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While many people in the USA are only aware of anti-war and peace movements from the 1960s and 1970s period of social unrest, these movements have been in existence since long before. Peace and antiwar movements are social movements that concentrate on a variety of issues related to violence, armed conflict, war, domination and oppression. The goals of the movements vary according to the dominant issue of the moment as well as the time and place in which they exist. For example, while there is an active international anti-nuclear arms movement, these efforts rarely receive mainstream attention in the USA.
Common themes of anti-war and peace groups range from ending a specific conflict to the abolition of war, the elimination of weapons as well as the creation of non-violent mechanisms to solve conflicts; such as through the creation of government sponsored committees or departments dedicated to peace rather than defense. Tactics utilized by these groups vary and often mirror the ideology of the group. Non-violent approaches include large boycotts, protests, hunger strikes, sit-ins, speeches, letter-writing campaigns, lobbying politicians, voting, education, and outreach. Others have used violence such as self-immolation, the destruction of property and even assassination as a mechanism to end war.
People and groups resist war and armed conflict for a wide variety of reasons such as economic exploitation, violation of human rights, destruction of property, environmental harm, the immorality of killing, the ideological justifications for war as well as the financial costs. Individuals may work individually or organize their own local groups, join larger national groups and work within educational and religious institutions to advance their cause. As our consciousness expands globally, strategies for change have become more transnational with groups around the world organizing to protest and disrupt meetings of world leaders to draw attention to situations they believe are unjust. The emergence of the Internet and other advances in technology has provided a new means of coalition building, which has been expanded as it is easier to reach people around the globe. For example, when the USA was preparing to invade Iraq in 2003, the peace movement was able to organize simultaneous protests of millions of people around the world.
While anti-war and peace movements are often successful in influencing public debate and beliefs about armed conflict and current military actions, rarely have they been able to stop wars. For example, the anti-war movement of the 1960s and 1970s galvanized the nation and created enough pressure on government officials to change their actions concerning the war. Part of this success was the number of people within government and politics who were openly against the war and worked to end it as soon as possible. Successful change arises out of a combination of people working within and outside of social and political institutions. One key element helping end the Vietnam War was the media coverage of the protests and of the war itself. More recent conflicts and peace movement activities have not had the same level of support thus making the efforts of the anti-war movement more challenging due to the invisibility of their efforts or of war itself, in the mainstream media.
- Marullo, S. & Meyer, D. (2004). Antiwar and peace movements. In: Snow, D., Soule, S., & Kriesi, H. (eds.), The Blackwell Companion to Social Movements. Blackwell, Oxford.
- Waller, M. R. & Rycenga, J. (2001). Frontline Feminisms: Women, War, and Resistance. Routledge, New York.
- Wittner, L. (1984) Rebels against War: The American Peace Movement, 1933—1983. Temple University Press, Philadelphia.