---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Fri, 22 Nov 2002 14:35:08 -0800
From: radtimes <email@example.com>
Subject: The anti-war 60s all over again?
The anti-war '60s all over again?
by Alexander Cockburn
If the Okie from Muskogee can speak out, so can we
First, the big anti-war demonstrations in
Washington D.C., and San Francisco a couple of
weeks ago; then, the Election Day sweep by Bush
and the (prime) party of war and then... in my
case, a concert by Merle Haggard in my local town
of Eureka, Calif., Wednesday night.
When it comes to the big themes of love and war
and history, nothing concentrates the mind like a
few songs by Merle, whose 1969 pro-war country
anthem "Okie from Muskogee" lambasted the
dope-smoking hippie peaceniks and earned the
former resident of San Quentin a full pardon from
Governor Ronald Reagan.
Merle's political positions have evolved somewhat
since the late Sixties, as we'll see, but sitting there
in a mostly white working class audience even a
tad older than the equally white crowd listening to
Bob Dylan in Berkeley a few weeks ago, an obvious
question bulked as large as the Stars and Stripes
hanging above Merle: Are we seeing the birth of a
new anti-war movement as potent as the one that
prompted Merle to riposte with "Muskogee" and
"The Fighting Side of Me"?
Now, there's always an intervention movement
here, usually below the radar screen of mainstream
reporting. And since, according to the Defense
Department, pre-9/11, 60,000 U.S. troops were
conducting temporary operations and exercises in
about 100 countries, this movement has plenty to
do. But a full-blown anti-war movement needs a
full-blown war, and a reasonably protracted war at
that. Not the notional "war on terror" now merged,
according to Attorney General John Ashcroft, with
the war on drugs officially waged since 1982. Not
the sortie to Afghanistan.
Look back to the early 1960s. In 1962, a full eight
years after President Eisenhower had decreed
secretly that Ho Chi Minh could not be permitted to
triumph in open elections, the left was just
beginning to educate itself about Vietnam.
When President Kennedy was sending the first
detachments of U.S. troops to South Vietnam and
setting the stage for the assassination of South
Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem, there was
scarcely the semblance of an anti-war movement.
In Oxford, England, in 1962, I remember being
incredulous when one of my radical mentors, the
historian Thomas Hodgkin, remarked to me that the
next big anti-imperial battleground would be
It wasn't until 1966 and 1967 that the left,
particularly the Socialist Workers Party, had
managed to stage the big anti-war rallies that
broke forever the pro-war consensus and set the
stage for more radical actions. And by then, there
was that potent fuel for an anti-war movement,
the draft, which prompted Stop the Draft Week.
By 1968, we had a worldwide anti-imperial
movement; we had the May-June upheavals in
Paris; we very definitely thought history was on our
side. Not any more.
Today? We have the premonition of a big anti-war
movement. Like the SWP 40 years ago, the
Workers World Party did much of the organizing of
the recent demonstrations. This doesn't mean the
150,000 or so who marched in the Bay Area and in
Washington D.C. are dupes of Karl Marx, Ramsey
Clark and Saddam Hussein, as some have alleged
but merely that organizing big demonstrations takes
a lot of dedication, energy and experience. I have
a dream, said Martin Luther King, and so he did, but
the Communists in the south helped him put flesh
on that dream, as they did the dreams of Rosa
But will there be a war with Iraq? No one knows for
sure, but I'd say the odds are better than ever
there will be. To judge by the amended U.S.
resolution lodged with the UN, we can have one
any time the commander in chief decrees it, with
February/March 2003 as probably the earliest
practical slot. A draft? No time soon. A calling up of
the National Guard? More likely, and already there
are tens of thousands of reservists on duty, many
of them no doubt chafing at their condition.
And if George Bush lets loose the dogs of war on
the grounds that Saddam wouldn't submit to a full
personal cavity search, will we see a new age of
^A'60s-style protest? Certainly, if the war goes on
long enough and Americans get killed in large
numbers. As I said, there already is an intervention
movement out there, whose senior members cut
their teeth in the '60s, with more recent recruits
from America's later forays in Central America and
other battlegrounds of empire.
Back to Merle. He's changed, too. "Friends... and
conservatives," he said to the crowd in the old
Eureka Theatre, then he made a joke about George
Bush's colostomy. Elsewhere on tour he's derided
Ashcroft and the erosion of the Bill of Rights.
There's a slab of the Right that's denouncing
America's imperial wars. That wasn't happening in
the early Sixties. If the Left could ever reach out
to this Right, which it's almost constitutionally
incapable of doing, we'd have something.
This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Sun Nov 24 2002 - 18:30:15 EST