Protests against the War in Iraq--Posner's Reply to Comments
There were many very interesting comments. Let me begin my response with a correction. I should not have described the Vietnam War protests as "violent." There was some violence, but my subject was not protests that were violent, but rather protests that took the form of street demonstrations,picketing, and marches (sit-ins, disruptive though rarely violent, would be intermediate between violent and completely peaceful protests), for my analysis shows why we have not seen many such protests against the Iraq War. I thank Lawrence Caroline for catching my mistake.
One comment raises the interesting question of the motivation to engage in a protest, given that the costs are borne by the individual protester, yet the benefits are diffuse. But that is true of much expressive activity, as when a person applauds at a concert, though realizing that the musicians can't hear his applause. Hence the more costly the expressive activity, the more effectively it communicates the depth of the protester's feeling. That is why street demonstrations are more likely to influence public opinion than comments on a blog; it is so cheap (in time, etc.) to post such a comment that the decision to do so conveys no information about the intensity of the belief that motivated the protest.
Another comment points out quite plausibly that one reason for the lower temperature of the current protests is that there is no sympathy for the enemy. In the Vietnam era a small but highly vocal number of Americans were sympathetic to communism, and a greater number mistakenly believed that Ho Chi Minh was not a real communist but rather was an agrarian reforrmer. Some Americans oppose the Iraq War because they consider preventive wars immoral, but most oppose it because they think it unwinnable--a waste of lives and money. Also, one plank in the opposition platform is that the Administration went to war not realizing how difficult it would be to end it. Well, it is very difficult to end it, so even opponents hesitate to press for an immediate withdrawal, as they would have done with respect to the Vietnam War.
I think too that there is some sense among opponents that President Bush will not withdraw from Iraq no matter what and that his successor will withdraw posthaste, so that the die is cast and protests will have no efficacy. But I do not agree with the commenter who suggested that opponents are pulling their punches because they want the U.S. to remain in Iraq in order to increase the punishment of Bush and the military!
I was very interested in the comments that suggest that the Soviet Union fomented many of the Vietnam War protests both here and abroad. That is a factor fortunately missing from the present situation.