"I was in the march [in London] on Saturday and it was quite unlike any demonstration I've been on," said Mary Kaldor, director of the Global Civil Society Program at the London School of Economics. "There was hardly any singing and chanting and very few banners — I used to love the banners in the old days. I felt it was more like a march of individuals."
Kaldor's informal assessment of the crowd was corroborated by a number of reporters at the rallies across the United States and Europe, many of whom found themselves interviewing "ordinary people" who defined themselves as apolitical citizens who had never before marched or demonstrated for a cause.
Late last year, experts writing about a series of demonstrations across several U.S. cities noted that the protests were organized and manned, for the most, by what is loosely called the "Old Left" of left-wing sectarians, many of whom have been accused of being noticeably silent about Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's abysmal human rights records.
But since January, experts such as Todd Gitlin, a professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia University, say the peace movement has widened to include liberal-left and even conservative voices.
"Since I called attention to the ideology-bound, provincial nature of the nascent anti-war movement, the world has turned, other coalitions have joined the movement and the result is, it's much broader now. You won't find friends of [imprisoned ex-Black Panther] Mumia Abu Jamal or an Islamic cleric who asserts that the Jews were responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks," said Gitlin, referring to controversial Muslim cleric Abdul Malim Musa, whose assertions that Israel had launched the 9/11 attacks, created a maelstrom in U.S. anti-war circles.
An Unfair Comparison
But what the nascent peace movement lacks in distinctive flavor, experts say it more than makes up for in momentum and reach. And though the Vietnam protests did succeed in producing a culture of dissent that tapped into the zeitgeist of the times, many experts and politicians say comparisons been the Vietnam and Iraq peace movements are not justified.
At a Pentagon briefing on Wednesday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld dismissed the comparisons on the grounds that Iraq had the potential to use weapons of mass destruction.
"For one thing, what we're talking about here are [sic] the potential for weapons of mass destruction to be used against our country. That is a very different fact," he said. "It is a different era, it's a different century, and the threats are notably different and vastly more lethal."
And when it comes to the speed and depth of mobilization in the anti-war camp, many experts say comparisons are unjustified.
"It's not a fair comparison because the Vietnam movement started only after we were well into the war," said Michael Kazin, a professor of history at Georgetown University. "In many ways, the anti-war movement now is more successful — just in terms of the sheer numbers and the fact that this is happening before any war has begun. In the '60s, the peace movement didn't start until the war began to go bad and the bloodshed was apparent."
The mass mobilization of protesters against a possible war in Iraq has taken many experts by surprise.