I have been thinking about this in reference to my earlier post, Common Cause, on the intersection of left, right, and libertarian anti-war / anti-empire supporters. There are many voices, across a wide-ranging set of political ideologies, against war and empire. Yet where is the center – an organized and focused effort to end the wars that have been a continuous feature of the government of the United States?
It is easy to understand why there is no such focus: war as it is practiced by today’s America visibly and directly costs the general population little – no conscription, no tax increases, no meaningful price inflation; the manifestation of the evils of war are all occurring “over there,” against those who are less than human.
Conversely, to stand up against war brings a cost: the entirety of mainstream opinion and political correctness is arrayed against those who denounce war and come out against supporting the troops. Time, money, reputation, and energy spent on a seemingly futile task, in opposition to an ungodly array of powerful and wealthy interests.
A search for any such organizations today turns up this apparently ancient listing at Antiwar.com; of the four main organizations identified, only one web site seems to even be active. What was once United for Peace has evolved into United for Peace and Justice:
Together we are working to end war and oppression, shift resources toward human needs, protect the environment and promote sustainable alternatives. Our long-term goal is to grow a culture of justice, peace, equality, cooperation and respect. We value diversity and respect the earth.
A mish-mash of causes certain to turn off more anti-war supporters than it might draw – a perfect complement to my aforementioned post: I share little politically with the mainstream left or right other than with the subset who also desire an anti-war position. But then we divide ourselves because of all the other stuff. Perhaps one more casualty of being stuck in a false left-right dichotomy.
Then there is a more exhaustive list presented by The Guardian. It appears to be a British-based listing; upon checking the first several links, half come up dead or otherwise confusing.
I am not going to spend forever looking; that it might take forever only proves the point: any such organizations – if they even exist – are invisible.
Yet, there was once an issue that presented the exact same situation as does this issue of war today: slavery. To whites, there was little visible or direct cost, the costs were born by the other – in this case, the Negro slave. It was accepted that the Negro was something less than human, and to consider otherwise was not politically acceptable. All nicely parallel the situation of today’s westerners relative to the fate of the (mainly brown-skinned and/or Muslim) victims of war.
A successful anti-slavery movement formed in Britain:
After the formation of the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade in 1787, William Wilberforce led the cause of abolition through the parliamentary campaign. It finally abolished the slave trade in the British Empire with the Slave Trade Act 1807. He continued to campaign for the abolition of slavery in the British Empire, which he lived to see in the Slavery Abolition Act 1833.
The background of this committee, formed in 1787:
The Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade, (or The Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade), was a British abolitionist group, formed on 22 May 1787, by twelve men who gathered together at a printing shop in London, England. The Society worked to educate the public about the abuses of the slave trade; it achieved abolition of the international slave trade in 1807, enforced by the Royal Navy.
It later was superseded by development of the Anti-Slavery Society in 1823, which worked to abolish the institution of slavery throughout the British colonies. Abolition was passed by parliament in 1833 (except in India, where it was part of the indigenous culture); with emancipation completed by 1838.
Of the twelve founding members, nine were Quakers and three were Anglicans: the roots of the movement are undeniably to be found in the morals of the Christian men of the age.
The Christian roots in the abolitionist movement in America are also quite evident, through the American Anti-Slavery Society. From Jeffrey Rogers Hummel in Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men. Consider the following excerpts from Hummel’s book and the applicability of each statement to the possibility and consequences of a movement against today’s issues of war and empire:
The most vitriolic of these abolitionists was William Lloyd Garrison….Garrison left no doubt about his refusal to compromise with the sin of slavery.
Garrison…did not look to direct political action to eradicate slavery. Moral suasion and non-violent resistance were his strategies.
Garrison helped organize the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1833. Two thousand local societies with 200,000 members had sprung into existence by 1840.
Advocating abolition became a felony in Virginia in 1836. The Georgia legislature offered a reward of $5,000 for anyone who would kidnap Garrison and bring him south for trial and punishment.
…abolitionists were unpopular in the North too.
A Boston mob dragged Garrison through the streets and almost lynched him. An anti-abolitionist riot in New York City went on for half a week, during which crowds of day laborers damaged several churches, invaded black neighborhoods, and sacked the home of Lewis Tappan, a wealthy silk importer who generously financed antislavery organizations.
These assaults finally reached a fateful culmination in 1837. Elijah Lovejoy, an abolitionist editor, was killed while defending his press from an Illinois mob. The Lovejoy murder marked a turning point, however, “a shock as of an earthquake throughout the continent,” remarked former President John Quincy Adams.
Hope for greater public sympathy helped splinter the abolitionist crusade into doctrinal factions.
More on the American Anti-Slavery Society:
The society was considered controversial and sometimes met with violence. According to the Britannica Encyclopedia, "The society's antislavery activities frequently met with violent public opposition, with mobs invading meetings, attacking speakers, and burning presses."
A convention of abolitionists was called to meet in December 1833 at the Adelphi Building in Philadelphia. The convention had 62 delegates, of which 21 were Quakers. The new American Anti-Slavery Society charged William Lloyd Garrison with writing the organization's new declaration. The document condemns the institution of slavery and accuses slave owners of the sin of being a "man-stealer". It calls for the immediate abolition of slavery without terms, and is critical of the efforts of the American Colonization Society. At the same time, it declares the group to be pacifist, and the signers agree, if necessary, to die as martyrs.
In 1839 the national organization split over basic differences of approach: Garrison and his followers were more radical than other members; they denounced the U.S. Constitution as supportive of slavery, were against established religion, and insisted on sharing organizational responsibility with women.
The Liberty Party was a separate anti-slavery organization that broke away from the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1839 in order to pursue an abolitionist agenda through the political process. As a radical, Garrison did not believe it prudent to fight the system from the inside. The disruption of the American Anti-Slavery Society, however, caused little damage to abolitionism.
Because of this schism in national leadership, the bulk of the activity in the 1840s and 1850s was carried on by state and local societies. The antislavery issue entered the mainstream of American politics through the Free Soil Party (1848–54) and subsequently the Republican Party (founded in 1854).
Some further background:
The American Anti-Slavery Society hoped to convince both white Southerners and Northerners of slavery's inhumanity. The organization sent lecturers across the North to convince people of slavery's brutality. The speakers hoped to convince people that slavery was immoral and ungodly and thus should be outlawed. The American Anti-Slavery Society also bombarded the United States Congress with petitions calling for the end of slavery. Rather than addressing the slavery issue, Congress imposed "the gag rule." The gag rule stated that Congress would not accept any petitions from the people of the United States that pertained to slavery.
From the Constitution of the Society:
The object of this Society is the entire abolition of slavery in the United States. …it shall aim to convince all our fellow-citizens, by arguments addressed to their understandings and consciences that slaveholding is a heinous crime in the sight of God, and that the duty, safety, and best interests of all concerned, require its immediate abandonment, without expatriation. The Society will also endeavour, in a constitutional way, to influence Congress to put an end to the domestic slave-trade, and to abolish slavery in all those portions of our common country which come under its control
It is clear from this earlier episode that the motive force of the anti-slavery movement was ethical and moral, grounded in the Christian faith of men and women willing to take a stand despite significant personal cost.
Consider the possible parallels: certain individuals – personally untouched by slavery – formed a society at great individual cost and risk; today, few Americans are personally affected by the costs (economic or otherwise) of war (as evil to its victims, and more so, than the impact of slavery on the slave), yet there is no similar risk taken.
The individuals took this anti-slavery action without the need to rely on a political champion; today – and certainly since Ron Paul has left the political scene – there is no such champion…and there is no such movement against war. It seems clear that any such opposition to war in the US was neutered the day Obama took office – again demonstrating the lie that is the left-right dichotomy.
In the 1830s – with none of the benefits of communication we enjoy today – the Anti-Slavery Society quickly grew to 2,000 chapters and 200,000 members; this without Facebook, Twitter, Google Chat, or any of the dozens of ways we have today to form groups and otherwise reach out to each other. This was when the US population was estimated to be about 17 million. The equivalent today would be a 4 million member society against war.
I suspect that if such a society is to be formed it must come from within the Christian community – just as the anti-slavery movement did more than two centuries ago. Unfortunately, the most visible expressions of support for war and empire come forward from much of this group – accurately labelled “warvangelicals” by Laurence Vance.
Where is such a society today? Too morally bankrupt? No desire to rock the boat? Too many generations of being molded into sheep?
I suspect the answer to all three questions is yes.