Looking back on US history, I think it’s fair to say that the 60’s were the Left’s highest point, the time when they were in their full flower. And I don’t mean the chronological years, but the period thought of as “the 60’s,” which I tend to date from 1963 through 1975 or so — from the explosion of the civil rights movement through the US withdrawal from Viet Nam. (Likewise, I consider “the 70’s” to have run from about 1972 until 1981 or 1982 — eras seldom tend to match up evenly with decades.)
It was during the turbulent 60’s that the Left really reached its peak. They took the civil rights movement away from the Republicans, who had held the high ground on it for almost a century. As the death toll rose in Viet Nam, so did the power and prominence of the anti-war movement. The sexual revolution blossomed and exploded. The Great Society set forth to destroy poverty. It was the era when the People marched forth and demanded their government stop trying to kill others abroad, and instead turn its focus towards helping people at home.
And they won.
One president gave them virtually everything they wanted, but wouldn’t do their bidding in Viet Nam, so they hounded him from office in disgrace. The next one promised them what they wanted in Viet Nam, but didn’t do it as quickly as they wanted, or in the way they wanted. He also gave them what they wanted domestically, but again nowhere near enough. And when that president let his own paranoia and venality lead him into grave errors in judgment and corruption, they destroyed him, too.
They wanted a war on poverty, and they got one. It was the domestic version of Viet Nam — they won every single battle they fought, but eventually lost. They lost because they never looked at the long-term consequences of their efforts — they managed to raise nearly everyone out of the starkest depths of privation, but settled for creating a permanent underclass of people dependent upon the government for their ongoing subsistence, financially punishing those who might strive for self-sufficiency. And between ruinous attempts at social engineering and the sexual revolution, they virtually destroyed the family unit among the lower economic strata — especially among blacks, countless of whom are still suffering today from those misguided attempts to “improve” their conditions.
Eventually, America grew tired of the turbulent 60’s. While the United States Constitution has been described as “institutionalized revolution,” so much change, so much passion, so much anarchy in such a short time takes its toll. After a decade-long bender, America finally called it a night and passed out on the bathroom floor. When we awoke, we desperately tried every hangover cure we could imagine, including such absurdities as disco, pet rocks, and Jimmy Carter.
But many of those who lived through those days forget the morning after, and only remember the good times. And they recall the days when they were at the center of all the attention, when they held the reins of power, when they were the toast of the town. And what was their strongest, most unifying element?
Why, Viet Nam. It was the “perfect” war for them. Viet Nam posed no direct threat to the United States. We were fighting people of a completely different race. And the people we were fighting were backed by Communists, the ultimate “For The Masses” movement. And they won.
But after the 60’s wound down, the Left found themselves being shut out of the Presidency. Their last gasp was in 1976, when they managed to capitalize on people’s lingering disgust over Watergate and get Jimmy Carter elected. The next three elections went to Republicans (including twice to Ronald Reagan, who embodied all the 60’s Left-overs loathed). In 1992 and 1996, Bill Clinton, former anti-war protester and certified draft dodger, won, but by running as a “centrist,” “new Democrat,” not by embracing his past. And when they ran a genuine anti-war leader for president in 2004, I and a lot of other people looked at John Kerry and asked “what the hell has he achieved in the last 30 years?” — a question that still remains unanswered.
They want that power back, and the only way they can see that it might work is to re-engineer the circumstances that led to it. And that means they need a new Viet Nam War. So that means that the fighting in Iraq has to be
forced into the round hole marked “Viet Nam,” forced to conform to their rigid model of how things must be, in order to become what they want to be.
It’s not so easy the second time around. Both sides have learned the folly (and obscenity) of “blaming the troops” for the war. The cries of “baby killers” and of praising the enemy have been thoroughly repudiated, and only sneak through when they get careless or swept up in the moment. They also lack a steady supply of disaffected veterans to hide behind — the troops this time are all volunteers, and the vast majority of them have a tremendous sense of pride and accomplishment in their missions.
Another element that’s thwarting their plans is the populist explosion of the media. Nowadays EVERYONE’S a news source. There’s no longer a monopoly on news — even soldiers in the field can have as big (or bigger) an audience as anyone else — and their message not only often contradicts the main stream’s “big picture,” but adds in the credibility of being right in the thick of things.
They ain’t making enemies like they used to, either. The Viet Cong had quite a bit of supporters in the US, as well as the backing of two superpowers. The terrorists in Iraq have very few open backers in the US (Michael Moore and “equivalent of our founding fathers” garbage aside), and their PR instincts just stink — every new video of them beheading their victims while proclaiming the glory of Allah just angers more and more people. Also, whereas China and the Soviet Union backed North Viet Nam, the biggest backers of the terrorists are Iran and Syria. Syria, though, is finding itself facing more and more of its own problems (even the UN is giving them grief over their occupation and oppression of Lebanon), and Iran isn’t doing this out of mischief, but survival — they desperately need attention turned away from their burgeoning nuclear program, and the idea of a Muslim democracy right next door to their brutal theocracy scares the crap out of the mullahs.
If the Left wants to survive, they need to wake up and smell the coffee. The 60’s are gone, and they ain’t coming back. Nearly all the ghosts of Viet Nam are at peace now. They need to, to coin a phrase, “MoveOn” and let go of the past, and start looking to the future. They need to figure out just what they want to do, present a clear and competing vision as an alternative to the Right.
In that light, John Kerry was the perfect symbolic candidate for the Left. He was a Viet Nam veteran, and a veteran of the anti-war movement. He hadn’t accomplished hardly a damned thing since then. His most distinguishing qualifying trait for the presidency was stuff he had done 30 years ago. And his entire platform seemed to be either “I wouldn’t have done what the other guy did,” or “I would’ve done the same, but better.” For once, give the people something to vote FOR, not AGAINST.
Folks, I just turned 38 last Monday. I am, statistically, halfway through my life. I was five when the last US soldier left VIet Nam, and it just doesn’t have the same resonance for me as it does to those who lived through it — and there’s roughly a whole generation and a half of Americans who are the same way. We’ve heard it all before — and we’ve seen the consequences of listening to it.
Iraq is NOT Viet Nam. It’s desert, not jungle — a lot less places to hide. It’s got a lot of cities, not zillions of little hamlets. We occupy the entire country, there’s not a huge hunk of it that’s politically “safe ground.” Our troops are not disaffected, stoner draftees and psycho butchers — they’re the guys AND GALS next door, who signed up willingly and proudly. And no matter how hard you try to make it, it just won’t happen.
(Update: I made a huge blunder in that last paragraph. See details, clarification, and apologies here. My thanks to robert, epador, old soldier, and Allen Yackey for calling me on it.)
(I’d like to thank the left-leaning cartoonist/blogger who inspired this piece, but the last time I singled out one of those it ended up with him posting a final “FU” to me and taking an indefinite break from blogging, and I need to keep a few of them around just for the inspiration they provide.)
I could not agree more with the general sentiment of the post – the 60s were sometimes way over the top. Politically this sent us leftward to Jimmy Carter, easily the worse President of my lifetime.
Culturally however, this could be described as a breakout period going roughly from Pat Boone to Hendrix, Sammy Davis Jr. to Rev. King and June Cleaver to Cosmo. Most of this was good stuff: “A little revolution now and then is a good thing”. (TJ).
But one of the fallouts of this period was the characterization of our military as crazed killers, such as that parodied on the “Smothers Brothers” show, and elsewhere. This was as unfortunate as it was wrong – by far and away the vast majority of our armed services were then, as today, serving with honor.
So, if I had to quibble, it would be with the “stoner draftees and psycho butchers” bit. While there are examples of this to be sure, this is not a remotely fair characterization of those serving at the time.
You are absolutely right in your analysis. When the latest anti-war movement started, I said that they were trying to relive their glory days. As you said, they never did a thing with their lives after the war. They spent the years finding things to tear down. If you look closely at all the “movements” that have come and gone since then, you will find many of the same people involved. They couldn’t win those battles. When Iraq came around, they thought they had been given a gift. They were wrong.
As per robert, I object to the stoners and butchers tag, though perhaps meant as a sarcastic and ironic jab, it hurts both ways. I wanted to cut and paste the whole piece for future reference until I got to that line. I recommend a quick blue pencil through those words and you have a great piece.
You have put a sparkle on the brass and silver accoutrements of an Old Soldier’s uniform. You have a gift for communicating and you do a fair job of interpreting your research, too.
Like many who have and those that will comment, I lived those eras. They weren’t pretty from my conservative ideological perspective. I never could figure out the reasoning or logic that persuaded people to turn against their own military servicemen (both genders). I bore the brunt of their insults and actions when I returned form Vietnam in April 1970. I always felt insulted by the liberal ideology and movement, but in my continued service managed to stay focused on serving the nation as a whole. I couldn’t believe Vietnam veterans were actively opposing the war effort. I always viewed them as traitors – not patriots (and still view them that way).
I do not mean to contradict Robert regarding his comment pertaining to your terming of “stoner draftees”. However, it was my experience (in an Army helicopter company organic to the 25th Infantry Division in Vietnam in 1969/70, and again in an aviation support unit in Korea in 1972/73) that marijuana use was much more prevalent then than at the time of my retirement some 25 years later. The typical Army “stoner” was a college draftee (either a graduate or drop-out). The typical plow share to soldier draftee was well disciplined and of no trouble. I suspected, but never attempted to validate, that most of the Vietnam veterans that joined peace movements were college-associated draftees – their liberalism ingrained prior to being drafted.
By contrast, the all volunteer force of today has better individual disciplined, are more highly motivated and typically better trained than the Army of the 1960’ and 70’s. The Army of today would kick the butt of the Army of the 60’s and 70’s all over the battlefield – weapons and technology aside. These kids are highly skilled soldier-patriots who believe in their mission and have the motivation to fight and win. I’d sure hate to see a liberal insurrection destroy their effectiveness. The enemy we face today – Islamofascists – can be contained and neutralized if we will let our military do its job without being hamstrung by unrealistic restrictions.
Thanks for the post and keep up the good work!
Well written. Excellent analysis.
I am a Viet Nam Veteran nearing age 60.
“Iraq is NOT Viet Nam. It’s desert, not jungle — a lot less places to hide. It’s got a lot of cities, not zillions of little hamlets. We occupy the entire country, there’s not a huge hunk of it that’s politically “safe ground.” OUR TROOPS ARE NOT DISAFFECTED, STONER DRAFTEES AND PSYCHO BUTCHERS [emphasis added] — they’re the guys AND GALS next door.
It wasn’t true then and it isn’t true now. But even the younger generation of “our side” has bought into the propaganda.
I was drafted, I went, I did my duty. So did most of the rest of us. I caught a lot of abuse for doing my duty when I returned.
I’ve gotten used to it from the left. But when it slips into the underlying assumptions of even “our side”…..
It really hurts.
In all fairness I should have quantified my college stoner vs. plow share to soldier draftee comment. I would estimante the mix at probably 40/60 – 40% undisciplined stoners (and that does not mean they were all potheads – just absorbed with that culture) and 60% well meaning get-the-job done soldiers. But they were generally, “Twos years is all Uncle Sam gets and then I outa here.” Soldier attitude was vastly differnet in the 60’s and 70’s than in the 90’s.
The draft (not draftees) hurt the Army because it created a very high two-year turnover cycle. When your troops are only around for two years it is hard to maintain a highly trained/experienced and motivated unit posture. I mean nothing untoward drafted soldiers – in fact that is the way my career started.
Excellent, made my day.
My only quibble with this excellent piece are the dates. I would say that the “60’s” started on Nove. 22nd, 1963, JFK’s assassination, and ended on the day in August 1973 when Nixon resigned.
Ha ha very funny, your army is not more motivated or more brave, is that why the American troops dare not venture into hostile cities before flattening them first from 30,000 ft above very very brave.
Things may not be the same as Vietnam but that’s because the number of troops there are a lot smaller, if 20% of an Iraqi population of 25 million can cause this much havoc how the hell would they actually cope if the 60% majority shia rebelled, only reason America is able to stay there in Iraq is by kissing sistani’s ass so he don’t order the shia to rebel. (Sistani is the leader the Iraqi shia by the way might as well point that out as American ignorance does defy belief at times).
Good post, Jay Tea. I agree (mostly) with your analysis.
Saf, crawl back under your bridge, m’kay?
OK crawling back under the bridge, whatever the hell thats supposed to mean and oh yea i am so offended by the way.
Ways Iraq IS like Vietnam:
1. No exit strategy (Bush Sr. even said so )
2. Fighting a war on cloudly “principles” against a largely indiscernable enemy
I have a friend who signed up for the Air Force in 2002. He was PROMISED that he wouldn’t be sent to Iraq. Guess where he just spent the last few months as a bullet catcher/”liberator” extraordinaire?
For Christ’s sake, the poor bastards that are over there aren’t even properly supplied or armed ( not to mention the unprepared mopes in the Reserves ) – Enlistment numbers are down and they’re sending any warm body over there. Seriously, does this thing really seem like a good idea to you guys?
The supposed motives for this war shift so fast that I can’t even keep up.
9-11! ( which makes me wonder why we aren’t waging the same campaign in Saudi Arabia )–and don’t give me the “no one ever said 9-11 bit”, we all know the President’s finger was firmly pointed at New York City.
WMDs! No, wait, (Downing Street Memos, anyone?)
Democracy and Liberation of an oppressed people!
Whatever they want to eventually settle on as the actual, real REASON for this war, there are a thousand other places where we could fight the same war for the same supposed “reasons”.
So, why Iraq?