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I want to riff on an entirely valid question that popelizbet asked yesterday: "What can we do?" I don't think she's asking about the protests themselves, more about how do we stop the demonization of protest, but I do want to say this: I have long, long since concluded that in a democracy, there is nothing in the world more entirely pointless than a public demonstration. And I think, honestly, that most demonstrators learn that, no later than their 2nd or 3rd demonstration, learn that demonstrations do nothing other than provide people with the self-comforting illusion of having "done something," when they've done nothing of the sort. But then, an awful lot of the time when you're seeing mass demonstrations, they're not demonstrating in lieu of doing something else that would be useful. They're demonstrating because there isn't anything better that they could do. If they're going to do something frustrating and futile, at least the demonstrators get the satisfaction of doing their emasculatingly useless thing in public.

Look, I read a lot of history, but there are gaps in my knowledge. So let me ask you all this.

In all the history of democracy, whether the leaders were actually elected or "elected" in fraudulent, rigged election processes? Once the elected (or "elected") leader declares a war, whether or not the laws of his or her country gives war-making authority to that office? Once the first soldiers, in obedience to that order whether they should have obeyed or not, crosses the enemy (or "enemy") border? Has any war ever been stopped, short of being won or lost? Ever?

In 1860, there were an awful lot of Yankees who recognized all of Dixie as, well, frankly, what it still is today: a dead weight hanging around this country's neck, acre after acre of completely useless land full of mostly useless people, a net recipient of tax revenue rather than a net contributor to the country since shortly after Independence. People who said that if Dixie wanted to secede from the Union, then never mind the Constitutional niceties, let them go, and good riddance to bad garbage, certainly not worth spending one life or one dollar (let alone millions of lives and the entire federal treasury) to keep. Pro-war Unionists, once the war started, called these people Copperheads, and not a few Americans lost everything they owned to court-ordered confiscation and either went to prison or fled into exile after being convicted of sedition, for speaking out against the war once it had started. Many of them paid very nearly the ultimate sacrifice to try to stop their country from waging a murderous and unjust war. I also know that there were anti-war riots in several northern cities, most famously the anti-Draft riots in New York City. Did any of the journalists, anti-war politicians, popular authors, or rioters succeed in stopping the Civil War?

From 1913 to 1917, The War in Europe was the hot-button political issue in the United States; Woodrow Wilson only won the presidency in 1916 by promising to keep us out of it. It was the clearly and unambiguously polled opinion of the vast majority of American voters that it wasn't worth one American life or one American dollar to get involved, and to this day, I still don't claim to understand what American interest the Wilson administration thought they were pursuing when they used the passengers of the Lusitania as human shields for an illegal arms shipment to England. I do know that there were labor activists in the US who saw through this, who got the reporters for many newspapers to accurately report that the German High Command had warned the passengers of the Lusitania that they were being used as human shields before the ship sailed. Did the anti-war voters, or the labor activists, or the journalists manage to stop US involvement in World War I? (Too bad they didn't, too; had they succeeded, nobody but a handful of specialist historians would ever have heard of Adolph Hitler. Or, for that matter, Osama bin Laden.)

From when Supreme Fuhrer Hitler renounced the end of WWI peace treaty and began re-arming in 1936 and threatening aggression against his neighbors, there were many thousands of pacifists and other anti-war activists who opposed him. Once the war broke out, some of them, having forseen the disaster to come, went so far as to sabotage their own country's war efforts and even attempted to assassinate the Fuhrer. Did they manage to stop WWII?

I know that a ton of old hippies claim that their anti-war protests brought down the Vietnam War, but actual professional historians who've analyzed the war conclude that on the contrary, the anti-war demonstrators may have actually prolonged the war, by making the anti-war side look so unattractive and anti-American that they made it infeasible for both Johnson and Nixon to accept defeat. Thousands of dead later, and more than four years after the peak of the demonstrations and riots, the war ended not when the anti-war forces tried to stop it, but when the US Army was defeated.

When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, there were few people who questioned the war, but never was anyone more powerless and helpless than an anti-war Russian in the USSR. As the death toll began to mount, though, even in the old Soviet Union people risked their very lives to protest, to demand that the Communist Party explain what was so important about Afghanistan that so many of their friends and family members had to die there. And they kept right on protesting, quietly and loudly, and did they stop the war that way? As if. Nor did it even stop the war when the Soviet Army's returning soldiers began questioning the war themselves, in public. No, trust me, long before that war ended, there were tens of thousands of Russians, maybe even hundreds of thousands of them, trying to end the war. Did they? Fat chance; that war ground on until the CIA-backed mujahadeen forced the Soviet Army to retreat.

Show me a counter example, if you know one. Show me even one time when, clearly and unambiguously, political opponents of one of their own country's aggressive wars have ever managed to stop that war short of defeat, victory, or total collapse of their own government's claim to legitimacy for other reasons. You want to stop the Iraq War, soon? So do I. But now that I think of it, the more I realize that if I'd paid enough attention to history, maybe I would have seen that there are only two ways to end the Iraq War, soon: in victory, soon, or in defeat, soon. Or okay, maybe an even more implausible third way, in a collapse of the United States into total violent anarchy so thorough that the government can't even patrol its own streets, let alone prolong a war. If you know another way that has ever succeeded before, I'm all ears.


Aug. 27th, 2008 01:22 pm (UTC)
I wish you hadn't seen it necessary to bring the modern South into it as a "dead weight"; after all, it produced me, and I'm fond of life down here, backward as we may be at times. But thank you for riffing off my question.

I don't know a lot about history, which is why I read those who know more about it than I.

But when Americans - no matter how pointless their demonstrations might be (and they haven't always been pointless, just futile to end war) - are being herded into cages for speaking in the wrong place, speaking too near the Big Boys, I chafe, and I say "What can we do?" It's very difficult not to look at that and not just say but know that "It's wrong." It goes against everything my strict Constitutionalist, former military father ever taught me about how we are supposed do things in this country...and the closest I've ever been to a demonstration was the local news station, where they brought the protesters water and juice and there was one cop anywhere in view. :D

That was the question I'm asking. That's the question I'm still asking. End the war, yes. But end the pulling-the-teeth-out-of-the-Constitution too. But how? What do we do?
Aug. 27th, 2008 01:29 pm (UTC)
Vote for someone who knows the constitution well enough to teach it and hope. If that doesn't work, then you guys have lots of guns and a constitutional right to use them against the government if they're doing the wrong thing.
Aug. 27th, 2008 01:32 pm (UTC)
Both of those are very true. But it doesn't feel like enough, voting and preemptively arming, however much I do it. And of course in four years or so I'll be an officer of the court and can do my wee bittie there.
Aug. 27th, 2008 06:23 pm (UTC)

Oh, if only it were that simple... or that morally right.

Hell, an indication of just kind of people actually choose that path can be found in the following story of a bunch of meth-headed right-wingers who were on their way to Denver to assassinate Obama: http://elections.foxnews.com/2008/08/26/obama-possible-plot/

Ten-to-one they're Ted Nugent fans. http://fromtheleft.wordpress.com/2007/08/25/ted-nugent-threatens-to-kill-barack-obama-and-hillary-clinton/

The possession of firearms and the willingness to use them does not assure the rightness of a cause. And as far as the "constiutional right to use" those gun, have you seen the state of our rights lately?

(Yes, I figure you were being sarcastic. Still...)
Aug. 27th, 2008 05:49 pm (UTC)
I wish to the gods I knew. My impression is that what nearly all of the restrictions on our Constitutional rights have in common is that they're motivated by fear. And I think of what Edward R. Murrow said about that, and I weep for the nation of cowards that my country has become.

("We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men — not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular." Edward R. Murrow, "See It Now," March 9th, 1954.)
Aug. 27th, 2008 06:18 pm (UTC)
That's probably the most succinct breakdown of the motivation I've ever read. We're making a small amount of 4th Amendment progress as involves vehicles, I know, with the trend towards ruling that you have no privacy in your car somewhat reversing and the difficult issue of when you have and have not been seized while driving getting ironed out - slowly, agonizingly slowly, but surely. (Tennessee has finally gotten a ruling that makes sense: blue lights equal seizure and trigger the Constitutional test, whether the car is stopped or in motion. Sounds small, but it's groundbreaking considering how many illegal stops get put off on "community caretaking" to avoid said trigger.) But that small, small gain doesn't satisfy me, not when I see so much else headed for the toilet.

Strapped with firearms though I may be by cultural birthright, I'm not as afraid of my fellow Americans as those who govern us. I don't fear my neighbors - not the poor ones, not the ones on drugs. I fear the police and the courts and the lobbyists, because unlike the rest of us, they can do as they like with little consequence and be applauded by the majority who thinks that such things make them safer. After all, it's not Joe-down-the-street who's truly afraid of letting people demonstrate outside the DNC. It's the ones on the inside that fear the people they claim to represent...for all that it wasn't a demonstrator who came down with a carful of meth and a rifle planning to shoot Obama. That guy probably had as much contempt for the demonstrators as for the candidate.

And for all that myself and my father are about as different as two humans can be, we agree on one thing: the Constitution is one of the greatest documents ever drafted, and the people who disregard and distort it are traitors each and every one.
Aug. 27th, 2008 06:25 pm (UTC)
Edward R. Murrow never had to deal with FUX "News."