Mass protests didn’t stop the Vietnam war

As a long-time activist and ISR subscriber, I would like to respond to Ashley Smith’s article in the July-August 2008 issue (“Which way forward for the antiwar movement?”). Overall, I agree with most of what is said, but I wish to offer some points that have not been raised. I was part of the Vietnam antiwar movement, and was in D.C. for the mass demonstration in 1970. I have reflected and read a lot about the meaning of the 1960’s activism, and we can learn a lot from it, while adapting to the modern conditions that we face.

I believe that the refusal of the soldiers to fight and the Vietnamese resistance were the two major factors regarding why the U.S. lost in Vietnam. While the mass movement contributed to this, I do not agree that this movement ended the war. I would like to see any documentation that would support Ashley’s assertion. The truth is that demonstrations don’t prevent or stop wars, and this is especially true now, when the marches have been very ineffective in changing policy. Demonstrations are a tactic, not a strategy, and while I support them, we need to do other things.

I would also argue that other reasons why the U.S. left Vietnam were the massive financial drain on the economy, which was really being felt by the early 1970s, and the ruling class moving in other directions, such as the rapprochement with China, and the dreadful ITT-CIA coup against Allende in 1973. In sum, I argue for a much more nuanced approach as to why the U.S. lost in Vietnam. Those who argue today that the marches stopped the war in ‘Nam, therefore let’s do this again now are being overly romantic.

Finally, the anti-war movement back then was but one part of a broad array of social movements which challenged society’s basic values, led to some real change, and opened up a lot of political space, which the ruling class has tried to close down since those days. I maintain that we must go beyond being anti-war, to putting forward a bold manifesto for broad, sweeping changes in how this society operates, so that we meet human needs at home, and stop these wars for empire abroad. This would be a real strategy, as we need to reach out to people, who will want to know what’s in it for them to join us. Marches and mass actions are but one tactic for doing this. We could also be shutting down the cities, and peacefully disrupting business as usual, among many things. Labor needs to wake up as well.

It therefore should be a challenge to all of us to make this happen, and not just do the same things that progressives have always done. Music, poetry, street theater and lots more can help get the job done.

Sincerely, Steve Krevisky
Middletown, Conn.

Issue #86

November 2012

The legacy of the Industrial Workers of the World

Issue contents

Top story

Editorials

Features

Interviews

Critical Thinking

Reviews

  • Lenin and his biographers

    Paul Le Blanc reviews The Non-Geometric Lenin: Essays on the Development of the Bolshevik Party, 1910–1914 by Carter Elwood; Lenin by Lars Lih; Lenin's Brother: The Origins of the October Revolution by Philip Pomper; Conspirator: Lenin in Exile by Helen Rappaport; Lenin: A Revolutionary Life by Christopher Read; Lenin: A Biography by Robert Service; Forgotten Lives: The Role of Lenin's Sisters in the Russian Revolution by Katy Turton; Lenin: The Practice and Theory of Revolution by James D. White; and Lenin by Beryl Williams
  • The Red Dawn of a New Day

    Jason Netek reviews All Power to the Councils: A Documentary History of the German Revolution of 1918–1919 by Gabriel Kuhn
  • How not to build a movement

    Ian Angus reviews Deep Green Resistance: Strategy to Save the Planet by Derrick Jensen, Lierre Keith and Aric McBay
  • Marxism and ethics

    Tyler Zimmer reviews Marxism and Ethics: Freedom, Desire, and Revolution by Paul Blackledge
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