis Locher, Lella F. Secor, and Rebecca Shelly. Their idea was to mirror the Russian Revolution, where “Russian workers had laid down their weapons and refused to continue fighting…against German workers” (Adams 5). The group started to gain influence, especially among labor unions. This caused the government to start an intense pro-war propaganda campaign out of fear of a workers revolution. They had the help of Samuel Gompers, head of the American Federation of Labor, who helped steer the labor unions towards more pro-war opinions. In an effort to thwart its success, the PC underwent “direct and brutal government suppression,” including the burning of office, banning their mail, and raiding their meetings (Adams 7). The biggest way they did this was with the Red Scare in 1919, where government officials “investigated radical activity in the peace and labor movements” (Adams 7). During the Palmer raids, federal troop arrested and jailed over ten thousand people in one night. These collaborative efforts caused the PC to lose support, and by 1920, it had faded out of existence.

The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) was originally formed in 1915 by suffragists who wanted to bring about change in the suffrage movement. But when World War One broke out, it turned into a peace campaign. It combined anti war protests with women’s rights. The members’ main ideal “reflected the idea that women, from their unique female perspective, should play a critical role in efforts to attain and maintain permanent world peace” (Steinson 805). In its initial meeting, twelve countries were represented, including the United States. The US created its own branch of the WILPF called the Women’s Peace Party, which was focused on getting the America to form the League of Nations.

World War II, while not very opposed on the home front, still had its protests. The first organization formed was the American League Against War and Fascism. It was modeled after the European organizations, where “socialists, liberals, and pacifists were beginning to work together in the face of the fascist threat” (Adams 8). Opposing Fascism bonded these different groups in a way no ideological discussion could. The American League flourished in the early 1930s with over 2 million members, despite internal quarrels. Another prominent organization formed between the two world wars was the Emergency Peace Campaign, which was one of the most effect pacifist groups at the time. Its goal was to provide anti-communist and anti-fascist support without violence. The members of this group were very upper class and elite who wanted to steer the world to “the true channel of international cooperation” (8). The two organizations attracted different social classes. The American League Against War and Fascism attracted mainly working class people, though it tried to have a broader acceptance, and the Emergency Peace Campaign’s membership mainly came from middle and upper class. The American League Against War and Fascism had mainly communist views, which attracted the workers and labor unions, and wanted to be rid of policies that keep the power with the people in power. The Emergency Peace Campaign encouraged isolationism, claiming that it would promote international economic stability and a stronger America. In this way, each program reflected the views of its members’ social class.

Another strong bloc against the war was in student groups. Four organizations with opposing views, the Socialist League for Industrial Democracy, the National Student League, the National Student Federation of America, and the American Youth Congress, joined together to fight the war effort. Their stated ideal was simple: to “not support the government of the United States in any war it may conduct” (Adams 10). The group not only opposed the war, but also began one of the first efforts to unite the white and black student populations in the south. The student protest groups and the American League Against War and Fascism refrained from red-baiting, or the act of accusing people of being communist, but the Emergency Peace Campaign did try and expose communists, causing them to have opposition among companies which they accused. All of these protest groups, however, did not want to see America go to war. But as the thirties went on, it became unavoidable. The organizations started to transition their opinion from promoting American isolationism to supporting America’s fight against fascism. Thus, the opposition to World War II dwindled, until it became mostly ineffective.

Perhaps the most obvious example of anti war protesting is during the Vietnam War. The Vietnam War inspired the largest peace movement in the history of America, and it changed the way Americans view war forever. Under presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy, while there were few troops in Vietnam, some strong peace activists were still against America’s military involvement. One example of this is Graham Greene’s novel, The Quiet American. Greene wrote it with the purpose of “[exposing] the fallacies of US military policy in Vietnam” (Roberts 3). Despite warnings given to him about how the situation in Vietnam could escalade, President Kennedy ignored them and continued to have military influence in Vietnam.

The press played a major role in the Vietnam War by bringing the facts and pictures into American homes. Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon all “criticized the press for impeding the war effort;” they wanted them to report only the official reports (32). But, some renegade journalists continued to report the truth about the weakening support for the Vietnamese and the gaining strength of the Vietcong. These reports troubled Americans, but large protest efforts did not begin until 1965, when President Johnson sent the first ground troops into Vietnam. In 1968, Walter Cronkite reported that the Vietnam War could only end in blood and a stalemate. When President Johnson heard that, he admitted, “if I have lose Walter Cronkite, I have lost Mr. Average American Citizen” (38). In that year, over thirty new anti war organizations were created in response to Johnson’s policies. A majority of these were student groups. The universities held a wealth of liberal minded students who opposed the war; from these students sprouted the hippie generation. One of the most prominent of the student organizations was the Students for a Democratic Society, or the SDS. The group was formed to support civil rights in1960, but in 1965, membership went from 2,000 to nearly 30,000 in response to the Vietnam War. The SDS organized multiple sit-ins, demonstrations, and petitions, including a “We Won’t Go” petition trying to end the draft and a demonstration in Washington DC that attracted more than 20,000 people. This organization and others like it worked together to raise awareness about the terrible situation in Vietnam. The Clergy and Laity Concerned about Vietnam, for example, brought together people of different religious beliefs with the shared concern for Vietnam. It used “moral and pragmatic arguments” to try and use reason to end the war (34). In this way, many different people came together to band against the war and join in peace efforts. As the efforts increased, civil rights activists also joined the cause. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was concerned about the number of African American casualties in Vietnam. He implored the American people to raise attention to the injustice between races in the military in Vietnam. Heavyweight boxer Muhammad Ali famously voiced his opinions against the war when he said “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong” in response to being drafted (36).

During the late 1960s, more political advisors and politicians started speaking out against the war, urging President Johnson to stop bombing North Vietnam and come to some sort of settlement. Johnson was accused by some of “conducting a futile war” (36). Other critics thought helping Vietnam wasn’t worth it because they were of no economic or political importance to America. Many congress members also joined in the act of advising the president to get troops out of Vietnam and declare victory for the US. Many senators went public with their criticisms, such as Mike Mansfield and Eugene McCarthy. They wanted to make known that they did not approve of Johnson’s policies

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From the more public aspect, there were still dozens of antiwar groups organizing demonstrations and rallies to voice their opinions against the war. One such was the Spring Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam. They sponsored the largest antiwar demonstrations to date across the country from New York to San Francisco. But those demonstrations looked small compared to the March on the Pentagon in October 1967. Over 100,000 people marched to Washington DC, and over 50,000 actually went to the Pentagon, where US troops had to barricade the doors to keep them out. These rallies were widely publicized, and soon people all around the world-in Paris, London, Moscow, and Beijing-“knew that the war was unpopular and becoming more and more unpopular every day” (38). With its unpopularity came more and more demonstrations that started turning violent. Some people against the war thought that the nonviolent protests and acts of civil disobedience that Martin Luther King Jr. was famous for were not radical enough. The more radical groups, like the Students for A Democratic Society, became increasingly more violent and militant. They would raid draft buildings and committed arson and other crimes to make their voice louder. The opposing views of those against the war caused a split between the New Left and the Old Left groups.

President Johnson continued to lose support from both Democrats and Republicans, and after Robert Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy announced that they would be running for the Democratic nomination, he decided not to run for another term in office. In 1968, Richard Nixon was elected president based on his campaign that strongly implying that he would get Americans out of Vietnam. He did not move quickly enough, however, and soon the demonstrations and rallies began anew, with more support for the cause. The Vietnam Moratorium Committee and the New Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam banded together to organize nationwide protests that would collectively come to be called the Moratorium Day Demonstrations. In these demonstrations, taking place on October 15, 1969, protesters skipped work and school, drivers left their headlights on all day, and people in America and soldiers in South Vietnam wore black armband to show their opposition to the war. It was declared a day of mourning and all flags were kept at half-staff.

President Nixon tried to appeal to the so-called silent majority of America, claiming that the protesters were a minority, just a very vocal one. He continued to say that American troops were going to come out of Vietnam in what he called Vietnamization. His request seemed to have little effect at first, and radical protest groups only got angrier. After the Kent State University Killings, in which National Guard troops shot and killed four protesting students at Kent State University in Ohio, anti war sentiments and criticism for President Nixon grew stronger. Protest demonstrations were held at over 70% of America’s universities.

The radical protest groups, however, started losing their support. Groups such as the Students for a Democratic Society became increasingly more violence oriented, claiming that the only way to stop the “worldwide monster” that was the United States was with armed action (43). They committed serious crimes, such as arson, vandalism, and breaking and entering. Many Americans found this too radical, and they gradually lost support. One of the last strongholds in the antiwar movement was the Vietnam Veterans Against the War. American citizens were willing to listen to sentiments against the war from people who were actually in it, and support for the Vietnam Veterans increased. But still, as Nixon withdrew troop steadily from Vietnam, the need to protest dwindled. Support for Nixon grew, and he won the next election. While there were still people against troops in Vietnam, they were needed less and less by Nixon’s second term in office.

During the Vietnam War, there was a musical revolution as well as a cultural one. Protest songs sprang up and helped people spread their views and their music. Protest music has always been important in antiwar movements. The song “Ohio” by Neil Young and performed by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young is a direct response to the Kent State shootings. With its poignant chorus and the stinging lines such as “we’re finally on our own” and “how can you run when you know?” inspired many people to join the war effort (Young). Other songs were more intense and gritty songs, like “War,” made famous by Edwin Starr. This song was also very to the point, with lyrics like “war-what is it good for? Absolutely nothing,” it is a rallying cry for anti war protesters even today. Earlier protest songs include “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” from the Civil War, “Christmas in the Trenches,” a song about World War One advocating for peace, “Russians” from the Cold War, and “American Idiot” from the War on Terror. Music brings people together, especially in times of crisis. Protest songs were just another way that people could band together against the devastation of war.

As surely as there have been protests against war, there have been people trying to stop them. There have been several court cases involving protest laws and freedom of speech. One such case was Tinker v. Des Moines in 1969. In the case, students who wore black armbands to school in protest of the Vietnam War were suspended from school for causing a disturbance. This was a violation of their first amendment rights, and when the Supreme Court got the case, they voted in favor of the students. The Court maintained that just because the students entered a school, doesn’t mean their constitutional rights could be denied. This case introduced the policy of “symbolic speech,” which would be pertinent in another case twenty years later. The case Texas V. Johnson concerned an individual who burned an American flag in protest of President Reagan’s policies. The Court voted in his favor, once again upholding the policy of “symbolic speech.” The Court stated that it was protected by his first amendment right of free speech and expression. Another case, NY Times v. United States, involved the New York Times attaining and releasing confidential information about the Vietnam War. The Court favored the New York Times, stating that the press has the first amendment right to publish what it thinks is the truth, as long as it doesn’t present a danger to national security.

In recent times, the United States has been involved in a war in Iraq and Afghanistan. President George W. Bush sent troops into Iraq in 2001 after the World Trade Center bombings on September 11th. In a military excursion that lasted over 7 years, people began to protest President Bush’s policies. On August 29, 2004, around 800,000 people marched on Madison Square Garden with 1,000 coffins representing the number of soldiers who had died to date. On January 27, 2007, tens of thousands of people marched on Washington, once again trying to bring the soldiers home. These protests and many others like them tried to gain support in the opposition of the war. In a 2007 poll, statistics showed that a majority of Americans were against the war in Iraq.

Anti war protestors should really be called peace activists. In the last fifteen years, peace has been one of the main goals for the whole world. The peace sign, now a worldwide symbol for antiwar, was originally created in 1958 by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, which tried to persuade America and Britain to get rid of their nuclear weapons. In 1999, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization “called for the first time…a global movement toward a culture of peace” (Adams 19). They launched the movement during the UN’s International Year of Peace in 2000. Today, people are trying to find effective ways of preventing the causes of war, mainly by using common sense and morals. The idea is that the best way to prevent war is to promote peace, which is what peace activists work toward every day.

If war is erased from history, there is not much left. From wars come new inventions, stronger nations, and goals for the future. But there will always be those who are against war; there will always be those who want permanent world peace. Peace activists provide a critical view at war, which is often needed to give perspective to those who support it. In many ways, protestors are essential to the process of war. They influence the government’s actions and the people’s views of situations that they might not know about otherwise. If peace activists keep working toward their goal, one day the world might actually see permanent peace…or not.

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