The Anti-Vietnam War Student Movement and Now

You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.- Bob Dylan

There are parallels being drawn, most recently by Sen. Ted Kennedy (Mass-D), amongst others, who compare today’s Iraq “quagmire” to Vietnam during the 60s and 70s. But is this truly an accurate assessment? For students who are involved in the antiwar movement at present, we must make a sober analysis of precisely this very question.

In form, there are some eerie parallels that can be extrapolated from the two invasions and subsequent occupations, respectively. In Vietnam, you had an indigenous people’s army with a history of anti-imperialist struggle, first against Japanese and French forces, then against the North Americans; U.S. troop levels were at 543,400[ii] during the height of its invasion (April 30, 1969). While in Iraq, for its part, you have primarily an indigenous popular armed insurgency aimed against some 120,000 North American occupation forces (January 29, 2005) working in combination with tens of thousands of mercenaries (funded by U.S. tax dollars alongside of loot extracted from the illegal invasion) as well as thousands of other coerced and bribed international forces.

If we are to take Condoleezza Rice’s outrageous Senate confirmation assertion of “120,000 trained Iraqis,” then that would equal a might amounting to more than a quarter of a million occupation forces–armed to the teeth with the most modern military technology money can buy these days. It appears, nonetheless, that the “Iraqification” of the war has turned out to be a miserable failure.

Now then, aside from certain military aspects, the comparison begins to wane upon closer analysis.

When the United States (illegally) invaded Vietnam, it was also ostensibly done to “liberate” the Vietnamese (coated under part of the white man’s burden complex). In reality, however, it was merely one theater of many in a tumultuous war between two superpowers vying for global hegemony. The so-called Domino Theory applied to the conditions of Vietnam stated that if communists took South Vietnam, then other countries in South-east Asia would follow suit.

Iraq is a different animal. The U.S. is the sole superpower at the present moment. To be sure, there are geopolitical implications as well–but of a very different nature. Iraq, unlike Vietnam, has the second largest proven reserves of oil in the whole world–with an estimated 200 billion barrels of potential reserves.

Whereas in Vietnam, the U.S. had the viable alternative of losing face and retreating in the face of popular insurrection, there exist no such option in Iraq.

Let us be clear about this. Oil as an energy resource is the lifeblood of any industrialized economy. Control of this resource equals political and economic power, whether or not it flows directly into this or that country is irrelevant so long as it is in fact controlled. Indeed, the very nature of which currency is used, i.e., the euro or the dollar, has the potential to throw entire economies into spin.

In a recent article, Professor Gary Leupp writes of what the Neocons might think if: Say in 2008 there are 300,000 U.S. troops deployed from Afghanistan and Iran to Syria and Lebanon, holding some key cities, losing 20 KIA every day. No doubt, the Tufts’ history professor concludes, that in their twisted view of reality, the followers of Leo Strauss would consider this a small price to pay to establish U.S. global dominance.

But, in order for this scenario to play out, the architects of war and empire would need more than double the manpower than they currently have. The question to us as students and youth is: From where do they propose to acquire these new recruits? Of the 535 members of Congress, i.e., the 435 members of the House and the 100 members of the Senate, these elite policy makers do not seem too eager to send their respective offspring to a war that they for the most part implemented.

It is important to note that when George W. Bush, the former cheerleader from Andover and the loquacious author of the now-famous “bring ‘em on” statement, had the chance to fight in a war in which he believed in, he was nowhere to be found.

By May 2005, National Guard units are estimated to make up half of all the U.S. troops currently being deployed. Additionally, in January, according to an Associated Press report, the Marines’ monthly recruitment goal has fallen short for the first time in ten years. “Now we’re seeing parents resisting,” cites Maj. Dave Greismer, spokesman for Marine Corps Recruiting Command, “because they worry that their son or daughter will wind up in a war zone.”

In the context of the present-day antiwar campus struggle, it is necessary for us to assess these realities; in addition, it is necessary for us to learn from both the good and bad of the anti-Vietnam war struggle waged in the U.S. during the ’60s and ’70s.

Case in point, the Students for a Democratic Society, one of the principal leaders of the anti-Vietnam war struggle, in its famous 1962 Port Huron Statement, outlined the importance of the campus struggle in this manner:

“First, the university is located in a permanent position of social influence. Its educational function makes it indispensable and automatically makes it a crucial institution in the formation of social attitudes. Second, in an unbelievably complicated world, it is the central institution for organizing, evaluating, and transmitting knowledge. Third, the extent to which academic resources currently are used to buttress immoral social practice is revealed first, by the extent to which defense contracts make the universities engineers of the arms race.”

This eloquent paragraph highlights the importance of the campus struggle vis-à-vis the anti-war movement in general. As news of death and destruction is broadcasted daily from the Middle East, the need for a vivacious campus-antiwar movement becomes all the more indispensable.

The J-20 Walkouts were merely a step in the reconsolidation of the militant antiwar struggle on campuses that began on March 5, 2003.They demonstrated to the entire world that the students and youth were capable of working together while maintaining individual and organizational initiative. The individuals and organizations that led in the J-20 Walkouts showed that they were able to coordinate with one another while treating each other with respect and equality.

It is absolutely imperative that students and youth not divide themselves in Byzantine fashion. Our unity is directed against war and empire; that is to say, our unity is based in our resistance. Period. We are firm in our antiwar principles but creative in their application. Our eyes remain cast upon the future, though. If the J-20 Walkouts were a step in rebuilding the antiwar campus struggle, then the week of March 20, the second anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, needs to be a veritable leap.Richard Moreno is a student at Mt. San Antonio College in the Los Angeles area. He can be reached at [email protected].

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