October 9, 2002

Flashback: Defeat of an Unjust War

January, 1968, President Lyndon Johnson is defeated in the New Hampshire primary. A powerful president who had won by a landslide in the last election defeated by a virtual unknown, Senator Eugene McCarthy. Why? Because McCarthy spoke out against the war. Nothing more.

Soon after, Lyndon Johnson withdrew from the race. Robert Kennedy saw his opportunity to become president. He picked up the anti-war banner, entered the race, and when he had established himself as the frontrunner by winning the California primary, he was killed. The old Democratic party regulars ignored the peace mandate and nominated Vice President Hubert Humphrey as their candidate. As Johnson's vice president, Humphrey did not repudiate Johnson's war policies. The party lost the support of the peace movement and Humphrey was narrowly defeated by Nixon.

Nixon had run saying he had "a secret plan" to end the war in Vietnam. Behind the scenes he had actually carried out a secret plan to derail Johnson's negotiations to end the war and save his presidential legacy. Once Nixon got power he escalated the war by brutal bombing of North Vietnam, eventually carried out a secret bombing war of the neutral country Cambodia. Nixon's secret plan had been to maximize the war effort, to bomb, burn, napalm, and murder the Vietnamese into submission. But it didn't work. They never gave up.

As the war continued for years and continued to rupture the heart of American society, finally even the business community determined the war was too costly and Nixon was forced to pull out. The hawks would say "it was the peaceniks that tied our hands so we couldn't win the war." But they had done all that could be done to Vietnam but utterly wipe it off the map. The war was unwinnable for Americans. The Vietnamese were defending their country. The U.S. was an invader.

The peace movement did help to end the war, which though unwinnable could have gone on forever if the hawks had had their way. Rumsfeld and Cheney are leftovers from that war. They were the ones who seethed in anger when they had to pull out of Vietnam without victory, and whose fury was intensified when Nixon was taken out of office. They nursed their grudges through the Carter years and their clique returned to power under Reagan. They were put out again in 1992, but in 2000 they came back to right all of what they perceived as the wrongs of the Nixon years. Now they are taking their revenge upon the America that repudiated them. The Clinton impeachment was their revenge for Nixon being driven from office in shame. The rise of Bush was their revenge for Bush being defeated in 1992. The new war against Iraq will be the revenge against Saddam for embarassing George Bush, and the reversal of what the hawks bitterly called "The Vietnam Syndrome."

Now a virtual unknown, Representative Dennis Kucinich of Ohio is leading the anti-war movement in the House of Representatives. He's one of the few who are listening to the powerful anti-war sentiment of the American people, and to his conscience. (See The Boston Globe.) Virtually unknown until recently, he is now gaining a high-profile following that is growing dramatically.

Politicians take notice! Those of you who passively support the war as a matter of perceived political expedience may be left behind in the dust of history. Remember the unknown, uncharismatic Eugene McCarthy who brought down an incumbent president because he heard the people's cry for peace. You can suppress the people's will only so much. Eventually it will break through.

Congressman Dick Gephardt, who abdicated as Democratic leader of the House to jump behind Bush's drive for untethered power to make war, was recently jeered in Lewiston, Maine. (see The Sun Journal.) Gephardt has his eyes on the presidency and thought being against the war would put him in a bad position. But he may find the reverse is true. The people are desperately looking for leaders. They don't care if they are well-known or glamorous. They want someone who represents them.

-- By David Cogswell

Back to Home Page