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Tom Rekdal

These are very perceptive observations, particularly your point about the blockage of political representation during the Vietnam era. Both major political parties were, in a sense, managers of the war, and therefore unavailable to the protest movement as avenues of political expression. This is no longer true.

To your comment about the greater ease of communication that modern media and the internet now afford, I would add that the routine, almost formulaic quality of contemporary protest adds much less to the process of political mobilization than true in the earlier period.


Please add the sense of utter hopelessness during the time when warmongers who drank the Kool-aid for their Spoiled Twit's benefit ruled the entire roost.

Since? Not much reason to protest as Democrats are doing about all that is thought responsible at this miserable point and they don't have the votes to go beyond what they can sell to moderate crossovers. (ie those mindful of the coming election and among the very few who aren't in safe seats)

Lastly? Protesting for the benefit of a donkey like Bush would seem yet more fruitless than protesting Nixon. Perhaps Bush's ratings says it all? I suspect protesting did play a strong role in causing LBJ to step down. But what did we get? An Ike-like campaign promising to "bring the boys home" and something yadda "with honor" and six more years of war after nearly everone who was literate, plus some, knew it was an utter waste.... and worse along with 40% of the names on the Vietnam Wall and a million?? Vietnamese and Cambodian deaths, maimings and cripplings.


Obama for president, 2008

It is obvious, that 9-11 provided the opportunity to unveil and unleash upon an unsuspecting nation a sinister plan to invade and occupy the sovereign nation of Iraq. The idea to go to war in Iraq of course was plotted long before that fateful day. This act of unmitigated war defied the moral and value basis of the American democracy.

So much has been said about the reasons for going to war in Iraq. It is now as clear as day that none of the reasons given were true. It can be stated without fear of prejudice that the whole thing was an outright fabrication given all the facts that have now come to light.

The damage has been done and now the big questions beg answers. Where do we go from here, and who will be the best leader to tackle the monumental task of restoring constitutional order to the United States? Who can do the best job of rebuilding Iraq a nation ravaged by a senseless war driven by lies and criminal ambitions? Who can recapture world respect diminished by our total disregard for international law in the conduct of the illegal invasion of Iraq

Enter the 2008 presidential elections. With one swipe of the hand, all republican candidates are ruled out. As a matter of national and global interest, no republican should be allowed near the White House in a hundred years because that’s how many years that party has set civilization back. Attention now turns to the democrats

If the outcome of the Iraq invasion and occupation was not so tragic, it would be laughable to think that all members of congress who voted to start military intrusion into Iraq were deceived by the bush administration.

Far from it, all those who voted for the war including Clinton, Biden, Edward and Dodd knew what they were doing. They took a calculated political risk in part to brace a perceived weak spine in matters of national defense. The other profound reason was to fulfill their obligation to special interest groups like the Neo-cons whose agenda is counter to real American interest. Think about it deeply.

All these pitiful escapists who are now prostrating at the altar of empty regrets should be held accountable just as George Bush and his cronies. These people should not be rewarded for their lack of vision and leadership at the critical moment when supreme judgment and courage were demanded.

Obama is the man for president. After all, what he saw sitting down in the valley, others couldn’t standing atop the hill. What other test of leadership can there be other than the ability to make sound decisions using instinctive judgment in the face of uncertainty.

All those politicians who favored the disastrous incursion into Iraq should be held accountable because they failed in their duty as leaders to protect the vital interests of America namely freedom, pride, treasure and national security. Why should these people be trusted to lead now?

A strong case can be made for Obama to be president because he has already demonstrated presidential capabilities which include strong vision, superior intellect, political savvy, courage, successful career, uncluttered personal life and a great natural charm.

These qualities far out weigh the so called years of experience touted by the other candidates. What do they have to show for their worthless experience? If years of experience meant so much, then why are we in such a mess today?

Please, not another word by these candidates about being deceived by George Bush. Truth is, if one can be deceived by Bush on matters of such national significance, then on no account should such individuals be qualified to lead this great country. Please, drop the self serving talk and make way for Obama, the next president of the United States.


Political Umpire

I think another distinction is the lack of an obvious exit strategy. Neil Sheehan, Pulitzer Prize winner author on Vietnam (A Bright Shining Lie), summed it up:

“In Vietnam, there were just two sides to the civil war. You had a government in Hanoi with a structure of command and an army and a guerrilla movement that would obey what they were told to do. So you had law and order in Saigon immediately after the war ended. In Iraq, there’s no one like that for us to lose to and then do business with.”

By contrast, even the strongest opponents of the Iraq war do not think that America should simply abandon Iraq to its fate; they agree that America has a moral obligation to return stability (if it can) to a country which was de-stabilized by America's actions. Some think that withdrawal of the troops would be the best strategy, but that's not clearly the case by any means.

What I am surprised about is the weakness of calls to bring to account those responsible for the faulty intelligence and the faulty presentation of the case for war; and equally importantly those responsible for the disastrous post-war strategy. The only way to have made the country work would have been to round up all police and military, double their pay and shoot any deserters. And retain all the civil servants including former lackeys of Saddam. If there wasn't the political will for this, the invasion should not have gone ahead.


Another reason: yesterday's protesters are today's Baby Boomers, i.e., parents and (soon to be) grandparents who are content to sit on the sidelines and recall the nostalgic days of their youth while trying to make a living. Unfortunately, most of them have not lost their politics or their idealism, just their energy.


I grew up and came of age during the "Vietnam era". My entire Junior High and High School experience was colored by it. When I moved in Junior High to a new state, the letters from friends back "home", were full of details of the first casualties in town to come home in body bags. When I got to high school, the adminstration had put up what was called the casualty wall, that listed all graduates who were either KIA or WIA on a weekly basis. In my senior year, all of us eligible for the draft were called to the auditorium and listend for our birth dates to be drawn and in what order. Some responses were, " Oh-SHIT!" I'm going to have to forgo college for a few years. Let's go down and enlist! I hear hear if you enlist you've got a better chance of not ending up as a Groundpounder! For others, it was a bus ticket to Canada. As for myself, I pulled one of the last sequence of draft numbers for the year. So I went home and waited for my orders to report for basic training. One day the letter arrived and to my relief, it read, "Don't bother showing up for basics, we have all the manpower required for this year, but stay in touch, just in case. Your draft status has been changed from 1A to 1H." My response, Thank God! I've got my life back! As for those who enlisted, they got the job of cleaning up the mess, and putting everything back into order in the armories, depots and camps. The next year, Congress ended the draft.

Protesting? What else was there to do? Everyone from top to bottom of the soci-economic order was seared by the experience or knew someone who was, no pun intended. Unlike today.

E.C. Hopkins

I agree the costs of violent protests are higher.

However, I also suspect the expected benefits of or returns from an investment in a violent protest have also diminished. The second and third factors you explicate might also help us understand why the value of the violent protest has diminished.

People are busier (or believe they are busier) these days than they were during the late 60’s and early 70’s, and a much smaller percentage of us would set aside the time to pay attention to the messages violent protesters might want to communicate. The violent protest political/rhetorical tool might also suffer from ordinariness. So many of us have seen them before; perhaps they have lost something of the sense of novelty that is often required to hold our attentions these days. Moreover, competitions for audiences’ attentions have also intensified greatly. Perhaps only the most scandalous or extraordinary events are able to seize the attentions of many audiences at the same time these days, because information about such events tends to take up a lot of bandwidth via both the major media and the minor media (blogs, emails, newsletters).

Modern would-be protesters might believe the violent protest is an ineffective political/rhetorical tool.


For me, who did participate in the street and at the university and who was there for Daley's police riots, the reason for subdued protest today is the learned lesson that protest just leads to the bombing of Cambodia and an extension of the misery. This time around, I would favor intensification of the war to the extent that it leads to a permanent defeat of Amerika, much like what happened to the Germans and Japanese, who have been peaceful now for over 60 years.

Part of the lesson learned is that it is my own USSA government, not a foreign power, that presents the greatest threat to my own day-to-day freedom as well as to any hope of ever seeing the light of freedom at the end of the tunnel during my lifetime.

Back in the 60s, there was hope for an end to Amerikan government's meddling in our sex, drugs, and rock & roll, but that end has not been forthcoming. Amerikans are still xenophobes and homophobes. The government still dictates what we can eat and drink. It has tightened rules on sex, drinking and pornography. There are certain magic words, like fuck and nigger, that can't be said on TV. More folks are in prison, more of them for victimless crimes, and more of them are the poor, minorities and those with mental problems.

Give me a defeated Germany, where I could have wine for lunch at my city senior activity center or a defeated Japan where sex is not a moral question! What we need is a defeated Amerika that no longer supports Latin dictators, no longer interferes with an African woman's right to health and no longer attempts to distribute its perverted sense of morality throughout the rest of the world.


jimbino, Do you know what the ING's motto for the last Democratic Convention held in Chicago was? "We kicked your old man's ass in "68" and now it's your turn" Old Judge Julius was probably spinning in his grave. ;)

L. Caroline

It's the question which bothers me.

Violence at Vietnam protests, especially as early as '68, the subject of your blog entry, was rare indeed. The vast majority of violence at such protests was committed by those opposed to the protests, especially the police and FBI. The protests at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in '68 became violent only after the police, in full riot gear, attacked and beat protesters. This was the pattern everywhere. In '67 at the protest which attempted to "levitate" the Pentagon, the demonstrators were attacked by soldiers with bayonets; my friend Scott still bears the scar on his thigh where he was stabbed. In many protests, e.g. in Texas where I was at that time, agent provacateurs employed by the local police and especially and more often by the FBI, attempted to cause violence at war protests; usually without success. Unless you consider peacefully and nonviolently blocking public access to itself be violence, I should love to see your sources for your assumption. J. Edgar was most definitely not committed to non-violence and those working for him knew it and followed his lead. It was part of the anti-war catechism that most of those advocating violence before protests were in fact working directly for the FBI, or indirectly through the captain (in Austin, TX, lieutenant) of the local police in charge of "public order."

The leadership of the anti-war movement, and the older (in their 20's), and even many of the younger participants, broke their political teeth in the civil rights movement. King's non-violence, even by those who had theoretical disagreements with it, was such a sacrosanct part of that movement that it carried over into protest against nuclear testing and then to Vietnam. SDS, from its inception at the U. of Michigan in '61 was committed to nonviolence and was a very significant part of the anti-war leadership on college campuses. In fact, it was those in SDS who gave up on non-violence, and having failed to convince their colleagues, broke away and formed the Weathermen. Except for some of the Maoists (Progressive Labor), a tiny minority, even the most committed Marxists and Socialists, even real card-carrying members of the Communist Party, maintained their commitment to non-violence well into the '70's.

Were your post concerned with the number and size of protests in the '60's, rather than their purported violence, I would have found it insightful.


L. So your saying, "Won't you please come to Chicago for the riots" Was an FBI inspired protest song? See "spooks" in your shadow too? It's all a question of "whose side is whose"? or is there even a side. Just don't "steal the book". ;)

Tom Rekdal

L. Caroline makes a valid point. The Weathermen and a few extremists apart, most of the violence generated in the police/protester conflicts of the late 1960s and early 1970s resulted more from what the police did than from what the protestors did.

Posner chose a poor adjective--"violent" rather than "disruptive"--to frame his question about the broader phenomenon. But it is surely true that current anti-war protests are less disruptive than they were during Vietnam. Posner's analysis of why that disparity exists is, I believe, largely correct.

Fabio Rojas

Becker and Posner raise interesting points about the current anti-war movement. As a sociologist currently studying this political movement, here are a few thoughts:

1. There is a sociological/political science literature indicating that political reform movements have to be aggressive, but not violent. If you don't attract attention to your cause, you won't get anything. If you are too disruptive, you will lose popular support. This is by no means a consensus position among researchers, but it is plausible given various studies of policy response to protest such as Gamson, Fording and some of my own recent work.

2. The relative absence of disruptive tactics is a very conscious choice among anti-war activists. My research partner and I have been conducting field site visits and interviews with activists. We find that, as Posner indicates, there has been learning. These activists feel that extremely disruptive tactics tend to be counter productive. They believe tactics and rhetoric that resonate with public opinion (e.g., "bring the troops home" vs. "Bush lied") are more productive. They have also begun to professionalize - that is, they have begun to adopt the tactics associated with lobbyists. This suggests that the American peace movement has undergone quite a bit of learning.

3. I agree with the commenters about Vietnam era violence. In my own research on black power activists in the 1960s, violence was usually pursued by a minority of individuals and often in response to police. More recently, a graduate student of mine has video taped various demonstrations as part of her research. She has found that violence is often triggered by police actions. It is also the case that there is a small subgroup of activists who employ violence. Thus, the issue of violence in political movements is not simply about the choice activists make. It is the combination of what activists do, what police do and the interactions during protest events. The empirical question is how much of a riot can be attributed to a particular factor, such as police tatics or protester actions. The unstated assumption is that it's mostly about protester choices and police simply respond. I suspect that more weight should be given to police actions.

To see my research on the anti-war movement - use this URL: http://mypage.iu.edu/~frojas/research.html


Tom, Really?! Then why were seven tried in Chicago for Criminal Conspiracy and crossing state lines with the intention to incite riot? Perhaps Hiz Honor de Mayor put the temper of the times into perspective when he said, "The police aren't here to preserve order, they're here to preserve the disorder!" Judge Julie is probably still shaking his head and babbling. YIPPIE!

Fabio, In your literature search have you come across Lipset & Raab's work "American Political Extremism"? Truly a seminal work in the field. Along with the "Age of the Guerilla", "Che on Revolution", Mao's little red book and the "Anarchist's Cook Book" among others. The whole country was up for grabs.

Tom Rekdal

Prof. Rojas--

All forms of protest--peaceful or violent, disruptive or orderly--aim at basically two objectives: to mobilize supporters, and to raise the domestic cost of continuing the policy under protest. Obviously, the larger the movement and the more numerous the actors, the more complex will be the weightings of these different objectives at different times. If you have developed a reliable empirical method for separating measuring these factors you shall have my undivided attention.

Mr. Hatfield--

There are too many reasons for undertaking a political trial like the Chicago 7 trial to rehearse here. Let me just say that there is a large literature on this trial and the events that led to it. If you can read just a portion of it without finding yourself in agreement with the Walker Report's characterization of the Chicago disorders as a "police riot," I'll buy you lunch.

Dan Harper

As someone who is politically on the far left, it seems to me that street protests have become essentially ineffective. The last time in United States history that street protests were effective was probably in the Civil Rights era, and their effectiveness was primarily due to media coverage. Since then, the news media have come increasingly under the control of large corporations who have no particular interest in producing reportage that would adversely affect their economic interests (I'm assuming here that news media are no longer motivated primarily by a higher calling of reporting "truth"). Thus, even when when we see a fairly effective street protest (e.g., this year's Christian Peace Witness for Iraq, which 50 years ago might have gotten serious press coverage) the media ignores the story almost totally. So from a purely pragmatic standpoint, there is little reason to participate in street protests. (And yes, from a leftist point of view there's a possible analogy here with the ineffectiveness of street protest in post-Tianamen China.)

If you assume the above is true, you wouldn't waste time with street protest, would you? And those of us on the left have indeed been pursuing other options. Example: as long ago as the 1980's, Starhawk was writing about the transmogrification of direct political action into a form of religious expression, and today there continue to be those on the far left who have found that religious communities can serve as change agents within mass democracy and advanced capitalism. Example: some current activists are pursuing social marketing as an agent of change, using a basic tool of capitalism to subvert capitalism. Example: new media, particularly the Web, are currently being used with great effectiveness.

Instead of asking "why no street protests?" a more fruitful question might be why public sentiment has turned against the war in Iraq in spite of the control exercised by the government and the misinformation spread by news media. Perhaps religion, social marketing, new media, and other new techniques are actually quietly effective at pushing change in the face of an increasingly autocratic executive branch, in the face of a legislative branch that is only watching the polls, and in the face of an increasingly hostile judicial branch. I suggest that a search for street protests may reveal observer bias more than anything else.



Ole Ullern

To Posner's "five factors are as or more important than the end of the draft or the lower casualties in explaining the absence of violent protests against the Iraq war", I'd add a sixth - that of delusion.

The war is not yet such "a symbol of what they believed to be deeper and broader problems with the United States and the entire Western world" because the war hasn't lasted that long yet, and more people - a bigger proportion - are deluded about the problems with the "system", exemplified in the much denied climate-extreming.

The war serves as a distraction from climate-extreming, and the climate-extreming serves as distraction from the war. Both problems are being profusely denied and played down by the administration, and although these lies are seen, the run-around connection between them is not quite seen.

People's focus is being divided, energy of protest is being depleted, and the convergence to a boiling-point of protest takes longer to reach. Both sides have learned since 1968-1973. But the pressure of a weakened “system” - in the form of a stronger conflict between culture and nature / real needs – is growing.

In the end, action speaks louder than words, and if words aren’t loud enough action, other forms of action will speak, until the “system” again is perceived as serving “we the people”. Unaltruistic, group-interest serving leaders can fool most of the people much of the time. But they can’t delude sufficient amounts of people enough of the time to avoid the reality of double deficits, war against innocents plus war against nature to finally break through – like some New Orleans levies.

F.E. Guerra-Pujol (paco)

Judge Posner, although I agree in principle with the five factors you outlined in your post, and although I was born in 1968 and so have no real memory of the events of that turbulent year, I have to say that I still think that the main variable is your first point about the lack of conscription today.

In short, my sense of the protests in the 1960s (based on a US history class I twice TA'd for with Professor Stephen Gillon) is that the anti-war protestors were a bunch of self-serving opportunists who mostly came from wealthy families. If this is so, this would neutralize some of your five factors, especially the one about time-costs. Nevertheless, I continue to enjoy and relish your economic reasoning.

F.E. Guerra Pujol

Dear Judge Posner, as a postscript, I forgot to mention that (in the absence of conscription) the protesters find themselves in a kind of 'prisoner's dilemma' or 'tragedy of the commons' situation. That is, the cost protesting to each individual is large relative to the small benefits of signalling one's opposition to the war in Iraq.

In other words, the psychic benefits to ending the war would be enjoyed by everyone (including non-protesters), but the costs of protesting to end the war are borne by a small number of radical protesters. As a result, in the absence of a personal incentive to protest (such as the fear of being conscripted), we have a classic free rider or social dilemma in which the interests of each individual protester diverges with the collective interests of the protesters as a whole.


Fabio Rojas

To Mr. Hatfield: Yes, I have run across these works, but my comments were addressing what has been discovered through empirical analysis of protest events, not polemical statements. I think that analyses of tactics (such as violence), on the balance, show that extremism is actually limited in its effectiveness.

To direct link: "If you have developed a reliable empirical method for separating measuring these factors you shall have my undivided attention." The book you should consult is Gamson's Strategy of Social Protest. He collected data on over 100 American political groups to assess whether various factors, such as internal organization or protest, correlate with goal attainment. It was done in the 1970s, which means that it isn't as sophisticated as we might expect, but it is really an ambitious and useful first step towards the comprehensive analysis you suggest. On a more sophisticated level, you might also consult Tilly's "From Mobilization to Revoulation," which presents a rational choice model of protest and state response using the factors you mention. Sadly, there has been no comprehensive study testing Tilly's ideas and it would be good to do so.

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Tom, The report mentioned never covers the issue of using Gen'l. Logan's statue in Grant Park as a public toilet. This was just too much for those charged with maintaining public order. It was like waving a red flag in the face of a bull. Such incidents occured all over the city. As a strategy of street theater, it was brilliant, because it forced the opposition to take an action that was counter-productive from a propaganda perspective.

Fabio, it looks as if we've crossed over into the realm known as "revolutionary praxis". Such that, "practice without theory is useless and theory without practice is meaningless'. The problem with trying to do an empirical study of any social/political event, lies in the fact that the observer cannot fully isolate themselves from the event and make objective observations. The event is meant to fully engage the hearts and minds of the participants of both sides and polarize them. Emotionally, psychologically and physically.

Oz Stein

My first reaction to Posner is: "Is that right?"

Is it really the case that the situation in Vietnam is similar to what we have in Iraq now? This approach seems typical of looking at a few qualities, and drawing the conclusion that they in fact must be similar enough to draw identical conclusions from.

1- Remember that the bigger protests in Vietnam did not start until after there were already hundreds of thousands of troops (many drafted) deployed.

2- The war in fact had started many years before 1968. Compare that with the large protests even before Iraq war.

3- Obviously Posner doesn't spend his valuable time with any anti-war organizing. But for those who spend time on the field, it is very clear that the current activist groups generally share an understanding that "violence" is not productive on the street. There is a deep sense of "non-violent activism" even among those who self-identify as anarchists. Also the church/faith based groups which became active in anti-militaristic campaigns of 80's (when the US was supporting bloody paramilitaries in Central America); now those groups have a strong legacy of non-violence in today's antiwar groups.

Of Posner's explanations the most reasonable one is not having a draft today.


I would add to Judge Posner's discussion of the cultural factor my observation that, during the Vietnam War, many Americans saw the Vietnamese Communists as the "good guys" and openly wished for a U.S. defeat. By contrast, I almost never hear an American publicly hoping for a U.S. defeat in Iraq (although undoubtedly many would privately prefer a U.S. defeat to a "victory" that might vindicate George Bush). Rather, public opposition to the Iraq War is usually based on its being unwinnable and its having been sold to the American people on false pretenses. The closest one comes to hearing in this country public sympathy for insurgents/al Qaida/Moqtada al-Sadr is from "paleoconservatives" who argue that we have no right to impose Western liberal values on cultures that don't want them.

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