Peace Activism: What Is It Good For?

Assessing the Peace Movement's Influence

Andrew J. Bacevich

From time to time over the past decade, I’ve visited precincts that I might once have considered alien territory. More specifically, I’ve spoken to any number of antiwar groups.

Recently I visited with one such group in Maine. Those in attendance reflected the standard “peace & justice” demographic. For starters, they were almost entirely white. More or less evenly balanced in terms of gender, they were also long in the tooth. The mean age of the audience had to be well above sixty. If they exuded a faintly countercultural sensibility, it was gentle and polite rather than in-your-face. Whatever the proportion of aging hippies to straight-laced citizens, they came across as earnest, well-informed, and articulate. They listened intently, asked good questions, and did not hesitate to express opinions, which were invariably thoughtful. They were, in short, admirable in every way.

This time, however, the evening concluded with an unexpected twist. After we adjourned, a member of the audience approached and asked me to respond to something that had troubled him for quite some time. Wasn’t it the case, he asked, that peace activists were actually “enablers”? However well-intentioned, didn’t the puniness of their protest serve inadvertently to lend a simulacrum of legitimacy to the very policies to which they...

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About the Author

Andrew J. Bacevich is professor of history and international relations at Boston University. His new book is Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country. R. Scott Appleby, director of the Kroc Center for Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame, is co-editor of Peacebuilding: Catholic Theology, Ethics and Praxis.