In 2002, Malachi Ritscher posted a statement on the War in Iraq on his blog, a mission statement that placed him utterly against the war, and headed to protest at a freeway off ramp in downtown Chicago.
Holding a sign that read “Thou shalt not kill,” Malachi doused himself in gasoline and committed a horrifying act of self-immolation as onlookers drove by. This act, reminiscent of the Vietnam anti-war movement, was almost entirely ignored by the media.
Last Tuesday, Melvin Small, a retired history professor from Wayne State University, pointed to this event in his lecture, “U.S. Antiwar Movements: Vietnam and Iraq.” Brought to Saginaw Valley as part of the history department’s Barstow Humanities Seminar program, Small is an esteemed name in the historical study of foreign and domestic policy and its role throughout United States history and has written many award-winning books on the subject.
Small came to Detroit to teach at Wayne State in 1965, the same year the first act of self-immolation during Vietnam War protests happened on that campus. His lecture noted the stark contrast in the media representation of the Wayne State protest and Ritscher’s Iraq War protest in 2002. He noted that within four years, both the War in Iraq and the Vietnam War had lost more than 60 percent of their public support. However, he pointed out that the American public has not been actively protesting against the War in Iraq. The underlying theme of the lecture sought to understand the reason for this disparity in public approach to the United States’ last two major war efforts.
Overall, he noted many important factors that had changed and largely seemed to affect public reaction to the war. According to Small, the retraction of the draft, the shift in the way the public receives its news today and the belief that protesting will not accomplish any policy changes all harm the productivity of a strong anti-war movement and the probability that one as strong as the anti-Vietnam movement will rise again today.
The hardest hit to the modern war movement in Small’s eyes is the complete lack of media coverage and the portrayal of the few protestors in the media. His studies have noticed that media coverage of protestors provided the anti-Vietnam movement with all of its strength, and as it began to retract media coverage at the war’s finale, it simply never returned.
After his lecture, Small was asked how to best bring attention to anti-war protests.
“Apparently, everything works … and everything doesn’t work, depending on the circumstances,” he said.