The D.O.A. Peace Movement Ain’t Marching Much Anymore, But We Did

Photograph Source: Frank Wolfe – Public Domain

We won’t be erased or airbrushed out of history. Even though there appears to be no life in anything resembling a vibrant antiwar movement, especially on college campuses, the endless wars the U.S. now fights go on with lives lost and trillions of dollars of so-called national treasure thrown away.

In 2018, I received an email from the group Vietnam Peace Commemoration Committee. The group is gearing up for marking two of the most memorable and effective mass protests in the U.S. against the Vietnam War that were part of the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam on October 15, 1969 and on November 15, 1969. On October 15, 1969, millions of people against the war, from shopkeepers to workers to accountants to students across the U.S. marched and demonstrated in places big and small to bring the reality of the Vietnam War home to ordinary people and to stop the madness of the slaughter of ordinary people in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, and the loss of those who fought the war on the side of the U.S. The Vietnam Peace Commemoration Committee plans to mark those two notable demonstrations for peace (the November demonstration took place in Washington, D.C.). Five hundred thousand people showed up in D.C., while just the Boston protest alone in October drew about 100,000 to hear, among others, Senator George McGovern. Hundreds of other protests and marches also took place across the nation and world on October 15th. Bill Clinton organized one in London. The homepage of The Vietnam Peace Commemoration Committee is an up to date compilation of the planned October and November 2019 anniversary events.

The October 15, 1969 demonstration was extraordinarily memorable. I marched from the college green at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island down College Hill to the state house. We had heard the late Congressman Allard Lowenstein deliver a powerful speech at Brown on the tenor of the antiwar movement in the U.S. He said (and I paraphrase here) that if those in power do not heed the peaceful actions of those on the streets, then the movement had the potential for turning violent, as a small fraction of the movement did.

The candlelight procession of hundreds down College Hill to the state house was remarkable as the evening lengthened. At the state house we were met by thousands of others (a guess is between 6,000-7,000) and heard the keynote speaker Mitchell Goodman, under indictment for allegedly counseling young men (along with others such as the famous pediatrician Dr. Benjamin Spock) to avoid the draft, give yet another powerful speech against the war.

What made all of this very personal rather than abstract for me was the fact that I had left my teaching job on the afternoon of the day of the demonstration and would head to South Carolina and then Georgia on October 16th, the next morning, for basic and advanced training in the military. The enormity of all of this was almost more than I could bear. Having skin in the “game,” so to speak, made all of life charged as if by lightning.

Where to go with these beliefs and feelings so many years later in the time of endless wars and endless mayhem? Can a person and movements be as viable 50 years later in such a right-wing environment? Faced with more war and rumors of wars in places like Iran, Venezuela, and with the near-constant threat of force that can be called upon from about 800 military bases around the world, we have a valid claim on the history of antiwar activism and protest from the moratorium.

The movement for peace was largely ended from the low-intensity warfare of Ronald Reagan in a reboot of the military-industrial complex to the endless wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. With the Fourth of July celebration in Washington, D.C. rapidly heading toward a military parade  (“Tanks Roll into D.C. to Celebrate Independence Day,” Real News Network, July 3, 2019) (recall the military parades with missiles, tanks, and troops in Moscow during the Cold War Soviet Union era), the prospects for peace look dimmer than ever. Nuclear arsenals are being “modernized” for full-spectrum control of the entire planet’s agenda. Even the millions who marched during the movement for a nuclear freeze in the 1980s have largely been silenced.

The actual spectacle of Trump turning the Fourth of July into a military exercise is documented in “With Flyovers and Flags, Trump Plays M.C. for the Fourth,” (New York Times, July 4, 2019).

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).