Protest Against War at Last

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

From the perspective of a 1960s and 1970s protester, the domestic and international scenario looks worse than grim. Following the 2016 election cycle, a campaign worker for a moderately liberal Congressional candidate working from an upstate New York campaign headquarters told me after that candidate’s abysmal loss to a far right-wing Republican, “I refuse to be cynical.”  Electoral politics in the US and elsewhere most often fuels the march toward cynicism with left parties and candidates often herded to the desert of oblivion, the so-called scapegoat.

Those who hang on to the chimera of electoral progress are chastened, for example, by the reversal of much of the 1964 Civil Rights and 1965 Voting Rights acts. The insane shooting gallery machismo with its Wild West ethos takes all manner of iterations from the most recent shootings at UNLV by a seemingly disgruntled job applicant, to the massacre of innocent children and educators in 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. War, in some ways, is the international example of the melding of power, weaponry, and greed, and reflects the mayhem of domestic gun violence. They’re two sides of the same coin.

The recent protests against the viciousness (What war isn’t vicious and illegal under international norms?) of the Israel/Hamas war give some hope. There hasn’t been a just war in history, and the just cause in war thesis is tested to its limits by the prolific murder of noncombatants. Indiscriminate killing from the air in war has become one of the most lethal expressions of mass murder.

Across college and university campuses and elsewhere, slander and libel has now been turned by contemporary Zionism into the slander and libel of antisemitism (New York Times, December 10, 2023). With these attacks, many intended to silence critics of Israel, a new Orwellian epoch has arrived.

We on the left are fighting a right-wing tide that seems to go on and on and on. Donald Trump is only a recent symptom of the dysfunctional political, economic, and social systems, but the US and its allies are not dysfunctional in their ability to wage endless wars, solidify extreme wealth, and make war on the Earth’s environment. William Blum’s Killing Hope: U.S. Military and C.I.A. Interventions since World War II (2000) is a good primer on the vast military and war-fighting nature of US foreign policy.

What could be more destructive than COP28 run by a fossil fuel representative, COP28 President Sultan al-Jaber, with masses of fossil fuel lobbyists flooding that UN conference? It’s as if Dante is led through the rings of hell, not by a poet, but by a deranged comic. US imperialism loves fossil fuels. Fossil fuels drive the militarism at the root of global full-spectrum dominance.

It’s naïve to view the US political system as increasingly right-wing from the beginning of the post-World War II Cold War. The founding and expansion of this nation was replete with the mass murder of indigenous peoples and an ever-expanding frontier. Empire knows no bounds and our global hegemony is now reflected in masses of military bases, endless wars, and a predatory global capitalist economy that will level anything in its way. That the environment is moving inexorably toward the boiling point is the result of all of these and an endless love of materialism.

Repression of this society’s critics didn’t begin with the Red Scare or McCarthyism. It was long present in the elimination of dissent and repression of movements for social change. That segregation and racism is prevalent today is an ongoing reminder that comfort is only available to some. The child tax credit that removed so many children from poverty during the Covid-19 pandemic is eliminated as fossil fuel production ramps up and endless wars are funded in places like the Gaza Strip and Ukraine. War is a moneymaker! Empire is a guarantee on militarism and military investments.

The contemporary push to the far right began following the demise of McCarthyism. The move to militarize the police, especially in places where Black and Brown people live, began following the end of the Vietnam War. That militarism on the domestic front was reflected outside the US by Ronald Reagan’s low-intensity warfare in Central America and the Caribbean followed by George H.W. Bush’s eradication of the Vietnam Syndrome in Iraq and Kuwait. Now, true to the Orwellian perspective, enemies have shifted to Russia and China. Enemies can always be found when profits and projection of power are championed by the power elite.

During the Vietnam War, I was labeled by the military as “suffering” from Vietnam Syndrome. It, the syndrome, must have been viral because a few million other protesters and war resisters seemed to have caught this “affliction.” I document the syndrome from a personal and global perspective in Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017). No one, at least in the sense of a critical mass, seems to care about the Vietnam Syndrome anymore. Has it been lost to history?

George W. Bush took war to new heights in response to the September 11, 2001 attacks by Al-Qaeda in the US. There is no doubt those attacks were heinous, but so was Bush’s response in Afghanistan and Iraq that devastated those countries. Notice, how, since World War II, the US refuses to help rebuild nations we decimate through our endless wars. The turmoil that war creates is apparent in the contemporary Middle East and elsewhere with the Israel/Hamas war and the war in Ukraine as war’s most recent iterations.

Biden is so lacking in any humanity in the face of astronomical civilian deaths in the Gaza Strip, that he authorizes additional arms shipments to Israel. There is no shame or humanity there!

Whistleblowers warned of the effects of war, but George W. Bush’s attack against individual rights in the US through the so-called Patriot Act was the most thoroughgoing and successful implementation of official repression of the right to communicate freely without unreasonable searches and seizures of information. The First Amendment has been gutted and there is a near-universal chorus of pro-war sentiment in the US today that drowns out our reasonable discussion by way of critical thought and action. The mass media has become the cheerleader for war.

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