Quagmire

(The following is a version of your contributor’s Writing 39B final paper edited for the blog.)

Today we hear the word “quagmire” thrown around a lot by the media, referring to the situation our troops face in Iraq. But when most college-aged Americans hear “quagmire,” they probably think “giggity-giggity,” (referring to the Family Guy character named Quagmire) not “the situation our troops face in Iraq”. Yet when we go back to the last time we described our troops as being in a quagmire, the Vietnam War, there was seemingly much more interest in the situation among Americans than there is today. But are Americans really more apathetic towards the war in Iraq than they were towards the Vietnam War? And if so, to what between the conflicts and in American politics can we attribute this apathy?

The anti-war movement today, in comparison to the opposition to the Vietnam War, is pretty pathetic. While there was a recent march in protest of the Vietnam War in Washington, D.C, it was merely a rip-off of a Vietnam War protest that occurred 40 years prior (Washington Post). If it were not the 40-year anniversary of the massive Vietnam War protest, there probably wouldn’t have been any march at all. On top of that, I can’t remember the last time there was a massive anti-war protest before this, and I consider myself to be both aware of the news and a strong critic of the war in Iraq. A quick, non-scientific poll of twenty of my hall-mates, who I feel represent typical college students, reveals that only six had even heard of this protest, and only two could name me any recent anti-war protests at all. A handful had “heard of” Cindy Sheehan, the anti-war protestor with the most celebrity status, and four correctly identified her as such. Fifteen identified themselves as being “opposed to the war in Iraq.” The disparity between my hall-mates who oppose the war and my hall-mates who are even aware of the anti-war movement is very obvious. It should be no surprise, then, that despite the impotence of the anti-war movement, the American public itself is very opposed to the war: according to a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, less than a third of all Americans support the war (CNN).

Why, then, is the anti-war movement so feeble today when compared to during the Vietnam War? A statistic from the CNN poll gives us a hint. According to the poll, 90 percent of Democrats oppose the war in Iraq, while only 24 percent of Republicans oppose it. On the other hand:

In 1971, when public opposition to the war in Vietnam was about the same as today’s opposition to the Iraq war, both Democrats and Republicans opposed the conflict in nearly equal percentages. At the time, Republican Richard Nixon was in the White House, managing a war he inherited from the Democratic Kennedy-Johnson administration. (CNN)

These statistics suggest that the public, anti-war movement today may be primarily motivated by political opposition to President Bush. This is not to say that all those who are opposed to the war are opposed to it for political reasons, but rather that political opposition to Bush may be what inspires the protests. The signs at protests often suggest this too, as the Washington Post quotes several signs seen at the recent march in Washington: “JAIL TO THE CHIEF,” “Impeach Bush for war crimes,” “Bush lies, soldiers die.”

So what motivated the massive, recurring, very reported protests against the Vietnam War? It obviously wasn’t for political reasons, as the poll numbers show. The Vietnam War was the first American war to be massively covered by the television media. ABC, NBC, and CBS brought horrific images of war to people all over America. Today, you’d be hard-pressed to find an evening news show – especially on cable – that even reported on the horrors of the Iraq War, let alone one that brought you images straight from the front. The anti-Vietnam war movement also took several years to gain a full head of steam: we first brought troops to Vietnam in 1961, and the anti-war movement didn’t really begin to pick up until the very late 1960’s. The most important influence on the anti-war movement, though, was the military draft instituted in 1969. This is probably also why the anti-Vietnam war movement was so non-partisan: everyone – red, blue, and green – is affected by the draft.

While we sit in our armchairs and say, “Hey, I don’t like the way things are going in Iraq,” the war still doesn’t really affect most of us. If a draft were instituted today, though, the draft would affect all college-aged students across the country. Unlike the Vietnam War draft, it’s improbable that exemptions would be made for college students, since today many more Americans attend college. Consequently, we, the college students of America, the demographic with the most time on our hands to spend on something like a march in Washington, would have to protest loudly, in order to protect our own livelihood. But we cannot wait for the draft to make our voices heard, because then it will be too late. You’ll be shipped off to Baghdad (or maybe Tehran). Giggity-giggity.

Works Cited

Bohan, Caren. “Thousands march to protest Iraq war.” Washington Post. 17 March, 2007: n. pag. Online version. 20 March 2007. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/03/17/AR2007031700648_pf.html&gt;. Bohan describes a recent march in Washington, D.C protesting the war in Iraq, about forty years after a similar march in protest of the Vietnam War.
Schneider, Bill. “Poll: Support for the Iraq war deteriorates.” CNN.com. 19 March, 2007. Cable News Network. 20 March 2007. <http://edition.cnn.com/2007/POLITICS/03/19/iraq.support/&gt;. Schneider analyzes the drop in support for the war in Iraq, and compares the demographics of opposition to the war in Iraq to that of the opposition to the Vietnam War.

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3 Responses

  1. You may have the issue of the justification aspect of each war. With the Vietnam War, it was an attempt to stop an ideology from spreading. Sacrificing thousands of lives in order to do so is likely to cause a lot of outrage. In the Iraq War, the same case for homeland security is made as for the spread of communism, but the threat is more easily perceived with 9/11 still being in relatively short-term memory rather than the Russians being half a world away fighting us in far off lands. The Mid-East region fosters more imminent threats to the US than did SE Asia at the time. Therefore, there is less of an urge to strongly oppose the war, rather to oppose politicians, strategies or methods for war.

  2. I have to wonder if ‘we’ really know how it is going in Iraq. The news I see (I don’t have cable) is biased and as you say seems politically motivated against Bush. I have read and heard from various soldiers in or coming from Iraq who confirm this. They seem to believe much progress is being made toward accomplishing the goal of establishing a democracy. In fact, they believe our continued present is necessary for the survival of the civilian population.

    Even though the Iraqi government needs much improvement, it is our Vietnam era politicians who need to get over their socialist ideology and deal with the real issues before it’s too late.

    Opinions like this is what happens when you write a thought provoking article.

  3. So, we’ve lost somewhere around 3500 or so people doing this, and probably tens of thousands injured or so. The whole WMD thing was played by the media as a joke, cornering politicians into making rediculous statements about where and when, and what a WMD was. I see a former Iraqi general on the Daily Show stating they were put on trucks and shipped to Syria and Iran, and then next week more making fun of WMD and especially W – as in Bush. Rather than be angry at Kennedy, who threw the Dem’s chances against W by supporting Kerry instead of… I’m rambling. The point is, muslims in Darfour are killing many times this amount, closer to a quarter million people. Here in the U.S. when bi-lingual means “speaks spanish”, and minority means “either african-american or hispanic”, we need a culture change that allows us to see things more clearly – clarifying our priorities as well as alleviating fear of the unknown. Only that will unite our differences in thinking.

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