December 22, 2006

Take Five--Reasons for the Fall-off in Anti-war Demos After '69

It's Friday, and time for Take Five. Last week's inaugural list was five lefty mysteries.

This time, it's a little more free-form. In a discussion about the student movement of today on another blog, a commenter nmed lawyerDan raised the following question:

One of the things I always wondered about was why there were those huge demonstrations of maybe 2 million people in the fall of 1969 and then, even as the war became even less popular, there were never such big marches again. It was like the Vietnam Moratorium ended the war, but it took 6 years to process the paperwork.

The response, by lao hong han, conveniently for Fire on the Mountain offered five points, as a partial explanation. That post follows:

I agree that the high point of mass demos was 1967-69. In the remarkable "Honorable Peace," one of the finest and most savage protest songs of the Vietnam era, Gerry Goffin writes of the 1972 Christmas bombings of Hanoi ordered by Nixon and Kissinger:

I know the tide of protest has passed us by somehow,
But when will you speak out, if you don't speak out now?

(This puppy was recorded on Christmas Eve 1972 as the bombing intensified by, believe it or not, B.J. Thomas, Mr. "Rainsdrops Keep Fallin' On My Head," and almost universally forbidden radio play by station managers fearful of its blunt condemnation of Nixon.)

Five short points in partial explanation:

1. Fatigue with what some of us had taken to calling "Peace Crawls" and saw as ineffective and toothless, especially as media coverage dwindled.

2. A broad radicalization in the student movement which led to the eruption in May, 1970 (Cambodia, Kent State, Jackson State, national shutdown of campuses, the partial or complete destruction of 33 ROTC buildings around the country, etc.). This advance was undercut even as it was happening by the 1969 collapse of SDS, depriving the student movement of organizational leadership.

3. The perception that the war was in fact ending with negotiations with North Vietanm and the NLF underway, the drawdown of US troops under "Vietnamization" to fewer than 200,000 by Fall, 1971, and the erosion of the US military.

4. The institution in 1969 of the draft lottery which let a majority of draft age males know whether or not they would likely be facing conscription, thus limiting the insecurity previously felt by an entire age cohort. This was followed by the end of the draft overall in 1973.

5. The fact that despite the shellacking of "peace candidate" George McGovern in the 1972 presidential election, more and more Senators and Congressmen were belatedly taking stands for ending the war.

What say you, dear readers?

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