What Is the Point of Anti-War Activism?

Marc Ash / Reader Supported News

My first foray into anti-war activism was in May of 1971. I was fifteen years old. My sister, then seventeen convinced me to join her on an excursion to Washington DC to partake in what we did not yet know would be the largest anti-war rally of the Vietnam War on 03 May, 1971.

We boarded a chartered bus in Rockland County, NY early that morning for what would be a five hour ride to a day of protesting. I remember rolling along through New Jersey and Pennsylvania thinking that this was going to be a good civics lesson. That turned out to be true, on steroids. We were about to find out very quickly how volatile a Vietnam protest could be.

As the bus pulled into its parking space we began to disembark, we had a welcoming committee. I remember coming down the steps of the bus, looking up and seeing about a dozen young men, all white with close-cropped hair, all wearing blue jeans and white teeshirts and all brandishing clubs fashioned from tapered two by fours. They were shouting epithets and presenting themselves in as menacing a manner as possible.

Looking back on it now I suspect they were likely enlisted men from a local military base, but I’ll never know for sure. My first thought was that they were going to kill us, they didn’t and we fled the area in the direction of the Capital as quickly as we could. That confrontation did however focus our minds on a very fundamental question, what are we doing here?

Roughly a year earlier the Vietnam war had landed on the kitchen table. First with the publication of Ron Haeberle’s horrifying photographs of the massacre of unarmed Vietnamese civilians by US soldiers at Mi Lai on November 20, 1969 in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and about three weeks later on December 5, 1969 in Life Magazine.

Four months later the Ohio National Guard opened fire on unarmed student protesters at Kent State University in Ohio killing four of them. We were two of millions of obedient Americans propelled into civil disobedience by what was rapidly becoming the inescapable reality of the Vietnam War. We protested what we then understood to be the horror of war and its human ramifications.

As the director of Truthout I led an entire team in dedicated opposition to the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. We understood that invasion to be illegal, unjustified, predicated on blatant lies and yes, a crime against humanity. We were proud to be in the forefront of the opposition to the US and to that war.

Did the US have a rationale? Sure the attacks of September 11, 2001 were still fresh in the minds of all Americans. There was real pain, real suffering, real fear and a very real need for justice. But that’s not what Americans and the rest of the world got. What the US invasion of Iraq produced was imperial slaughter and the rise of the Islamic State. That’s war. That’s what war does. That’s what we opposed then and what we oppose now.

Putin and Russia are doing today what the US did in Vietnam and Iraq. That doesn’t make the US innocent it makes Russia guilty, now. We oppose Russia’s horrific imperialist war for the same reason we oppose every brutal unjustified military assault. Peace is justice.

Yes we oppose war and this war specifically. No this war is not likely to be productive of anything useful to life on earth. That said the innocent people of Ukraine have every right to defend themselves and their homeland. As did the Vietnamese people, as did the Iraqi people. As do the other European nations Putin and his subordinates threaten on a daily basis.

No to genocide, no to ethnic cleansing, no to crimes against humanity, no to rape, no to child abduction. Sure absolutely keep an eye on the US, always, but at this moment Russia is actively engaged in the commission of massive war crimes. It must stop.

Marc Ash is the founder and former Executive Director of Truthout, and is now founder and Editor of Reader Supported News.