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Anti-war is a term that is widely adopted by any social movement or person that seeks to end or oppose a future or current war. It can be considered a somewhat loaded term, as anti-war activists are not always protesting against war per se (they may support one side over another, for example), nor are their opponents necessarily aggressively "pro war.".
In simple terms, 'anti-war' means 'against this war', be it Vietnam, Gulf War I, Gulf War II, or any war. The protesters are not automatically pacifists, they are just against a war they believe is either unjust, unfair, or goes against their best interest. On the other hand, a pacifist believes that any war is wrong.
Anti-war thought became a much more dominant factor in global politics during the last half of the 20th century. Public anti-war protests have been a common outlet for anti-war feelings in recent years, often attracting hundreds of thousands of participants.
Many large anti-war movements have been orchestrated in opposition to wars led by the government of the United States, with Americans themselves often being the most vocal critics. Anti-war sentiment in America reached a peak during the height of the Vietnam War and was rekindled to some extent in the months leading up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. February 15, 2003 saw the biggest global protest movement ever against the predicted invasion of Iraq, with millions of participants worldwide.
Anti-War versus Pacificism
Anti-war movements and pacifist movements are related, but are not one and the same. Pacifism is the belief that conflict is never acceptable, and that society should not be structured to maintain a stance of readiness to fight in a conflict (See disarmament). Anti-war movements are generally more specific, focusing on a particular conflict, or how it is being managed. Anti-War stances developed repeatedly during the 20th century, most notably during the First World War, when demonstrators in Russia demanded an end to that nation's involvement in armed hostilities. There have been anti-war movements since then, culminating in the movement developed in response to the American involvement in Vietnam.
Brief History of Modern Anti-War Movements
The history of the anti-war stance in literature and society dates back in modern terms to the American Civil War, which culminated in the candidacy of George McClellan for President of the United States as a "Peace Democrat" against incumbent President Abraham Lincoln. The outlines of the anti-war stance are seen: the argument that the costs of maintaining the present conflict are not worth the gains which can be made, the appeal to end the horrors of war, and the argument that war is being profitted from by particular interests. After the war the Red Badge of Courage presented the chaos and sense of death which hovers over the style of combat which was growing in importance: away from the set engagement, and towards two armies engaging in continuous combat over a wide area. With the increasing mechanization of war, the stance in opposition to the horrors of war grew, particularly in the wake of the First World War. Many veterans of that war were extremely cynical about the motivations for entering the war, but were willing to fight later in the Spanish Civil War, indicating that pacificism was not always the motivation. See such novels as All Quiet On The Western Front, For Whom the Bell Tolls and Johnny Got His Gun.
Anti-War movements in the modern sense can be traced by the use of mass demonstration, even riots, to oppose involvement in a particular war. This separates them from anti-war parties in, for example the War of 1812. The connection comes from the different manner in which wars in industrialized societies are fought: relying on conscription and mobilization of the total resources of the society for the conflict. The attempt to end the political will to engage in a war from the inside increasingly used counter-mobilization as proof that the war effort was unsustainable, since it no longer enjoyed sufficient popular support to be maintained.
World War II seemed, for a time, to set anti-war movements at a distinct social disadvantage, it seemed, for some time, that only ardent pacificists would argue against World War II and the results. However the grim realities of modern combat, and the nature of mechanized society insured that the anti-war viewpoint would again find presentation in Catch-22, Slaughterhouse Five and The Tin Drum. This sentiment grew in strength as the Cold War seemed to present the situation of an unending series of conflicts, which were fought at terrible cost to the younger generation.
It was, of course, with the Vietnam War that the anti-war movements took shape: an opposition to the corporate interests perceived as benefiting from war, to the status quo which was trading the lives of the young for the comforts of those who are older, and to the lack of input in decision making that those who would die in the conflict would have in deciding to engage in it. Many veterans of Vietnam, including John Kerry would speak out against the Vietnam conflict on their return to civilian life. The tactics of a post-modern anti-war movement were also refined: away from demonstrations per se, and towards an attempt to create the sense in the mass media of a basic social revulsion against the conflict, or war in general. This included focusing on war profiteering and civilian casualties in the arguments used.
The anti-war position gained a renewed lease on life in the wake of the conflict between the United States and Iraq. Many 2004 Democratic presidential contenders, including former NATO commander Wesley Clark and Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, felt that it was an optional war, unrelated to the Global War on Terrorism. They argued that there had been a headlong rush to war, and that the evidence of the necessity for war was insufficient. Opposition to the conflict, how it had been fought, and complications during the aftermath period divided public sentiment in the U.S., resulting in public opinion turning against the war for the first time in the spring of 2004, just before the United States handed over limited sovereignty to an interim government.
- Post-September 11 anti-war movement
- Peace movement
- Vietnam Veterans Against the War
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