Friday, June 21, 2013

Norman Thomas and the Anti-War Movement

My latest reading of W.A. Swanberg's Norman Thomas: The Last Idealist was about Thomas' views on the anti-war movement in the 1960's.  Norman Thomas was a six-time Socialist candidate for President of the United States.

Thomas was opposed to the Vietnam War, but he had issues with the anti-war movement.  Thomas could still gain a receptive audience among a number of young people during the 1960's, even though he was over 30, and one of the mottos of many within the younger generation in those days was "Don't trust anyone over 30."  My guess is that this was on account of Thomas' status as a veteran within the left-wing, his reputation as a person with integrity, and his talent as a public speaker.

But Thomas took issue with how many within the anti-war movement were cheering for Communism to win in Vietnam rather than emphasizing the importance of a peaceful resolution, and he thought that they should be missionaries for the anti-war cause rather than rebelling against the culture.  If they were missionaries for the anti-war cause, Thomas contemplated, perhaps they could get enough people to influence President Lyndon Johnson to end the war.

Thomas was also not a big fan of civil disobedience, which he considered to be self-defeating, plus he was not for the disruption of "organized society" (Thomas' words, quoted on page 462).  Rather than refusing to pay his taxes, as one of his acquaintances did, Thomas paid his taxes while noting in a letter to the government that he had moral objections to some of the things that the taxes were paying for, such as war.  I don't think that Thomas was for people rolling over and playing dead when the government was stomping on civil liberties.  Plus, my impression (and I'm open to correction on this) is that he was sympathetic to those who dodged the draft.  But he most likely didn't want the Left to be overly provocative when it did not need to be----when it needed to build bridges rather than alienating people.

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