Politics and Mass Action
The interlaced motives that inspired and directed the students who travel to Washington this weekend constitute the greatest obstacle to their success. Their Turn Toward Peace, like any political movement, mixes the visionary and the practical in such portions that even in an historical perspective it may be impossible to say whether they succeeded or failed. Yet it is a fact of politics that individual hopes ride on expedient fusions like this peace march; one must delve into its complex purposes and distinguish the dominant from the variant and the deviant in order to say yea or nay with more than prejudice.
The movement, even at Harvard, has no less than five distinct national objectives. It is an effort to show political support for liberal members of the government; an attempt to persuade those of less liberal convictions; a political movement against atmospheric testing and for unilateral initiatives; a campaign against the national fallout shelter program; and a protest against war, directed at both the nation's leaders and the world.
The first two of these aims are vital not only to an enlightened foreign and domestic policy, but to the very survival of politics in the cold war. Those who support the present Administration dare not express their approval by inaction--and if they wish to preserve the political viability of present policies, much less any liberalization of them, it would perhaps be wise that their more liberal views find vocal expression. It is vital to the nation's political survival that Congress realize that the Administration has national support for its foreign policies; it is essential that this support be vocalized if the Administration is to have any chance to liberalize its policies without alienating the Congress. It is deceptively easy to claim that decisions on testing, disarmament, and weapons are essentially technical, and that they will be made in scientific terms, independent of public opinion. But deciding how much armed security is worth, how much we should pay for internal security, whether we fear shelters more than bombs, depends upon the political expression of values.
The expression, indeed, of a conviction that there are more important questions than national solidarity and measurable military strength is the most central goal of the march to Washington. Since this position is one already found in the Administration, support is a positive political action, not merely a massive statement of protest.
Mass Action vs. Lobbying
The pursuit of these goals is a delicate matter of political judgment, and the organizers of the march have, at least superficially, violated very basic principles. An effort at mass action rather than lobbying and conventional political action is extremely hazardous for a group whose principles are generally considered crackpot; the resort to picketing and marches further enforces the public's extremist image.
That a series of permanent and very unfriendly labels will be attached to the marchers by national press coverage is the most serious danger of this weekend's venture. The probable growth of an illusion that this constitutes an effective style of action in the American context is almost equally serious. Against these weighs the vital consideration that the march is a positive action by the groups involved, which will help to strengthen their organization and political effectiveness in other fields, and extend their influence among those who are fundamentally sympathetic. As a political action, the march is unwise, dangerous, perhaps irresponsible; as a move vital to the effective organization of those who support its political aims, the march justifies itself. But it is not a good precedent.
Confusion About Goals
The most diffuse and embarrassingly unclear aspect of this turn toward peace is its specific action goals. In its demand for explicit, clear, and public discussion of the reasons for resumption of testing and the implication of the shelter program for domestic liberties, the published policy statement is praiseworthy.
But the comments on shelters and unilateral initiatives are confused and confusing, combining the worst defects of political compromise and muddy thinking. The statement on shelters is an enumeration of reservations without a clear analysis of whether the chance to save some lives is worth the sacrifices. It suggests unilateral withdrawals in Europe which are inadequately argued upon premises that are couched in the most superficial of terms. There is no evidence offered, for example, that a base in Turkey is significantly less suitable for defensive retaliation than one in Great Britain, yet the statement advocates withdrawal from the former. (As to the latter, the group has decided that discretion is the better part of confusion.)
These ambiguities reveal the profound compromises behind the policy statement and the peace march itself. They suggest a false and unhealthy effort to be explicit on issues on which the group does not agree. Such doctrines are almost certain to appear politically naive and unrealistically hypothetical when couched in single sentence summaries.
Caught between the national image of lunatic fringe activities and the necessity for action that will help it to reach politically effective organization, the peace march follows a dangerously narrow path. To the outsider, and even to those within, it must often seem disorganized, with a variety of motives. But so long as it can remain a political organization, dedicated to supporting existing forces within the government and administration, and to working through them, this diversity may be a sign of political health, of an effort to combine forces for action rather than cleaving steadfastly to an absolutely unified philosophy.
Although it stands a little beyond the limits of realistic politics in many ways, the peace march can be the first step toward a fusion of the liberal critics of American policy. So long as its leaders realize that marches are not useful forms of political activity, so long as their criticism does not turn to blind apolitical protest, and so long as they recognize that their aims are those of a part of the political arena, the march is a step forward. Those who support a liberalization of American policies need not resign the function of criticism to those of the right; they need not be so timid that they only look on and applaud with silence.