Monday, March 31, 2003

Conflicted about the Conflict: Protests

I’m not one to participate in protest marches and sit-ins and so forth.  It’s not that I don’t believe in their value and power, just that they aren’t for me.  I did participate in one, back in 1989 or 1990, a gay rights march at the University of Oregon, but that’s it.  (Or maybe it is that I don’t believe in their value and power, that they don’t have enough.  I don’t join them because I have better things to do.  “Better” meaning selfishly personal things.)

Nonetheless, three observations about the anti-war protests.  Or perhaps about the opposition to them…
  • I read a lot these days about people opposed to the anti-war “Support the Troops” protestors, focusing on the idea that now that we are engaged in the conflict, bringing the troops home (pulling out) is not an option.  This is of course a common response (by people on any side of the question) to protestors opposed to your view: dismiss them by targeting only the most surface view of the opposition’s claims rather than seeking any real meaning.

    In his recent column in The Stranger, Josh Feit does this, but he also includes the nugget of truth that is at the core of this “Support the Troops” anti-war stance.  Feit writes, commenting on the fallout of the Vietnam Conflict:
    “We could’ve won that war, the revisionists insisted, if only everyone had supported our troops.  It was a neatly effective way of blaming the Vietnam disaster on the people who were right all along--the protesters--while at the same time exonerating the politicians who led us off the cliff.”
    In other words, it is easy to blame the war, deaths (both military and civilian), and assorted atrocities on the people doing the actual fighting, but we should not.  (Although we shouldn’t exonerate them for anything bad that happens because they were “just following orders,” either.)  “Support the Troops” really means “Don’t blame the soldiers, blame the politicians who got us all into this mess.”
  • Conservative commentators have denounced many of the protests and the protestors as being anti-Bush more than (or rather than) anti-war.  That is, the protestors don’t really care about the war issue, but are instead carrying on the “Bush didn’t win the election” fight, years after the fact.  I think the commentators are partly right: that is what a portion of the protestors are all het up about, but it is only a portion.  Those same commentators tend to then launch into yet another diatribe about how everything wrong with the country is Bill Clinton’s fault, which leaves you asking just which group can’t get past the politics of a few years back.

    (Of course, I do have a brief comment on the election, summed up best by a comment I heard a couple weeks ago: “Bush stole the election fair and square.”  If the popular and electoral numbers had been shifted just enough in the 2000 election to reverse the Democrat and Republican results and court decisions, you know that the Republicans would still be howling about disenfranchisement and “every vote must count” and the Democrats would be saying “move on” and “just get over it”.)
  • The backlash against the anti-war protestors is taking a disturbing turn, lately, and it’s one that I’ve encountered from both the liberal and conservative sides of the spectrum (that should be enough to scare you right off the bat).  And that is that the anti-war protestors should shut up and go home.

    From the conservative side, the complaint comes fairly readily and obviously, and has been coming since well before the fighting actually started: your protests aren’t going to do any good, you aren’t going to change the President’s mind, you might as well give up.  Frankly, I wouldn’t expect anything less from Rush Limbaugh (et al), as this group is solidly behind the President (and company).  This is the same group that pushes high approval ratings for the President and the war and complains about a massive liberal bias in the media; it is their job to pump up how good their side is and pooh-pooh the strength of their opponents, especially when preaching to their side of the choir.

    But from the liberal side, though, I’m hearing almost the same thing: the troops are already in battle, the President isn’t going to pull them out, you might as well give up.  I fear that the biggest part of this is just boredom: “Oh, God.  Not another protest.  Will you people please just give it a rest?”  But there may also be a facet where the unstated goal is to have the protestors let everything slide for a while but come back with a vengeance in a few months or even a year or two (however long is needed), after the general population’s tolerance for the war will have slacked off significantly, at which point maybe the protests can make a bigger impact.

    The boredom angle flows into the “wait a while” one, perhaps: the anti-war movement risks burning itself out and wearing out its welcome in the media.  By being a constant presence, it may become “noise” which we (and the media) will simply stop paying attention to.  The more you repeat the same thing, the less anyone hears it.  God knows, this has already happened with the war news: the same picture of a distant burning something in Baghdad for an hour or more, with a dozen different talking heads telling us nothing new; you can get the entire day’s war news in five minutes, but it’s the only thing on, every channel, all day long.  Because heaven forbid some station miss a breaking item.

Updated on July 7, 2010

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