Aside from winning, there aren’t that many ways of ending wars. Governments pay attention when the troops mutiny, when there are riots outside recruiting offices, when there’s revolution on the home front, when the money runs out.
In Vietnam the troops mutinied. Units shot their officers in the back or threw grenades into their tents. Navy ratings pushed aircraft off the side of aircraft carriers. In 1971 the Pentagon counted 503,926 “incidents of desertion” over the previous five years and reckoned that more than half of US ground forces openly opposed the war. At Christmastime in 1971 Vietnam Vets Against the War seized the Statue of Liberty, draping it with a banner demanding Bring Our Brothers Home.
On the home front people fought the draft or simply fled it. In 1967 Maj. Gen. William Yarborough, assistant chief of staff for Army intelligence, observed the great antiwar march from the roof of the Pentagon and concluded, “The empire is coming apart at the seams.” He reckoned there were too few reliable troops to fight the war in Vietnam and hold the line at home.
The elites, always prone to panic in such matters, thought revolution was around the corner. The left, in those days prone to optimism, thought the same thing. In the end, Congress cut off the money. Between 1970 and 1973, Congress enacted five restrictions on funding US military operations in Indochina.
You don’t need a draft to have a vibrant antiwar movement. We saw that in the 1980s, with the campaign against US intervention in Central America. These struggles failed but reignited a domestic spirit of resistance. Out of them, in part, came the Jackson campaigns of 1984 and ’88. And just as the antiwar movement helped give us Jimmy Carter in ’76, in ’92 we got Bill.
Yet aside from a heartening flare-up against the WTO in Seattle, the Clinton years pretty much snuffed out the radical spark. Swallow NAFTA, sanctions against Iraq, plus welfare reform and the Effective Death Penalty Act, and you aren’t in any mindset to seize the Statue of Liberty.
So here we are, coming up on four years of war in Iraq. There’s not going to be any significant mutiny among the troops. They are volunteers, furious though they may be at their extended tours of duty. There has been some good work against Army recruitment, but not at a level to panic anyone. The campuses are quiet. The churches? They might be protesting torture, but the vocations are dying. We need more nuns!
The respectable old antiwar “movement”–as opposed to real rabble-rousers like Cindy Sheehan, Medea Benjamin and Kathy Kelly–stirs into action once in a while for pleasant outings like last Saturday’s in Washington, DC. For sure there was no chieftain in Army intelligence standing on the roof looking at the marchers and thinking the Empire was on the verge of collapse.