party in the street: let’s talk about vietnam
Earlier this week, I discussed Professor Amenta’s insanely generous review, “Raising the Bar for Scholarship on Protest and Politics,” which just came out in Contemporary Sociology. We’ve been discussing Amenta’s criticisms. On Tuesday, I discussed why it is useful to see the wars in Iraq an Afghanistan as part of a broader war on terror. Today, I’ll discuss Professor Amenta’s other criticism. He doesn’t buy our explanation that polarization was such a big for the modern peace movement in comparison to the Vietnam era movement:
The authors attribute the contrast between the vigor of the anti-Vietnam War movement during the post-Johnson (Nixon) years and the weakness of the antiwar movement during the post-Bush (Obama) era to the less intense partisanship of the earlier period. It is true that U.S. politics in the late 1960s featured many conservative southern Democrats and moderate Republicans, but partisanship remained important and influenced political contention against the war. In addition, the earlier antiwar movement was boosted by Nixon’s ‘‘secret plan’’ to end the Vietnam War, which was revealed to be intensive bombing of Vietnam and then invading Cambodia. Moreover, unlike recent history, there was a draft and no news blackout on Vietnam War destruction and deaths, each of which spurred continued movement activity in the late 1960s and early 1970s. This is a significant oversight because it underlines the difficulties faced by antiwar movements today.
First, let’s start with points of agreement. Michael and I definitely agree with Professor Amenta about the importance of the draft. That’s a huge difference and it certainly kept a lot of other wise apathetic citizens on the street to prevent themselves and their family from being drafted. In multiple interviews with older activists, we where told a number of times that the draft was a big motivator in the 1960s.
Still, that doesn’t get you far enough. If “draft theory” were very true, then there would not have been any antiwar movement at all. A relatively small volunteer force fought in both Iraq and Afghanistan. We would not have seen any protest at all. Furthermore, you need some explanation of why there would be ups and downs of the movement. We think our partisan-identity theory is a plausible explanation rooted in an intuitive political psychology. Polarization just exacerbated the issue. Once Democrats assumed leadership in the war effort, there was nobody on the “other side” to pick up slack in the movement, as moderate Republicans might have in an earlier era.