August 20, 2009
Draft Riots

Writing on Woodstock, Tom Degan makes a point too often overlooked or denied: the antiwar movement was in large measure a draft riot set off by the end of college deferments. Nixon made sure they would never happen again by turning a citizens’ army into a permanent mercenary force. Absent that, the kids would be in the streets right now.

Many of the upper class young men who partook in “the revolution” of the 1960s did so only because they believed in their hearts something that only a few of them have admitted to date: that fighting the war in Vietnam — or any war for that matter — was beneath them. Leave that nasty little chore to the minorities and the poor white guys.

When the nightmare that was Vietnam finally ended in the Spring of 1975; when the draft was abolished and they were out of danger — the scenario would be drastically altered as you can imagine. The peace sign would eventually give way to the dollar sign; marijuana was overtaken by the three-martini lunch. Uber radical Jerry Rubin would end his life working for Wall Street.

Many of the guys you can see in the film, Woodstock — smoking dope under the stars, dancing in a torrential downpour, and grooving to The Who — would end up as prostitutes for Corporate America — buying BMWs and voting for Ronald Reagan. The mantle of “Peace and Love” was, I believe, merely a convenient front. As balding, middle-aged men, most of them would gleefully support their nation’s illegal invasion of Iraq a generation later. By that time, these assholes weren’t the ones who would have to do the fighting and dying.

I’m not trying to say that they were wrong not to support American involvement in Vietnam. They were absolutely correct. If only they had shown a little more consistency. They — WE — are the phoniest, most hypocritical generation in the history of the world.



Posted by Jerome Doolittle at August 20, 2009 12:01 PM
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I can say without question I was not one of these people.

Posted by: One Fly on August 20, 2009 1:47 PM

I buy the first part of the argument completely. Certainly the antiwar movement arose from draft resistance, which happened because middle- and upper-class kids were subject to the draft. If at 17 you're about to be shipped off to war next year, like others you knew from high school, you focus on different issues than if your main concerns are beer and sex.

It's also true that the peace sign gave way to the dollar for many who'd seen themselves as revolutionaries in youth. I'd also stipulate that many in the anti-war movement never considered themselves radical, and many in the counterculture were there for the aforementioned beer and sex, plus whatever else was on offer, merely following the crowd on political matters.

But I hesitate to place all the blame on the shallowness and selfishness of individuals. The way our Republic of State Capitalism wins most of its battles is by co-optation rather than direct confrontation, because it's cheaper that way. There's always enormous social pressure to conform to the corporate way, and most people succumb early in life. In a few cases, extreme circumstances like the imminence of being sent to war can cause changes in consciousness, can make one wake from the Matrix-like dream and start to live differently.

Even then relapse is far from unknown. It's difficult and painful to make all those choices that daily life requires if one throws aside the standard prescriptions; most people would rather someone else did it for them, would prefer to adopt a more-or-less well-defined program from an authority of some sort.

Posted by: Chuck Dupree on August 20, 2009 8:59 PM

It's a bit similar with the German "Student Movement of 68", the "68er Bewegung". OK, we came a bit later, but a lot of my friends in the early 1970s floated around the edges of the inner core of what later became known as the RAF, the Red Army Faction oder "Baader-Meinhof" group.

One spent eight years in jail for something she definitely didn't do, but most got out of the melee unscathed. One, once an ardent anarchist, is now an ardent capitalist with several offshore bank accounts and good contacts to organized crime (connections built during the time of "armed resistance" against the "pig-state"). Not so strange, though. Mussolini also used to be an anarchist in his youth. There are just two left out of a group of about twenty whom I still can respect. The trouble is, most of them don't even realise they're doing the same things they used to despise so much. Some kind of selective memory. Or denial, whatever.

Maybe it's just the way life goes. Someone (I don't remember who) once said that you always become what you hate most in life. I guess that's right. It's about turning the tables around. The victim becomes the oppressor. That's why revolutions are always so bloody. A revenge-thing. And once you had your revenge you don't know what to do but operate along the same rules you have known all your life. Only the other way round.

Posted by: Peter on August 21, 2009 7:00 AM

Hey man, speak for yourself. I got out of high school gung ho to serve my country in 67. I got enlightened and realized that it was an immoral war and that I had a problem with killing in general and in particular with killing people who were not a threat to me and had done nothing to me. I know there are people like you talk about, I wasn't one of them. I never thought I was above serving my country, just that I was above killing innocent people. My only regret was that I didn't have the courage to leave country and family behind to avoid it, those were the people who showed real courage and conviction. I protested against the war and resigned from a Federal Academy. I had the draft all over before suddenly being "saved" by the lottery. I did not have the courage to give up family and leave the country rather than serve in an immoral war. I've always regretted that. Family turned out not to be worth the compromise of values and never stood for anything other than dollars. I'm proud to have rejected that, at least.

It pains me greatly to see us come full circle again, but this time it is so much more evil. The problem has been and continues to be a lack of accountability. We throw a few lowly privates in the brig for carrying out the order of Bush and Cheney and company while they enjoy a get out of jail free card. It has to end no country can survive such unbridled corruption that appears to have invaded all our institutions including health care which has become nothing more than a money making scam, but I digress.

Gandhi had some very good ideas, but I do think you are allowed to defend yourself when confronted with deadly force that you can't escape which leads me to support death panels for some of these repugnutins who think killing the president when you lose an election is OK.

Posted by: knowdoubt on August 21, 2009 8:53 AM

My thoughts from a couple of years ago:

We dropped the ball, [our] generation did...

We stopped The War!

Our War.

Viet Nam.

But we didn't stop War.

We forced Nixon to accountability. Whoopee! Nixon quit, The War is Over! Let's finish our law degrees, cut our hair, and buy beemers and half-million dollar houses on the high desert!

We stopped The War. Our War. Viet Nam. But we didn't stop War. We finished our law degrees and bought overpriced McMansions, and left the machinations in place, notably Bush/Carlyle, Cheney/Haliburton and Rumsfield/etal, that led to the Authoritarian State - Fascist State - we are about, if not have, to become.

We dropped the ball.

Posted by: Ten Bears on August 21, 2009 1:49 PM
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