Challenges of the Peace Movement Today
Horace Campbell

Editor’s note: This is a digest of a longer article by Professor Campbell. Visit www.peacecouncil.net/pnl for the full version. Professor Campbell’s book, Barack Obama and 21st Century Politics: A Revolutionary Moment in the USA will be the subject of ourd study group which will begin February 1.

Horace Campbell speaks out in April 2010 against robotic warfare and US imperialism at an SPCled regional demonstration against drone use at Hancock Airbase. Photo: Kristin Mosher

Peace Movement as the Global Super Power
When the peace movement brought out millions in the streets of the world before the Iraq war in February 2003, the New York Times called this massive organization one of the new super powers.

Faced with this power of public opinion, the US war-makers moved aggressively to disperse and disorganize the traditional forms of protests, demonstrations and petitions of the peace movement. Militarist fronts such as the US Institute for Peace went into full time operation to turn centers of peace into areas for the study of counter-terrorism. The interconnecting military lobbies comprised of dictators in Saudi Arabia and the Israeli lobby, along with the neo-conservative forces of the Project for a New American Century joined hands with the corporate media to drive fear into the hearts and minds of citizens over terror. Citizens were supposed to forget the real day-to-day terror of unemployment, foreclosure of homes and environmental degradation.

While those who were looking for messiahs were critiquing Barack Obama and bemoaning the fact that there were no longer huge demonstrations similar to the February 2003 manifestations, they were not fully appreciative of the new silent but effective face of peace as it appeared in numerous forms within the social media platforms. Peace could not be separated from health, environmental justice, anti- racism, or the defense of same gender loving persons.

One of the places where the peace movement was growing was inside the armed forces. From time to time, there were flashes of what was going on from groups such as the Iraq Veterans Against the War. The majority of the rank and file forces have no appetite for wars in Afghanistan and one of the major challenges is to intensify the political education of citizens, especially so called “whites,” so that they do not succumb to the racism and jingoism of the racist, homophobic and Islamophobic forces.

Robotization and the Militarization of Youth
It is alarming that the mind control of youth has gone beyond the popular media into the virtual world of video games to robotize and militarize the psyche of young persons, preparing them for perpetual warfare. Whether in fiction or in forward planning for military engagement in the 21st century, writers such as P.W. Singer are involved in the discussion of the period when robots will do most manual work and will be deployed for war to maintain the military superiority of the US. So called “forward planners” are seeking to dumb down the youth and turn them into mindless consumers and warriors. On this front, the conservative media conglomerates are reinforced by the video-game industry. The Pentagon itself is using video games as a recruiting tool. There is a new video game in which youth are supposed to practice the killing of Fidel Castro. In the words of Nick Turse, “through video games, the military and its partners in the academia and the entertainment industry is creating an arm of media culture geared toward preparing young Americans for armed conflict.” The Pentagon has joined forces with information technology behemoths while the intelligence services tapped into the business model of Google to establish firms such as In-Q-Tel. But the surreal nature of the video game wars was juxtaposed with the reality that hundreds of real soldiers were committing suicide because of the crimes they were witnessing and millions more were suffering from mental disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder.

WikiLeaks and the Double-Edged Sword
WikiLeaks operates within a world of computer technology where there are black hats, white hats and gray hats. Hackers for peace within the military itself have constituted a new face for peace and exposed to the world that there were hundreds of thousands of ordinary soldiers in the US military who wanted to bring the US military before the court of international public opinion. Bradley Manning epitomized one of the hundreds of soldiers who are now the new faces of the peace movement. These new faces of peace and justice within the traditional military are making distinctions between the addicts of war and the psychopaths of the military contracting business on one side, and working class youth who have been forced into the military because of the depression.

The information on Julian Assange (WikiLeaks founder) and Bradley Manning only served to expand the base for mobilizing  active duty soldiers and sailors who represent the new faces of the peace movement. Even face with threats, the WikiLeaks exposure of the death squads and special forces meant that the faces of peace were spreading and that a new stage had been reached. The challenge was for the international faces of the peace movement to become such a force that they will bring down the death squads and military contractors along with the investment firms and banks that want capitalism to continue regardless of the costs for humans everywhere.

The Peace Movement and a Revolution of Values

With the new strategy of creating a mercenary army of military contractors, the financial oligarchy is aware of the potentialities of a split in the regular armed forces. The peace movement is being challenged to awaken to the new stage of struggle so that the peace movement must struggle on many fronts. The arrest of Julian Assange only served to heighten the understanding of the need for the democratization of information. Information warfare had inspired its opposite, the appearance of new forces for peace who were in the business of exposing warfare.

As the Syracuse Peace Council celebrates its 75th anniversary, it is a moment to take stock of the tactics and strategies that worked in the past and the need for new strategies consistent with the demands for a new internationalism in the 21st century. In the last century, it was clear during the anti-Viet Nam war work that peace could not be separated from civil rights or the struggles for environmental justice.The peace movement is being challenged to awaken to the new stage of struggle so that the opposition to the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and the Philippines will be informed by a clarity of the tasks of dismantling the military/prison/industrial complex and take the lead in outlining the challenges of conversion to a green economy.

As I argue in my book on Barack Obama and 21st Century Politics, Obama inherited the military infrastructure for permanent war and it was naïveté on the part of some in the peace movement that made them believe that he could, as president, change the militaristic direction without the power of a mobilized grassroots movement. I further argue the case that a revolution would be required to bring the Pentagon back under democratic control. The book also calls on progressive forces not to look to Obama and his administration for answers but to a remobilized progressive movement. I note that the peace and justice movements need to use as their reference the call of Martin Luther King Jr. for a “revolution of values.”

In the past 75 years the Syracuse Peace Council has been a beacon of light that exposed the real implications of permanent war plans. In the next 75 years peace and justice forces must organize against psychological warfare and mind control so that we continue to create spaces for nonviolence and peaceful change.


Horace is a Professor of African American Studies and Political Science at Syracuse University. He is the author of many books, including his most recent, Barack Obama and 21st Century Politics: A Revolutionary Moment in the USA. He is a member of the Syracuse Peace Councilís Advisory Committee.