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Disciplined Protest

Brass Tacks

By David Landau

THE overwhelming support for sustained antiwar activity voiced at last night's mass meeting now makes it all the more important that our protest be well thought out and well-directed if our activity is not to be dissipated as it was in the spring of 1970. And the overwhelming lesson of our largely futile adventure after Cambodia is that an antiwar movement must acquire a coherent, long-range perspective if it is to survive.

The character of the war has changed importantly since the invasion of Cambodia, with the result that the possibilities of effective protest against the war have become much more sharply defined. Until mid-1970. President Nixon's war strategy still depended primarily on his ability to use American ground troops in any fashion he desired. For that reason, the issue of American casualties--as opposed to the more profound and fundamental issue of the war policy itself--was the center of public attention in the aftermath of Cambodia. And much of the nationwide outrage that followed the invasion was inspired by an aspect of the war that was only tactical. The diffuse and directionless protest in response to the invasion was easily co-opted by a peripheral concession. Nixon learned his lesson: do not make ground troops the crux of American involvement in the war. The failure of Saigon's invasion of Laos the following February, an invasion which took place without U.S. assistance on the ground, may be the only concrete success of the protest following Cambodia.

But since the demand for immediate withdrawal was overwhelmed by the demand to cut American casualties, the war continued to rage onward, with U.S. air power playing the major role in the preservation of the Saigon regime. Since Cambodia, an immense American armada has ravaged the people and land of Laos, Cambodia, and South Vietnam with death and destruction from the air. It has become the linchpin of Nixon's policy--a fact to which we awakened with the brutal air strikes last week against Hanoi and Haiphong. Up until now, the White House has found domestic opposition to the air war to be easily manageable. And Hanoi and the NLF, while once they were able to contain an aggression that involved a finite number of U.S. troops on their home ground, are now almost powerless to do anything to halt the planes that are bombing them from bases in Thailand, Guam and elsewhere. Strong and effective public protest in this country is the only force that can now bring an end to the war.

NIXON and his senior advisors are acutely aware of the connection between public opposition at home and their ability to continue the war. Henry Kissinger has privately told reporters that a major fear he shares with the President is that "domestic protest in this country reaches a level where Hanoi simply awaits the collapse of our domestic position." And it has by now almost become a truism that the President, if faced with the threat of massive dissent or disruption in the United States, will have to rethink his prosecution of the war. And so we must determine how best to create the domestic situation that will force Nixon to meet our demands.

WHILE it is undeniable that our perspective must stretch forward in time, it is dubious that focusing on the November Presidential election is the best strategy to pursue. Our action must inspire a sense of crisis, a sense that the American people must strike out immediately in a way that does not depend on the hypothetical possibility of Nixon's removal seven months from now. This is not to deny the usefulness of supporting the candidate of one's choice, or to ignore the fear held by Nixon that his war strategy may make his own re-election, impossible. Too often, the antiwar movement has focused on one candidate, on one demonstration, and said to itself, if only this man can be elected, if only we can assemble a quarter-million demonstrators on the streets of Washington, then by this one action we will have succeeded in our goal of convincing the President that it is useless to continue the war. Aside from its historically proven failure, such a perspective can only build cynicism and resignation as it becomes increasingly evident that the one-man, one-demonstration approach has not succeeded.

SINCE THERE was great awareness at last night's meeting that a strike related to the University would be a bad mistake, we need not take the time to dispose of that canard. And what remains for us to adopt is a strategy involving visible, physical protest and demonstration against the war. Here again, it would be silly to depend on a one-shot, Moratorium-style strategy: our demonstrations must be continuous, and they must escalate in size and militancy. And to grow, they must carry with them a large measure of strong political logic. They may begin with marches in the streets, and then progress to pickets of military and other war-related centers of activity. And they must ultimately assume the form of massive, non-violent civil disobedience. No trashing of the CFIA: we must take great care in insuring that the people who witness our protest understand that it is directed not against them but against the war, that it is not a random or politically senseless action, that its target is that small group of officials in the highest councils of government who have violated their, the people's, interest, an interest we share. We must be polite, respectful, and disciplined. We must not engage in senseless physical destruction. And if we act forcefully and comprehensibly, there is just a chance that we can contribute to a movement that will stop this war.

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