Anti-war movement

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The term anti-war sometimes refers to pacifism, i.e., opposition to all use of military force during conflicts, but most often is used in the context of opposing one particular nation's decision to wage war. Many activists distinguish between anti-war movements and peace movements. Anti-war activists believe that most wars have an aggressor and that their movement works to ensure that the aggressor (whose goals they see as selfish) ends their war.


Use of the term can cause confusion:

  • is an "anti-war activist" equally opposed to both side's military campaigns, or are they choosing one side in particular?
  • likewise, does against the war indicate a pacifist objection, or a preference for the victory of one side?

Some uses of anti-war suggest that only one side is waging a particular war, implying that if that party were to withdraw or surrender, the war would cease to exist. Much rhetoric about the role of the United States in the Vietnam War employed this usage, as did that of demonstrators in Russia demanding an end to that nation's involvement in the First World War.

Anti-war movements and pacifist movements are related, but are not one and the same, although members of anti-war campaigns often marshall pacifistic imagery and arguments. 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). While pacifists oppose all war, "anti-war" activists may seek only to get one side to withdraw.

History of modern anti-war movements

Anti-war movements in the modern sense can be traced by the use of mass demonstrations, even riots, to oppose conscriptions and civilian casualties in a particular war. This separates them from anti-war parties during, for example, the War of 1812. The change 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. Popular opinion thus became more relevant. The attempt to end the political will to engage in a war from the inside increasingly used counter-mobilization to make the war effort unsustainable, when it no longer enjoyed sufficient popular support to be maintained. The tactics of an anti-war movement became directed towards creating the sense in the mass media and everyday conversations of a basic social revulsion against the conflict, or war in general. Anti-war rhetoric therefore began to focus on war profiteering as well as the dangers to soldiers.[citation needed]

Civil War

A key event in the early history of the modern anti-war stance in literature and society was the American Civil War, where it 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 waged for the profit of particular interests. During the war, the New York Draft Riots were started violent protests against Abraham Lincoln's Enrollment Act of Conscription plan to draft men to fight in the war. After the war, The Red Badge of Courage described the chaos and sense of death which resulted from the changing style of combat: away from the set engagement, and towards two armies engaging in continuous battle over a wide area.

World War I

With the increasing mechanization of war, opposition to its horrors grew, particularly in the wake of the First World War. The European avante-garde cultural movements such as Dada which were explicitly anti-war. However, 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 pacifism was not always the motivation. These trends were depicted in novels such as All Quiet On The Western Front, For Whom the Bell Tolls and Johnny Got His Gun.

World War II

World War II seemed, for a time, to set anti-war movements at a distinct social disadvantage; very few, mostly ardent pacificists, argued against World War II and its results at the time. 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 generations.

Vietnam War

It was with the Vietnam War that the most recent incarnation of the Western anti-war movement took shape, to which the political and organizational roots of most of the existing movement can be traced. Characteristics included 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, the concept that those who were drafted were from poor families and would be fighting a war in place of privileged individuals who were able to avoid the draft and military service, 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 US Senator John Kerry, would speak out against the Vietnam conflict on their return to civilian life.

The Iraq War

Peace rally in Washington, D.C., March 15, 2003

The anti-war position gained renewed support and attention in the build up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the U.S. and her allies. Millions of people staged mass protests across the world in the immediate prelude to the invasion, and demonstrations and other forms of anti-war activism have continued throughout the occupation. The primary opposition within the U.S. to the continued occupation of Iraq has come from the grassroots. Opposition to the conflict, how it had been fought, and complications during the aftermath period divided public sentiment in the U.S., resulting in majority public opinion turning against the war for the first time in the spring of 2004. Majority opinion in the most of the world has remained generally anti-war throughout.

See also