Co-coordinator, United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC)
On behalf of the United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC) of the United States, I want to bring you warm greetings. We would like to thank the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia for inviting us to attend this conference and for reaching out to us, on the other side of the world, with solidarity and friendship.
The Antiwar movement in the United States has a long and proud history. My involvement started with protesting the Vietnam War. The movement against the Vietnam War in the U.S. helped move the American people from support for that war to overwhelming opposition. We held mass demonstrations against the Vietnam War of over a million people at times. The antiwar sentiment was felt even in the military, and soldiers often refused to fight. Antiwar demonstrations were even held on military bases by off duty soldiers. The U.S. decided it had to cut its losses and left Vietnam in defeat.
After that war, the analysts coined the phrase, the “Vietnam Syndrome.” This referred to the fact that the American people did not want another war like Vietnam. Although the U.S. continued to build its military and used the military in covert and small scale actions, because of the “Vietnam Syndrome,” they were unable to conduct a large scale war until almost a generation later, when they invaded Afghanistan and Iraq.
As the U.S. was building up for war, especially in Iraq, millions protested in the streets. On February 15, 2003, right before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the world saw the largest demonstrations in history. Massive demonstrations took place in New York and San Francisco and in cities all across the world. There were demonstrations on every continent of the world including at the 2 research stations in Antarctica, where the staff organized protests against the impending U.S. war on the people of Iraq.
But unlike during the Vietnam War period, the millions who protested seemed to have little effect on the U.S. government’s war policies. George Bush, the U.S. president at the time, simply commented that the protesters represented a focus group with one opinion and he would not let their opinion change his mind. The antiwar movement during that time was clearly in a different historical period from that of the Vietnam War, and so our tactics and strategy had to also be different.
It took the horrendous events of 9/11, when the World Trade Center, the 2 tallest buildings in the world, were attacked and thousands died, to break the “Vietnam Syndrome.” This and the U.S. government’s lies about Iraq having “weapons of mass destruction,” initially were able to move people in the U.S. to support that war. With the resistance to the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan, and with mounting U.S. casualties, that pro-war sentiment quickly moved to a majority in the U.S. opposing the wars.
With the election of Barack Obama in 2008, many people felt the wars would end. Obama was the first American president who was Black. This represented a new breakthrough in the U.S., where racism is widespread. Many thought that his election would usher in a new era of progressive politics and an end to the wars. But this did not happen. The movements for progressive change were disarmed by Obama’s election; the major antiwar coalition in the U.S. at the time (which was not UNAC), closed up shop. They closed their offices and gave up their phone and staff, even as the wars continued.
The Obama administration has turned out to be a disaster to the people in the U.S. and around the world. The collapse of the stock market in 2008 led to a massive bailout by the government of the big banks and corporations. This bailout represented a massive transfer of wealth from the working people and the poor to the obscenely rich. At the same time, social services were cut for the people of the U.S. Less money went to education and healthcare and other programs needed by the people. This hurt poorer people the most, especially those in the Black and Latino communities. Campaigns against unions were launched, and today the union membership in the U.S. is at its lowest point in many decades. More than 2 million undocumented workers were deported under Obama, more than under any other president. Secrecy became the norm, and as we have learned from Edward Snowden and others, the U.S. government is spying on the phone calls and internet usage of every single American and many more people in other countries. The U.S. government today keeps a tremendous amount of information from the American people. The case of Chelsea Manning pointed this out. Manning, a U.S. soldier was able to download a lot of classified information. For this, he was given 35 years in prison. But the information that he exposed should have never been classified. It was not secret codes or troop maneuvers; it was simply embarrassing, immoral, and illegal activity on the part of the U.S. government and military. This is information that the American people need to know. If we are truly a democracy, than we need to know what our leaders are doing; it cannot be classified.
On the economic front, we have seen trillions of dollars used to bailout the banks and austerity imposed on working people in the U.S. This shows the weakness of U.S. capitalism. But we have also seen the move towards a new economic model for capitalism in the U.S. and for Western capitalism world-wide. They use the terms Globalization and Neo-liberalism. This simply means that they have made agreements for the penetration of U.S. and Western capital into every part of the world to better exploit workers in order to make huge profits. It has meant more privatization to allow for more profit and a gutting of regulations for workers’ safety, environmental protection and other human needs. This has led to resistance throughout the world, which is met with force by the U.S. military and its allies.
So today, war is endemic to the Western capitalist systems and perhaps cannot end until these exploitative systems end. This is why it is harder today to end U.S. wars than it was in the past. To ensure its continued preeminence, the U.S. has created the most powerful military that the world has ever seen. The U.S. military budget is about the size of all other countries in the world combined. The U.S. has around 1000 military bases outside of its own borders. A big part of the U.S. economy is military production.
Wars today are continuous and simultaneous. Under Obama, we have not seen an end to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And we have seen wars expand as the U.S. seeks regime change from non-compliant governments, such as those in Syria, Libya, and Ukraine. Unmanned, weaponized drones kill people in countries at which the U.S. is not even at war, like Pakistan, Yamen and Somalia.
Even as the Soviet Union fell, the U.S. moved to expand NATO. Though the U.S. and NATO had agreed not to expand NATO into the former Soviet Republics and Eastern Europe, today NATO has a presence in Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. The U.S. wants to surround Russia, which it sees, along with China, as a major roadblock to its continued expansion.
In recognition of this worsening reality, in 2010, 800 antiwar activists from around the U.S. came together and formed the United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC). Today, we are the main antiwar coalition in the U.S. Politically, we also did something that the antiwar movement had not done in the past. First, we took a strong stand in support of the Palestinians against Zionism. Because of strong support for Zionism in the U.S. government, this issue was never really addressed by many antiwar groups. Second, we started talking about the “war at home” as well as the wars abroad. We saw the connection between the wars abroad and the attacks on civil liberties, especially within the Muslim and Black communities, and we understood that a U.S. antiwar movement must address these issues.
The movement in the United States has taken heart from other mass rebellions, such as those in Tunisia and Egypt. Though these revolutionary uprisings have suffered setbacks, we saw the tremendous power of mass of people in the streets. Such mass movements were able to topple entrenched dictatorships that had strong U.S. backing. The Occupy movement in the United States tried to copy this, and parks were occupied for weeks in cities all across the country. Though these movements did not bring about a changed government in the U.S. and were defeated by the police, the movement learned a lot from the experience. We got a new vocabulary. We now talk about the 1% who rule our country and the 99% who are ruled for their benefit. We learned that unlike during the Vietnam protests, we don’t want to just protest and get back on our buses and go home. We need to sustain our protests over a period of time.
When Michael Brown, a black teenager was shot down and killed by a white cop in Ferguson, Missouri, the Ferguson community protested and sustained their protests, coming out every day and confronting a militarized police force. This gave heart to the movement, and so the U.S. is now in the midst of mass protests in cities all across the country. The spark of Ferguson has lit a tremendous fire, and however this rebellion ends, we can never go back. There is a new political consciousness, especially in the Black and Latino communities that will not go back to the old status quo. There is a new political reality in the United States today.
We know that with solidarity across borders with people fighting for a better world in all countries, we can only win.