Have War Protesters Been Betrayed by Obama?


"The threat to peace from the Obama administration, as perceived by the grassroots constituency of the antiwar movement, must have been very small," the study concludes. The reduced numbers proved "devastating to the financial base," leaving antiwar leaders with little choice but to move from the streets to the Internet.

"What's left in the antiwar movement today is the hardcore," Heaney said in the interview, "the people who are more or less professional activists. It's just a small group of people that's left."

But the wars continue in Iraq and Afghanistan, and now, to a much lesser extent, Libya. So where have all the flowers gone?

As a former antiwar protester himself, Heaney was willing to go well beyond the scientifically-based research that resulted in the study and offer a few personal opinions. Does he feel "betrayed," to use his study's own word, by Obama.

"I feel disappointed he has continued some of the Bush policies," Heaney said, but not betrayed. After thinking about a question for what seemed like a full minute, he said he never really expected Obama to bring a quick end to the wars, which he described as "very intractable."

Political Climate Is Different With Obama, Study Author Says

Besides, the problem wasn't just the wars.

"The movement was an antiwar movement in the sense that all of the people who turned out were against the war," Heaney said. "But they saw the situation as particularly threatening because of Bush. There was this belief that Bush could cause a wider war and he was looking to take the world to war."

The situation is quite different with Obama, he added.

"I'm not afraid that Obama is going to try to take over Syria, Or Iran," he said. "I don't feel a sense of threat so I'm not mobilized to action in the way I was during the Bush years. There was this risk that things could get much worse."

Reluctantly offering his personal opinion about an emotional subject that occupies much of his professional research time, he offered this insight:

"Research is often really about ourselves. I'm really the typical person in this study in the sense that I'm a Democrat and I voted for Barack Obama."

Do Antiwar Rallies Matter Today?

OK, but do antiwar rallies really matter today? Can they make a difference? Vietnam, for all its similarities to Afghanistan and Iraq, was also quite different. There's no draft today, eliminating the mandatory service of nearly all of America's able-bodied young men. Antiwar protesters were shareholders in that war, even if they didn't believe in it. At least 58,000 Americans died there.

The Middle East wars are fought by Americans -- women as well as men -- who chose the military for a career. It doesn't make the dying any easier, but it's easier to understand why they are there.

So does an antiwar rally really make a difference?

Admitting he can't prove it, Heaney said he thinks they can.

"My own personal opinion is yes, because they help the formation of public opinion, which started to turn very strongly against the Iraq war in 2004. The demonstrations validated the feeling that people in the vast public saw the war on television and thought, hey, this isn't right."

So here we are on the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, this country's bloodiest, confronted once again with the likelihood that there will always be wars. And there will always be politicians saying something they know they can't really do. But the number of people willing to take to the streets to change public opinion and challenge national leaders may continue to diminish.

And there may always be people like Heaney, who worried about a war in a distant land and thought he "could do something about it. There was a sense that I was contributing to something that could make a difference.

"There isn't that same sense now."

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