In the fall of 1971, when I was in twelfth grade, I started to grow my hair long. A failed basketball player, still loosely socially affiliated with the athletes, I knew that the next fall I’d be in college. There, I thought, I could really fit in—and find a great girlfriend or two, unlike anything that had happened in high school.
At that time the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War was winding down. The draft was on the way to being abolished, so guys my age didn’t have to think about what they would do if they were drafted.
But “the war” was still a hot topic. In my school, it was a social marker: if you were “for the war,” you were more likely to be with the jocks and cheerleaders, an assertive patriot; those “against the war” were more likely to be on the “freak” side of the spectrum, more into loud music than sports, marijuana than beer. As for America, it was “Amerika,” venal and “imperialist” if not worse.
As part of the change I felt myself to be effectuating, I started to say things like, “It’s not our fight.” “I don’t know what we’re doing over there, wasting all that money when we could be spending it on social programs.”
It did not come out of genuine, deep thought or engagement with the issues. Once I had wanted to be cool by being a star basketball player; but I was only a mediocre one. Now I would be cool by being an intellectual firebrand, a scourge of the establishment.
Demographically speaking, that strategy made more sense. Though I didn’t yet understand it in such terms, I was a secular Jew with a strong yen for the arts and humanities. In most places in the world where Jews live, people of that description are overwhelmingly on the left; indeed, a good many people in the colleges I went to belonged to that description.
There was only one obstacle to my march toward—so I thought—coolness, popularity, and success with the girls as an “establishment”-basher: Alfred Hornik.