After the end of the Gulf War, the anarchist magazine Fifth Estate had a headline - "How The U.S. Got Away With It." This summed up the left's attitude. Everyone, from liberals to the far left, talks about "the failure of the American public" to stop the war. They had put faith in democracy, the public's sense of morality or the Vietnam syndrome to stop this unjust war.
The moralistic complaint that "the people let the war happen" is wrong and simply demoralizes people. It buys the myths sold by the media and ignores the real ways wars happen.
War is a continuation of social peace by more extreme means. Social peace is based on most people's acceptance of the "mundane" daily routine of the modern world. Dull work, television and the police create a world that is already militarized.
If a country has social peace, in the modern world, it has always been able to hold wars. No faction of the ruling class has ever tried to sabotage a war. Jesse Jackson, the premier "black leader," would be the last to say don't fight in even the most racist war. This has been the story ever since bureaucrats of the Second "Socialist" International supported WWI everywhere they had power.
In every country there is a unspoken balance of power between the rulers and the ruled. Factory workers will only be made to work so hard. Medieval peasant would only give the lord so much grain. And so on.
In modern democracy, the official power of average people serves to undermine the unofficial power they might have. Polls, voting and writing to congressmen gives the impression that congress' decisions are the will of the people. It barely conceals how congress is instead controlled by the wealthy and powerful.
The use of our unofficial power against the rulers class struggle. It is Wildcat strikes, riots, sabotage and anything outside the control of the ruling class. It breaks the social peace.
Class struggle is feared by the ruling class. A riot causes much more than the damage to property. It damages the carefully pruned image of the democratic system and gives average people a taste of their own power. Television no longer seems to be taking everyone's interests into account.
Class struggle is the only thing that can change the unofficial balance of power in the modern world. Class struggle can stop a war. But it is not automatically created by a war.
The Vietnam Syndrome is a myth that has been repeated by the media for twenty years. Another Vietnam would have made the ruling class squirm but this hardly the meaning of the Vietnam Syndrome. This buzzword refers to America's supposed squeamishness at fighting a war with many American dead.
The Vietnam war was a failure for the America elite. This failure came because class struggle appeared at home, and because the North Vietnamese were able to inflict serious losses. But American troops resisting the war in Vietnam was the critical factor. Towards the end of the war, discipline broke down a lot in the U.S. Army. Many U.S. soldiers killed their Officers avoided the enemy and held all night pot-parties. This resistance was one of the most powerful class struggles of the last forty years. This resistance also spilled over at home into many wildcat strikes and riots in the sixties and seventies.
The Vietnam war failed because America failed to get it's soldiers to act as a permanent police force in Vietnam. The failure came as the World War II notion of a pitched battle became obsolete. The system of two enemy nations destroying each other's entire infrastructure had become inefficient in a world where a unified capitalism ruled everywhere.
The US ruling class attempted to escape it's failure in Vietnam in every way possible. It tried to make sure that this failure was associated with Vietnam and not with American resistance. And it's media created the Vietnam syndrome.
As myth, the Vietnam syndrome says that the weak willed "American Public" stopped the Vietnam War out of outrage over American war dead. This is not true. The war was stopped by the actions of the active resistors. A million hippies on the streets couldn't have stopped the war in fifty years.
This myth also plays into a standard American rhetoric that explains the misery of the average mystified white male worker. He head that America's failings come from liberal saboteurs - "tax and spend democrats," "The deficit," "nigger lovers" etc.. Every strange twist and turn of American foreign policy was used to stir up more anger in the most reactionary while convincing liberals that the U.S. couldn't do anything too nasty.
For some time after Vietnam, the American ruling class did not want to involve itself in wars that could have become policing jobs for the demoralized American army. But the systematic confusion of the seventies allowed the U.S. to reign in all the dissent that Vietnam had ushered in. At best "Vietnam syndrome" cost American companies some profits abroad while the government suppressed dissent at home. But the U.S. finished its "counter-sixties" operations of the U.S. long before it dropped the Vietnam syndrome.
Instead of counting on the Vietnam syndrome, we have to look the way wars have been fought in the past.
In the modern world, wars have been a double or nothing game for their creators. On one hand, wars have served to control average people with the fear from the emergency situation and the "higher" (racist) goal. There was "the war to end all wars" [US in WWI] and "Great Patriotic War To Defend The Motherland" [USSR in WWII], "A War Of Extermination Against The Savages" [U.S. war against North America natives]. These got working people of one region to participate in the slaughter of many people from other areas ("foreigners"). They could then see the state as their protector.
On the other hand, wars strains the routine of daily life. It marshalls vast resources marshalled and disrupts many lives. In WWII, many women went into factories and many came out wanting something different from the traditional feminine role. By definition, a war is something that neither side fully controls. With various wars have come mutinies and desertions. Veterans of the Vietnam war returned home and often took part in the strike waves of the seventies. The women who worked during WWII were mainly suppressed afterwards but the events opened some of their horizons.
Because of all this, war has presented both traps and opportunities to those who look for a new social order as well as for partisan of the present order. This is why we should be clear about the nature of war and the struggle against it.
All this has a larger lesson for those who want a new society. The working class cannot directly mold the form that its oppression takes. The ruling class decides whether it goes to war.
Modern war is not a different order. War is simply the apex of the modern order. Working people who normally have little real control over their lives are put into an even more controlled factory like condition.
The defeat of today is people simply going on, simply accepting the order of the day. Computerized manufacturing and control creates a world where every worker contributes something to the military industrial complex. And many don't know how much they contribute. A computer keyboard can go equally easily into an office or a tank. Four-lane freeways carry military equipment as easily as industrial machinery. Road workers maintain both functions of the road. A programmer may not know whether her program will go into a vending machine or spy satellite etc., etc..
The failure of the working class in America to stop the Gulf War was nothing more than it's failure to create socialist revolution. This failure continues daily. Revolutionaries can't have the illusion that workers can struggle against only war. A strong anti-war struggle can only slightly hinder wars. Struggles that shake the foundations of society have a greater power to stop a war incidentally.
War can thus only be questioned by questioning the entire order of society. Wars will never be stopped by peace marches, moral outrage or even blood and guts on TV.
War can only stopped against the rulers desires by the class struggle that attacks the entire system. But this might only happened at the end. The Russian government in 1917 continued the war against Germany until the day it was overthrown. If war is in the system's interest, it will not stop without a break from the entire system.
Now the Gulf War in the West did not fit the general pattern of most wars. The Kuwait invasion did not result in a "war-time" increase in the control of the Western nations over their working class. Workers didn't have cancel their vacations. No births had to be postponed, except for those professional soldiers whose jobs already required it. It did not involve a great level of policing over-all. It merely asked everyone to continue normal activity for a higher end. Over-all, the war merely showed the power and limitations of media thought control in peace-time America.
It appears war resistance in the military was substantial in terms of the number of U.S. service people refusing to go to Saudi Arabia. It was not substantial in stopping or slowly the war effort. The war was also a shakedown for the US military, which still had some lax discipline.
If the war had lasted years, anti-war efforts could have had an impact but a month-long war could have been done at any time from 1960 to 1990.
The anti-war movement during the Gulf War had as much apparent strength as the anti-war movement at the height of the Vietnam War. The army didn't have a higher level of discipline than it had going into Vietnam. The main difference was that America won the Gulf War quickly and thus American troops didn't have time to mutiny.
It is sad to think that capitalism could inflict a million person massacre without much active resistance. But from native American massacres to Nazi death camps to the millions killed by cars and cigarettes, capital's mass murders haves been part of the daily routine. This is why we must work to overthrow the entire society rather than working to stop war.
Rulers have normally found short wars easier to control than long wars. The wars that are now becoming necessary for capital to fight are more and more police actions. But capital is fighting these wars mostly with mercenaries. In Afganistan, Nicaragua and Angola, U.S. was able to fight without risking the less reliable American army.
The gulf war, as an almost complete fake, was critical because it satisfied the needs of capital that the usual sort of war no longer could. But this does not mean that this system won't have real wars in the future. But in a contrary fashion, these wars would be hidden by the propaganda machine that publicized the Gulf War.
In the future, civil war within a country like Mexico or Peru might force a U.S. intervention that couldn't be controlled like the Gulf War. But this depend on the increase in the international class struggle.