What’s The Best Way To Protest A War?

Anti-War Demonstrators Rally Against Bush Veto

Daniel McCarthy responds to Dreher’s description of antiwar protesters as “nasty and hysterical” left-wingers:

That’s certainly not a fair description of all anti-Iraq War protesters. It’s not even a fair description of most anti-Vietnam War protesters. But in mass politics perception counts. Vietnam protesters had a bad reputation with much of the public, and Iraq protesters who aped their activism naturally came in for the same rep. And even beyond those associations, what was a normal person meant to think about protesters with puppets? …

When I make this argument to left-wingers, I’m typically met with one of the following responses. 1.) “We have to do something!”—as if doing something that’s ineffective or counterproductive earns brownie points. 2.) “That’s a smear!”—you bet it’s a smear, but what are you doing to establish a more sympathetic image in the public’s mind instead? 3.) “Well, what do you suggest?”—what I suggest is not something any “activist” wants to hear: don’t take any action until you understand public opinion in some detail and can relate every individual tactic you propose to a specific, demonstrated mechanism that gives it a chance to be effective.

At the time, even anti-war Salon was somewhat taken aback by the extremism of the anti-war left:

Considerable creative energy went into some attacks on the president. One large one read “Stop the Fourth Reich — Visualize Nuremberg/ Iraq.”

On the other side were rows of doctored photos of all the top-ranking Bush administration officials wearing Nazi uniforms and officers’ caps, each with an identifying caption. Bush was identified as “The Angry Puppet” and Mind-controlled Slave/ ‘Pro-life’ Executioner.” Cheney: “The Fuhrer, Already in His Bunker.” Powell: “House Negro — Fakes Left, Moves Right.” Rice: “Will Kill Africans for Oil.” Ashcroft: “Faith-based fascist, sexless sadist.” “Field Marshall Rummy,” “Chickenhawk Wolfowitz — Jews for Genocide,” and “Minister of Dis-info — Ari Goebbels” rounded out the field.

I went to the major DC march: plenty of sane, good people. But mixed in with those who openly told me they thought Saddam was preferable as a human being and legitimately-elected political leader to Bush. My post at the time:

Notice the personal attacks – “Draft the Bush Twins,” “Sorry, Dubya, Have a Pretzel Instead.” Notice the idiotic moral equivalence: “Who’s The Unelected Tyrant With The Bomb?” It’s hard not to feel demoralized by a culture that can throw up such things as genuine pieces of protest. It’s as if an entire generation or more has forgotten what an argument is.

Dreher asks, “What would an effective antiwar movement look like?” My own view: make the core argument that there is not a serious threat to US national security, if that’s the case (as it was with Iraq and is with Iran); that the last two wars were disasters; and that we can’t afford any more. And then march without equating the president with Hitler or Stalin. Here’s British foreign minister Robin Cook, who resigned rather than follow Tony Blair into the vortex:

Iraq probably has no weapons of mass destruction in the commonly understood sense of the term‚ namely a credible device capable of being delivered against a strategic city target. It probably still has biological toxins and battlefield chemical munitions, but it has had them since the 1980s when US companies sold Saddam anthrax agents and the then British Government approved chemical and munitions factories. Why is it now so urgent that we should take military action to disarm a military capacity that has been there for 20 years, and which we helped to create? Why is it necessary to resort to war this week, while Saddam’s ambition to complete his weapons program is blocked by the presence of UN inspectors? …

He was right, wasn’t he? But he didn’t stop a war, did he? And he was our key ally’s foreign secretary.

(Photo: About 50 people, including a man dressed in a mask portraying President George W. Bush and devil horns, demonstrate against Bush’s veto of the war appropriations bill along Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House on May 2, 2007. The protest was organized by MoveOn.org, Code Pink and other groups calling for an end to the war in Iraq. By Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)