Review: The World Says No to War

By Jin-Wook Shin

The World Says No to War, edited by Stefaan Walgrave and Dieter Rucht (University of Minnesota Press, 2010)

Stefaan Walgrave and Dieter Rucht (eds.). The World Says No to War (University of Minnesota Press, 2010)

On February 15, 2003, when the protest against the war on Iraq took place in London, Madrid, Rome, Berlin, New York, and many other cities of the world, I was writing the last pages of my doctoral dissertation in Berlin and had the opportunity of joining the historic event. I still remember how excited was by the astonishing size, diversity, and vitality of the people who gathered around the Brandenburger Tor at the city center.

It was like a serious political version of a great festival. Parents pushing a stroller, teenagers dancing together, university students holding antiwar drawings by Käthe Kollwitz, and aged couples who seemed to be familiar with all these scenes—so diverse a range of people were saying the same words: “No War!,” “Stop the War!” And so many people of the world were acting on the same day to let the world know that the world says no to war.

The World Says No to War (edited by Stefaan Walgrave and Dieter Rucht) is an attempt to illuminate “who those demonstrators against imminent war were, why they took to the streets, and how they were mobilized.” It includes the fruits of comparative research by eminent movement scholars on the protests in eight countries—the USA, the UK, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, and Spain.

The February 15 protest was a very rare event in which an enormous number of citizens gathered in many places of the world on the same day to speak with one voice sharing a common concern. Equally rare and exceptional is this book, written by researchers who have conducted simultaneously a systematic survey on the sites of the protests in many countries on the basis of shared interests and well-prepared questionnaires.

The authors discuss in many places the results of statistical analysis, but they also provide rich narratives and historical accounts that read easily. All contributors summarized their key questions and findings clearly, so that the readers may be able to follow up the story line even if they do not understand the strange statistical symbols.

This book covers a great variety of core issues in movement studies ranging from the sociodemographic composition of the participants through the historical cycles of social movements to the impact of government policy, political systems, political attitudes, and value orientations upon the size, intensity, and action repertoires of the protest in each country. The readers, therefore, can look into the 2003 protest from diverse angles.

The 2003 antiwar protest has often been characterized by, or praised for the amazing diversity of its participants and the unity of the claim against the war, but The World Says No to War reveals that things were not that simple and that we can draw new insights and practical lessons by taking a closer look at the complexity of the reality.  The book achieves this goal primarily through comparative analysis.

It has been demonstrated that, contrary to the simplified images of the protest, there were considerable differences across the nations, and that we can profit a lot by trying to explain them. For example, the chapters written by Dieter Rucht, Stefaan Walgrave, Wolfgang Rüdig, and others show the differences of political systems, parties, mass media, and public opinion in the eight countries, and their impact on the February 15 protests.

The authors also gave a good deal of space to locate the 2003 protest within the historical cycles of social movements. In particular, Bert Klandermans, who edited in 1991 another book about international peace movements, devoted a chapters to the movement against cruise missiles, the nuclear freeze movement, and the anti-Gulf War campaign. But most of the other chapters help the reader interpret the continuity and uniqueness of the 2003 antiwar protest in historical contexts.

Movement studies have been strongly oriented to the practical interests of social reform, and every chapter of The World Says No to War indeed fulfills that aim in different ways. Of immediate interest for activists would be Donnatella della Porta’s chapter which shows that “strong identification with and deep embeddedness in movement sectors are the best predictors of degree of participation.”

It is remarkable that the concern of the demonstrators was not restricted to the imminent war in Iraq alone. They were involved in a great variety of social issues including neo-liberalization, inequality, racism, labor issues, etc. Actually, Mario Diani found that members of organizations that were not primarily oriented to peace activism played a role in linking a broad range of civil societal sectors to specific peace issues.

Thus we learn from this book that “mobilizing for peace” is not determined by a given structural condition, but is largely dependent upon the cooperation of civil societal organizations and, more fundamentally, upon the prevalence of sentiments of equality, social justice, and human dignity within society.

This point touches the reverse side of the coin in the 2003 protest. Why could the war not be hindered despite the absence of the UN resolution, the loud criticism by the public in many countries, and, above all, the unprecedentedly large-scale global protests? For all its historical meaning, the truth remains that the protest in 2003 could not stop the devastation of peace, dignity, and global justice in the ensuing months and years.

It is always very hard to build a counterweight to the war-promoting forces in politics, bureaucracy, and business. As Wolfgang Rüdig has shown in this book, the 2003 antiwar protest did not succeed in bringing an upheaval in the party preference and the party politics.  Peace, however, is not possible without challenging and changing the existing power structure. I think this is an important point we should struggle with in the future.

War is, as Johann Galtung has taught us, a result of violent social structures and cultural (un)consciousness. At the same time, war is a constitutive part of modern society that has the power of reshaping the society and imprinting profound psychosocial consequences in the minds of the people. Hence, the vicious circle between war-generating people and war-generated people.

We should, therefore, move beyond a single protest toward more continuous efforts to find the way of widening the peace-supporting populace. The coming summer will be a good chance to ponder over that subject.

1 Comment

Filed under Essay Dialogues, Great Books for Summer Reading 2013

One response to “Review: The World Says No to War

  1. Pingback: Review: The World Says No to War | OccuWorld

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