Anti-Imperialism/Foreign Policy

The Pacifica Radio/UC Berkeley Social Activism Recording Project: Anti-Vietnam War Protests

A time of the history of the anti-Vietnam War movement. View here.

I would consider the anti-Vietnam War movement to be among the most important movements in US history, arguably more important than the American Revolution itself. The effect of that movement was that it delegitimized the draft to the point of making it politically impossible. It also delegitimized imperialist war to the point that Americans will no longer accept imperialist war if it requires any sacrifice on their part, like troop casualties, special war taxes, rationing goods, etc.

That has forced the system to fight imperialist wars with what amounts to indentured servants, mercenaries, foreign troops, proxy armies, and technology and paid for with debt, which puts serious constraints on the war-making powers of the ruling class. There hasn’t been another war on the scale of Vietnam since then.

Americans started turning against the neocon wars at the first sight of blood. If it hadn’t been for the legacy of the Vietnam War during the Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush era we would have had a World War Two-sized army that was still in Southeast Asia, and also in Central America, the Middle East, Africa, and Eastern Europe as well.

Notice how the leaders of the anti-Vietnam War movement are never commemorated in the same way as civil rights, feminist, or gay rights icons from the same period. Because the power elite is embarrassed by the legacy of Vietnam, while all these other things are easily co-opted. Martin Luther King is commemorated today for being a civil rights leader but no one ever mentions his antiwar views or that he was a democratic socialist.

Machiavelli noted that the Free Republic must use its own citizen-soldiers to remain a free republic, professional soldiers tend to be much too expensive, have a nasty tendency to seize power for their own self-aggrandizement, and perhaps worst of all tend to desert or switch to a higher bidder at the very moment when most direly needed.

That was true in Machiavelli’s day and it still is in Third World countries where coups are a danger. It’s not as much of an issue in developed countries where the level of complexity means that the elite are spread out across a multiplicity of institutions. For instance, Russia is essentially a Third World country with nuclear weapons. Its oil wealth is its only advantage. The Russian elite is probably comprised of about 150 people, and that tends to be true in backward underdeveloped countries generally where the elite classes are small in size.

The elites of America and the European Union number in the millions. The US elite is probably about 2 million people. A coup by the US army is extremely unlikely. The top brass is basically just administrative personnel and civil servants. The rank and file are more like indentured servants than mercenaries, and the mid-level personnel is basically no different than careerists in a corporation. The problem with Europe is not a threat of a coup but that they barely have any military at all and instead live off military welfare from the US. NATO is the world’s largest welfare program.

In Machiavelli’s time, aristocrats, religious leaders, royal figures, and other elites would have their personal armies to wage war on their behalf. A lot of times they were mercenaries who wouldn’t do any fighting but would just go looting. Machiavelli lived in the Renaissance era which was before the state developed a monopoly on war following the Treaty of Westphalia, which was a century after Machiavelli’s era. In the US today, the problem with the armed forces is not the actual troops or even the leadership but the civilian sector.

The Pentagon system has become a giant corporate welfare program. It would be the same way whether we had a professional or conscripted military. The same issue was at the heart of the Vietnam War as well. The driving forces behind US imperialism are economic interests in the civilian sector more than the uniformed military itself.

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