MARGARET WARNER: And we get that longer view now from presidential historian Michael Beschloss. Lucy Barber, an historian for the California State Archives. She's the author of "Marching on Washington: The forging of an American political tradition." And Philip Zelikow, director of the Miller Center for Public Affairs at the University of Virginia. He is also a professor of history, and worked on the National Security Council during the first Bush administration. Welcome to you all.
Mr. Zelikow, take the protests we saw this week. How do they fit into the larger tradition of anti-war protests in this country?
PHILIP ZELIKOW: It's a rich tradition in American history that maybe has six great landmarks. The first is humanity war protests during the War of 1812 when many New England, several New England states even threatened to secede from the union if the war persisted. There was an enormous anti-war movement especially in the North during the American Civil War, some of which was dramatically portrayed in the recent movie, "Gangs of New York," has a pacifist side of it. There was also a strong anti-war and anti-imperialist movement in America during the Spanish American War and the prolonged war to subdue the Philippines about 100, a little more than 100 years ago. And then there was a big anti-war movement in the 1930s, as a reaction to World War I to try to keep America out of World War II. And then there's the Vietnam War of the 60s and 70s, the Vietnam War protest movement and the anti-nuclear movement of the 80s, so a strong tradition. And in some ways what's striking about what we're seeing now is this is very much the heritage of the Vietnam War and anti-nuclear protest movements of the 60s, 70s and 80s, and has, those movements have a good reputation.
But it's interesting that a generation ago people's memories were the anti-war movements of the 1930s. And anti-war movements were not quite as well thought of after that experience. In fact, LBJ's secretary of state, Dean Rusk, had been a palsy fist anti-war movement supporter in the 1930s, and forever regretted that he had taken that stand and maybe even overcompensated.
MARGARET WARNER: Michael, pick up on that. Were the anti-war protests of the 30s or movement, would that be the only other time that, as this time, protesters were trying to stop a war before it started, before the U.S. got engaged?
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: No, that has happened really pretty much through American history, although the biggest example as you say, and as Philip has said, was just before World War II. A lot of people in the America First movement and others said as much as we may be worried about Germany and Japan and their threat to the United States, this is not our war, we shouldn't get involved. World War I let to grief. Let's be protected by those two big ocean meets. Then at the time of Pearl Harbor, we were almost all internationalists, we all were on the side of this war. You saw very little protest during the war, as you saw with Vietnam. I should probably bring in my own credential. When I was 14, I actually protested against the Vietnam War myself.
I was in a very strict boarding school in Massachusetts, and we wanted to protest the invasion of Cambodia by Pres. Nixon, and our headmaster said we could go but only if we wore the school blazer and tie. We were deeply humiliated, but we felt at least part of that time. Big point on Vietnam is this. And that is these movements are a critique that can help to educate a president, and one of the tragedies is that LBJ from the beginning never took it seriously from the very beginning, instead of saying these are people who were making critique of this war, maybe I should listen to some of the reservations that they're raising about the war in Vietnam, he immediately said let me deal with this politically, they're communists, they must be people who wish us ill. From the very beginning he tried to discredit them. And in the end didn't get the benefit from it that he really could have.
MARGARET WARNER: Lucy Barber, how effective have anti-war protests been through history?
LUCY BARBER: I think it depends on how you judge the effectiveness. Have any anti-war protests stopped a war? I don't think so. But on the other hand, there's no question that the anti-war movement of the Vietnam era changed our way of thinking about whether or not we the country should go to war -- so, for example, I think of the fact that these protests now are getting organized and being put on the agenda so much before we've actually committed to any military action, shows that legacy -- that people know that protests can change foreign policy.
MARGARET WARNER: You mean, do you mean that the feeling is that you have to start before the war starts or you don't have a chance of ending it?
LUCY BARBER: I think that's part of the lesson -- that you've got to start earlier, and to put yourself out there. In a sense I think back to what happened during the Operation Desert Storm and how disorganized those who opposed that military action were. So that by the time it actually came around that the Persian Gulf War started, even the anti-war groups had already broken apart from their coalition. So you had two weekends of marches on Washington, because they couldn't even agree to march in the same way. So you see, -- this time a coalition actually holding together, and I think that's going to be one of the most important things for the anti-war movement right now is whether or not they can keep that coalition together.
MARGARET WARNER: Of course the Gulf War ended so quickly that there probably wasn't much time for anything to gather steam. Phil Zelikow, what is your view on how effective or what effect anti-war movements have had?
PHILIP ZELIKOW: Well, the anti-war movement of the 1930s was enormously effective. It was extremely powerful. It effectively paralyzed American diplomacy really at least up until the middle of 1940 and the fall of France, and significantly inhibited American moves right up to Pearl Harbor. So it was very powerful. And then people then looked back on that and wondered whether or not that influence had been beneficial. In the Vietnam War, its influence is much more controversial there's actually a fairly strong argument among some historians that the anti-war movement actually prolonged the war, because it polarized American opinion, helped elect Richard Nixon and gave Nixon additional backing because of the backlash against the way the protesters were conducting themselves. But the cultural momentum from that era of protests was huge. And carried beyond the Vietnam War, and as you can see in the film, lingers today.
MARGARET WARNER: Your view about the effectiveness?
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: I see it as more positive actually. I think it's a part of the system, because when a president is making a decision to go to war, the most serious decision he can make, you have to hear both arguments and this is one way of doing it. During the Civil War, Lincoln was opposed by a lot of the copperheads of the North, as Phil mentioned a moment ago, they helped Lincoln to focus his arguments and fight this war in a way that had broader support. Even after 39, 40 and had he not had that opposition, he probably would not have been as good both in terms of devising a strategy to fight World War II and also making the case.
And I think Vietnam as well. Vietnam, the reason it is more of a tragedy than I think almost anything else is that that movement began in 1965 and had very little effect until we finally ended our active involvement in 1973. That was an absolute rebuke to the way that our system is supposed to operate. When support for a war drops and when there's a huge movement against it, the government is supposed to respond and it did not under Johnson and Nixon. That was the reason I think for that enormous rage. Nixon gave a press conference at the height of the protest in late '69 and said, I know about the protests, he said, under no circumstances will I be affected what so ever by it. That led to the kind of polarization that Philip mentioned.
PHILIP ZELIKOW: But, this can be constructive. A president doesn't necessarily have to agree where the anti-war protesters to hear them.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: Exactly.
MARGARET WARNER: Lucy Barber, what would you add particularly on the Vietnam War, and then whatever other point you planned to make, but in terms of your sense of the effect it had at the time.
LUCY BARBER: Well, I think Michael is very right to say that the styles of protest did cause a lot of concern for on servers and for people who were not willing to take such radical means. And that's part of the whole question of the coalition. And I think that's what's so crucial if this anti-war movement is going to be effective. You need to be able to figure out how to keep a movement that contains people from moveon.org, who are making arguments just about what is a good reason for a protest, to pacifists who oppose all war for all reasons. Since I'm actually someone who was raised in the religious society of Friends as a pacifist, as a Quaker I've always opposed war, I can appreciate how it's hard to keep those two sides together. You could see it during the anti-war movement in the Vietnam era that Quaker pacifists would often want a certain style of protest, but would back away from the more disruptive move towards the violent side, because that was opposed to their religious principles.
So I think that's going to be one of the real tests here is this issue of what tactics are different groups going to take. I heard you said in the intro that some people chose to use civil disobedience yesterday, as part of their protest, where as the marchers on Saturday were all peaceful and no arrests were made. So how people are going to choose between those two different types of tactics, is going to have a big effect.
MARGARET WARNER: Let me get a brief final comment from Phil and Michael. We haven't talked about the government's reaction. These people were permitted to demonstrate peacefully. That has not always been the case, has it?
PHILIP ZELIKOW: Not always, but in general, really from the earliest days of the nation, there has always been tolerance for a fair scope of peaceful protest. During the Civil War, the country was at such grips that that tolerance went down. But it was always still there. Horace Greeley, one of the leading newspaper men of the country, was vocally anti-war. And I think just about all presidents recognize that they have to at least act like it's healthy.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: I guess I disagree on that one. Wilson passed espionage and sedition acts, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon thought the anti-war protesters were literally treasonists, and to some extent that led to Watergate - Nixon's reaction against this. The most droll thing that LBJ did, when there were anti-protesters attending a speech he gave, he would tell the Secret Service agents to sprinkle itching powder on the protesters so they would have to put down their signs. So I hope that's the worst reaction we see; Pres. Bush is giving no sign of doing something like that.
MARGARET WARNER: On that note we'll end it. Thank you all three very much.