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Build a Fire on Main Street



A little more than thirty-seven years (November 14-15, 1969), the streets of Washington , DC and San Francisco, CA were filled with a million protesters against the US war in Vietnam. These protests, known as the National Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam, had been preceded by a national Moratorium Against the War on October 15 the same year. The politics of the protesters ran from pacifists to liberals to hardcore anti-imperialist radicals bent on revolution. According to permanent war architect and advisor Henry Kissinger, the sight of so many protesters in the streets of DC caused the Nixon White House to reconsider its pending decision to nuke Hanoi, Vietnam. Furthermore, the pitched battles between police and some ten to twenty thousand protesters intent on storming the South Vietnamese Embassy on November 14th, 1969 and the Justice Department building the following day led Nixon’s Attorney General John Mitchell to compare the scene to Russia’s October revolution. While Mr. Mitchell was obviously exaggerating the situation, the comment itself is an indication of the level of paranoia then present among the rulers in Washington.

Another indication of the rulers’ fears was also taking place in Chicago that fall. this was the conspiracy trial of the Chicago 8. Without going into too much history, let it suffice to say that this trial was an attempt by the State to destroy the antiwar and Black liberation movements in the United States. While this trial did not reach its intended goal in the courtroom–indeed, the men were not convicted of the conspiracy charges although they did get convicted for a number of other political crimes–the repression that the trial was a part of did temporarily diminish the numbers involved in those movements.

I mention this historical moment not because I believe that the US antiwar movement against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are operating from a similar position of strength– indeed, today’s movement is far from that. Sure, we’ve elected Democrats in an election that most everyone from Nancy Pelosi to General Abizaid believes was a statement against those wars, and we could even convince ourselves that it was pressure begun by certain elements among the antiwar voices that caused the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld. But, that’s about it. Once again, if we look back to Fall 1969, we discover that Richard Nixon dismissed General Hershey, the head of the Selective Service in September 1969 in an attempt to make it appear that he was listening to his critics. Meanwhile, here in 2006, incoming chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee Charles Rangel has stated that he will reintroduce his bill that would restart the military draft. (Of course, he says he is doing this to prevent other wars from starting using a circular reasoning that if the rich have to send their kids to war, they won’t be as gung-ho about starting them. This rationale has been proven wrong in the past, since it tends to be working class soldiers that end up fighting while the rest end up elsewhere.) The war continues, much as the Vietnam war did after the aforementioned protests. In fact, George Bush recently commented during his visit to Vietnam that the basic mistake made by the United States during its murderous campaign in Vietnam was that it quit before victory was achieved.

Now, I don’t know about you, but that statement sounds awfully dangerous to me. If Bush and his advisors (civilian and military) truly believe this and are willing to say so in public, then we are even further from a withdrawal of US forces from Iraq than every politician in DC thinks (or hopes) we are. At least, back in 1969, Richard Nixon was telling the US people that he was working on a withdrawal plan that he called “Peace With Honor.” Of course, that turned out to be a lie, as the invasion of Cambodia proved a mere five-and-a-half months later. George Bush and Dick Cheney aren’t even pretending that they want US forces to withdraw from Iraq. In their minds, anything short of their definition of victory is surrender. General Abizaid recently backed these two men on this when he told Congress that setting any kind of withdrawal date or timeline would not be a good idea.

At this time, it is not clear to anybody willing to talk about it how such a victory is to take place. Rumors abound about increases in US troop strength in Iraq and a step up in the training of Iraqi forces. Simultaneously, Guard and Reserve units are being reactivated for another tour of duty in the war zone. Acquaintances of mine with sons in the US Special Forces tell me their kids (young men actually) are going over to Iraq and Afghanistan in the spring with a new mission–to train Iraqi and Afghani troops in US leadership techniques. Given what we know about Special Forces training, one can assume that the training will include more than leadership techniques. Furthermore, any influx of Special Forces tends to prove Washington’s intentions of fighting in Iraq over the long haul. To illustrate this point, let me quote a piece by a certain Bruce Hoffman, a US counterinsurgency expert employed by the RAND corporation (if the reader will recall, the Rand Corporation was Pentagon Papers exposer Daniel Ellsberg’s employer, as well). Anyhow, Hoffman writes, “Increasing the number of U.S. military special forces in Iraq in coming months could enhance the training of Iraqi military forces and police in counterinsurgency.” He continues by noting that the presence of such forces in Iraq would have to be for the foreseeable future. Given that the piece was written in 2004, that foreseeable future two years after the fact is (even moreso) at best indeterminable. Succinctly put, there is no indication from the Pentagon or the White House that they believe or want US troops (much less the CIA and its mercenaries) to leave either Iraq or Afghanistan in the next few years, much less the next few months.

This is where we come in. There is a protest against the war being planned by United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) for January 27, 2007 in Washington, DC. This is around the date when the new Congress will take its seats in the Capitol Building. The stated purpose of the protest is to “call on Congress to take immediate action to end the war.” The hope is that hundreds of thousands of US residents will show up on that Saturday and bring the message home that we want an immediate withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. Now, despite UFPJ leadership’s tendency to gloss over the weaknesses of the Democratic Party–as evidenced by their refusal to challenge the Hilary Clintons and other Democrats who have yet to call for immediate withdrawal (or for any withdrawal at all), its muted opposition to Israeli aggression in the West Bank and Gaza and the PATRIOT Act with its accompanying repression of Muslim and Arab peoples, it is important that people do show up for this protest. And every other protest against the war coming up in the future. After all, it is the protesters who decide the course of the movement, not the so-called leadership or any of their Democratic pals. Another national protest is scheduled for March 17, 2007 in DC and other cities. Of course, one needn’t wait for national calls. There is always time to protest in your home town. Walden Bello put it best in a recent piece published in Counterpunch: “The movement cannot afford to squander this momentum,” wrote Bello, “for the price of stepping back and letting the Democrats come up with (a protracted exit) strategy will be more Iraqis and Americans dead, sacrificed for a meaningless war with no real end in sight.”

Not to mention Afghanis and perhaps Iranians.

RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His first novel, Short Order Frame Up, is forthcoming from Mainstay Press. He can be reached at:




Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at:

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