The New Anti-War Movement: The Military

The New Republic this week has a snidely-vicious attack on John Murtha as the destroyer of the Democratic party’s hopes for November. The article reflects TNR’s belief that the war in Iraq is a good thing, and underscores the deep divisions within the Democratic party over Iraq. It also demonstrates a key difference between Vietnam and Iraq. During Vietnam, opposition to the war was most fervent among those who might have to go there: Students. Back then writers at the TNR or their friends were actually in danger of serving in the war; they were against it.

This time around, there’s no possibility that meritocrats or their children will have to serve in the war, and opposition to the war is again strongest among those who actually have to go there: The military. Consider these facts:

—Murtha, the leader of the Get out of Iraq movement, is a Vietnam vet who has derived moral force from his visits to veterans’ hospitals;

—The other most prominent antiwar voice belongs to a military family member: Cindy Sheehan;

—The lead lawyer arguing for the Supreme Court reversal of the Bush Administration’s war tribunals procedure was a Navy Lieutenant Commander, Charles Swift;

—Last month the Naval War College defied congressional opposition in inviting Steve Walt and John Mearsheimer, leading academic critics of the Iraq war (and Mearsheimer is a former Air Force officer) to speak at the school, where they got a receptive audience;

—This spring the Bush Administration shifted its militant Iran policy to a softer, working-with-Europe policy after a virtual palace coup of retired generals came out to question the policy;

—”Before the war began, the [former] Army chief of staff Eric Shinseki said that it would take 500,000 troops to stabilize the country, and [Paul] Wolfowitz told him, ‘I think that’s wildly off the mark.’ I never heard a chief of staff reproved in that way by a civilian. But he didn’t pull that figure out of the air. I am sure that Shinseki had a six-foot-high stack of Army estimates. We still haven’t seen those studies.”—Daniel Ellsberg (in New York Magazine).

—The strongest critic of Dick Cheney has been Colonel Larry Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s former chief of staff, an opponent of the Iraq war who has described the vice president as a “paranoid” after 9/11.

—Vietnam vet John Kerry recently recanted his support for the war and has drawn support from an upstart movement within the Democratic party that again derives its power from the disillusionment of veterans.

What I’m saying is that the moral force of the antiwar movement today comes from the military. And maybe intellectual force too: They are hungriest for new ideas about how to deal with the clash of cultures, they are most skeptical of the neocons, or most willing to speak out against their deluded program, c.f. Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski. They are open to discussion of the Israel lobby, something the mainstream media has difficulty engaging. Their liability is that the military are not politically organized. A good thing, that. But daily the number of veterans of good wars goes down, while the number of veterans of bad ones goes up. Their voices will only get louder.