March 19, 2007

Antiwar Demonstrations

We have gotten used to the idea that anti-war protesters are not going to flood the streets like they did in the 1960's, and (for all the great work of those who got out on the streets this week) the relatively subdued 4-year anniversary of the Iraq invasion confirms that. But as Atrios points out, something is defenitely "up" when ten thousand people turn out to see Barak Obama over a year and a half before the next Presidential election. The people are (finally) making their voice heard, one way or another.

Then there's the polls. Only 34% of Americans are still (inexplicably) confident about the war in Iraq, compared to 83 percent four years ago. A new CNN poll also finds that “30 percent of those polled this month said they were proud of the war, as opposed to 65 percent who expressed that sentiment in 2003."

In fact, the increased political role of polls is almost certainly linked to the decreased participation in street protests. Why go out and protest when your sentiment is already registering on the front page of the NYT?

Increased cynicism with politicians also plays a part. As Leunig pointed out, you only have to fool half the people once every four years and you have a Democracy! Sadly, we are becoming accustomed to our "Democratic" voices being totally ignored in non-election years.

UPDATE: This piece by Michael Leunig seems appropriate:
Inside the building, marbles bearing birthdates were being drawn from a barrel to determine which young men were to be press-ganged into the Vietnam War and which ones would be allowed to get on with their lives unhindered by explosions, gunfire and submission to military might.

This was not the only selection process, for it became evident that young men from wealthy, influential backgrounds had developed methods of ducking and weaving to avoid conscription via the miracle of deferments and overseas jaunts. You couldn't blame them, except that some of these cunning gentlemen later became politicians, academics and media commentators in favour of violent military solutions to humanitarian problems. In America such low-character men are called chicken-hawks - and in Australia they are simply known as "arseholes"...

A neighbour saw my photo in the newspaper that evening, holding a placard bearing the words "we don't want to kill", and he told me as he watered his garden that I should be ashamed of myself.

But I was too disturbed to feel ashamed; surrounding me was a society righteously demanding human sacrifice and stirring up xenophobia and military madness. Under a cloak of conservative respectability and reason, this war-urgency seemed driven not only by jingoism or the empathetic disorders of overwrought politicians and intellectuals, but also by something deeply ghoulish and primal in the general population. To make matters worse, my marble had been chosen...

In the darkness one night at a rally near the American consulate, a police baton was driven into my back, for no reason that I could understand. This caused pain and anger but now it makes sense because I can see how the assault perfectly symbolised what the state was doing to the young men of my generation...

Then, in 1970, when the writing, the mess and futility were on the wall, a huge anti-war rally jammed the streets of Melbourne. Australia had changed its mind. But as I moved along with the moratorium marchers, I felt strangely despondent and somehow out of connection with the crowd. An unforgiving, almost sanctimonious question hovered in my thoughts: "Where were you all five years ago when it really mattered?" But a young man's bitter ambivalence about humanity does not make a good peace slogan.

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