Anti-War Protests Lose Steam, Lack Vigor Of Pacifist Movements from Campus's Past

Jennifer Kline of the Daily Californian staff contributed to this report.





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UC Berkeley has traditionally been a breeding ground for pacifism and since the U.S. began its military campaign in Afghanistan, Berkeley has again made headlines across the country for its boisterous protests.

Most recently, the Berkeley Stop the War Coalition established a mock refugee camp near the Free Speech Movement Cafe and staged mock interrogations at local cafes to symbolize the dragnet on potential terrorists in the United States.

But compared to previous protests, the turn-out at the demonstration was small.

"It seems to me that the reaction from the anti-war movement should be stronger," said Chris Kiefer, a professor of anthropology at UC San Francisco, as he watched the demonstration.

The first protest of the war in Afghanistan, which took place before the war even officially began, drew thousands of activists. But subsequent efforts to rally support proved less successful.

The anti-war movement is now limited to a small group of pro-Palestinian activists opposed to U.S. foreign policy, said UC Berkeley professor Bruce Cain, director of the Institute for Governmental Studies. The patriotic fervor that gripped the nation after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks may well have dampened the anti-war movement.

"Sept. 11 is a pretty unique event," said University Librarian Thomas Leonard, a professor at the Graduate School of Journalism. "There has been very strong pro-military sentiment in the U.S. since then, and Berkeley is not isolated."

That pro-military sentiment last semester gave rise to a form of demonstration new to campus. United Students for America, a group pledging its support to the federal government's anti-terrorism action, sprouted up in response to both the Sept. 11 attacks and the anti-war movement.

Flying flags and waving signs reading, "United We Stand," the pro-America group countered the anti-war coalition with their own Sproul Plaza demonstrations.

Despite the initial surge in pacifism following Sept. 11, Leonard, a campus historian, said students have become more mainstream, making UC Berkeley's political climate less welcome to dissent as it used to be.

"Berkeley students at the turn of this new century seem more oriented toward success in society than they were in the 1960s," he said. "They are more willing to trust people in power."

Others have posited that the swift overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan may have depleted the anti-war coalition's pool of supporters.

After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor during World War II, there was a similar decline in pacifism, Leonard said.

Before the attack on Pearl Harbor, UC Berkeley had been a hotbed for pacifists, particularly during the Vietnam War.

On April 21, 1972, for instance, nearly 3,000 students went on strike to protest the draft.

There could be a resurgence in the anti-war movement, though, if reports of civilian casualties mount and if the war on terrorism expands into other countries.

This would be especially true if the U.S. attacks Iraq, said Cain, recalling that anti-war sentiments ran high during the Gulf War, with many UC Berkeley faculty members publicly decrying U.S. military action.

More than 1,000 protesters converged on Sproul Plaza in January 1991 to rally against the Gulf War. In the following days, military uniforms were burned, and 76 UC Berkeley professors endorsed an advertisement in The New York Times opposing the war.

"If the war expands into Iraq a lot will be different," Cain said. "I think we would see a broader coalition against a war in Iraq."

Some U.S foreign policy leaders have suggested the United States withdraw its troops from Saudi Arabia, but Cain said such a move is not likely to quell the pacifist voice, He said unlike Osama bin Ladin, most people in opposition to the war object mostly to the U.S. support of Israel.

But if anti-war fervor continues to dissipate, Cain said, activists may shift their attention to civil liberties and hate crimes, issues that haven't been loudly protested on campus.

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