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Then vs. Now: Anti-War Protests

Students -- both at UNC and nationwide -- have vocally expressed their disapproval of the United States' actions through teach-ins and other protests.

The University of California-Berkeley held a conference earlier this month titled California Students Against the War, which was attended by more than 600 people.

Students at Berkeley voted to create a regional anti-war committee to coordinate anti-war events.

UNC also recently gained national attention for a series of anti-war teach-ins deemed too liberal by some outspoken conservatives.

But pundits say many comparisons to the Vietnam War stem from the fact that the public has been told few of the concrete objectives of military action in Afghanistan, as well as from the fact that the war is taking a slow pace.

UNC history Professor Michael Hunt said he sees both similarities and differences between the Vietnam War protests and recent anti-war protests on UNC's campus.

"The Vietnam War was going on for a couple of years before UNC students got actively involved in the protests," Hunt said. "UNC was quiet until '68 to '69. Things are currently quiet here, and this is consistent with the former model."

Hunt noted that the main difference between Vietnam and the situation in Afghanistan lies in popular support. He said lack of support for the war can be determined by gauging consensus among members of Bush's administration. Hunt said frequent disagreements indicate problems with the war.

Hunt added that protests against Vietnam escalated as more and more college students were drafted.

"The army was not a professional force then, and there were a lot of draftees who didn't want to be in the war," he said. "It was more important to college students then because it personalized the war. Currently we have a professional military, so this puts a different spin on things."

Hunt also said the length of the war affects popular support for military action and agitates student protests.

"The two wars that lost popular support (Vietnam and the Korean War) were long," he said.

"If the war drags on, accumulates a number of casualties -- if the economy is affected and we have higher taxes then the war could lose support.

"Most of the public sees the bombing as the easy way to go. For the most part, American lives are not being lost as they were in Vietnam."

Allison Blakely, professor of European and comparative history at Boston University, also said length might be a deciding factor as to whether student protest movements gain more momentum.

"Vietnam had gradually built up as an issue in which the public could take sides," he said. "The public took September 11 personally as an attack on the U.S. and people they knew, and that is why so overwhelming a degree of the public was in favor of the war."

"But, if the war extends, if the draft gets re-enacted and if American causalities start mounting, as it did for Russian soldiers when they were in Afghanistan, that is when the public will begin to lose favor."

Blakely said a lack of knowledge among the general public about the war has been the main cause for the lack of student protests compared to Vietnam.

"The developments haven't been of the type that can generate a lot of student protest because the issues are still so fuzzy," he said. "In Vietnam, students could articulate alternatives of what they wanted the government to do, but today, even people who are unhappy and uncertain about what is going on don't really have clear, concise alternatives."

But Anna Gonzalez, director of the cross-cultural center at the University of California-Irvine, attributes a lack of alternatives to reduced media coverage of protests on college campuses.

Gonzalez said the media is the force responsible for igniting responses in both the general public and college students.

But she added that she thinks a lack of media coverage of the war appears to trivialize student protests.

"The difference between the '60s and today isn't student apathy," Gonzalez said. "No, in the 1960s, the press was more inclined to take risks by covering this type of things. The media today tends to wear suits and feed off of information from the army."

Gonzalez also said it will be hard to predict whether students will continue to protest the war in Afghanistan because little is known of what is actually happening.

"There are parallels in every war," she said. "But with Vietnam and the current war, (what is happening) really isn't being explained to the people."

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