The Power-Serving Myth That Anti-War Protests Make No Difference
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Thousands of people from across the political spectrum gathered at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC to protest US militarism, proxy warfare and nuclear brinkmanship in Ukraine on Sunday.
I’ve been seeing some people try to downplay the numbers on social media, but footage from the Rage Against the War Machine rally makes it clear that attendance was in the thousands; people who were there place the number at around three thousand.
This is significantly better attendance than any other American anti-war demonstration in recent years that I’m aware of. It’s nowhere remotely close to the historic numbers people demonstrated in to protest the war in Iraq, and it’s nowhere remotely close to what it should be for an issue of such existential importance.
But it’s a start. Maybe the start of something good. The ANSWER Coalition has a March on Washington scheduled for March 18th for the 20th anniversary of the Iraq invasion demanding “Negotiations not escalation” in Ukraine and an end to US militarism abroad. We shall see if this thing continues to pick up steam.
#RageAgainstWar is out here pic.twitter.com/31fiEP8enH
— Max Blumenthal (@MaxBlumenthal) February 19, 2023
One criticism I hear of anti-war demonstrations is that they don’t make a difference. “Millions of us marched in opposition to the Iraq invasion, and they did it anyway!” is a common sentiment.
While it’s true that demonstrations failed to stop the invasion of Iraq, if you look at the US war machine’s actual behavior following that war, it has clearly been reacting defensively to public opposition.
If anti-war protests made no difference, the US empire wouldn’t have completely abandoned full-scale ground invasions after 2003 and switched to sneakier, less effective means of warfare while launching unprecedented narrative management systems to suppress anti-war sentiments. They abandoned Bush-era Hulk Smash ground invasions in favor of drones, proxy warfare, covert ops and sanctions because enough people rose up and said “NO” to make them afraid of the masses beginning to wake up and begin turning against them and their institutions.
And now people are even beginning to protest the proxy warfare. I guarantee you that’s making our rulers nervous about the possibility of losing the ability to effectively dominate the world with violence and coercion, and even losing the ability to continue to rule us.
These things very clearly and obviously make a difference. The only reason Syria and Iran remain sovereign, unabsorbed governments, and the only reason the imperial body count isn’t much higher today, is because enough people put their foot down and said “NO” to that kind of war.
On Feb 15 2003 millions marched against the impending invasion of Iraq, a war which in the end killed over 100,000 Iraqis.
Now 20 years later, in its proxy war, the US is determined to fight Russia to the last Ukrainian.
Join us again to say NO to ALL US WARS!
Info below⤵️ pic.twitter.com/37yOFdkPw0
— ANSWER Coalition (@answercoalition) February 15, 2023
Our rulers pour so much effort into manufacturing consent because they absolutely require that consent in order to rule. Their worst-case nightmare scenario is the emergence of a large, robust movement of people saying “NO” to the imperial war machine, because military violence and the threat thereof is the glue that holds the empire together. It’s bringing public consciousness to the very most important aspect of the empire, which also happens to be the very least defensible.
Noam Chomsky said “Propaganda is to a democracy what the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state” because over the centuries those who seek large-scale power over other humans have discovered that dominating people psychologically is more energy-efficient than dominating them with brute force, and is far less likely to see them wind up on the business end of a guillotine blade. If you can simply trick a profoundly unfree populace into thinking that they are free, you don’t have to waste any further energy wrestling their freedom away from them.
But what this means is that the entire power structure which rules over us is entirely dependent on the ability to successfully administer propaganda and maintain the illusion of freedom. If it can’t manufacture consent for the things it wants to do, it has to either refrain from doing those things until it can manufacture the necessary consent or do those things anyway without the consent of the public. If they do that, public trust in the ruling institutions will immediately begin to disintegrate, and they won’t be able to propagandize people anymore because propaganda only works if people trust its source.
Our rulers could of course then switch to the direct bludgeon of totalitarianism if they want to, but then they’re up against an angry populace, and in America’s case a very heavily armed one. All the narrative management that holds the US-centralized power structure together would lose trust around the world, because the “Freedom-Loving Good Guys Vs Tyrannical Bad Guys” framing of imperial propaganda would no longer be believable.
The US-centralized empire will crumble if it cannot preserve the illusion that it is accountable and responsive to the public.
Of course a few thousand people at one protest is not going to bring peace to our world. Even a few million wouldn’t be enough. But public demonstrations are one of the many ways in which our society can be drawn toward awareness of what’s really going on in our world, what our rulers are really up to, and how much we’ve been lied to all our lives. From there health can follow, because with enough awareness people will cease consenting to things that they’ve come to recognize as being against their interests.
All positive changes in human behavior are always preceded by an expansion of consciousness. Demonstrations are one of the many different tools ordinary people have to spread awareness so that positive change can occur; that’s why they’ve featured so prominently in civil rights movements throughout history, and that’s why the US empire has been pouring so much energy into preventing the reemergence of a lively antiwar movement in the western world ever since Vietnam.
All we’re doing is nudging our species bit by bit toward consciousness. Other tools we can use toward this end include new media like online videos, blogs, tweets and memes, and old media like pamphlets, public speaking and graffiti. Anything we can do to get people opening their eyes to the horrors of imperial warmongering and start bringing some actual movement into the anti-war movement will help. Our survival may very well depend on it.
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