Ed Driscoll

Those Who Don't Remember History Are Doomed To Quote Santayana

In 1986, Michael Medved looked back in bemusement at the narcissism that drove his generation’s protests of the Vietnam war:

Having spent the past two decades making ourselves look good by trashing our elders, we children of the baby boom now turn supercilious scorn on the next generation in line. Our well-advertised contempt for these “shallow, materialistic kids” prevents any serious examination of our own youth and encourages mass amnesia concerning the anti-war activism of the 1960s.

The notion that this activism stemmed from a unique and noble concern for our fellow man is nothing more than a self-serving myth. Doesn’t anyone remember what it felt like to sit in a university lecture hall in 1968 knowing that the moment you graduated, or dared to take a semester off, the U.S. Army would offer you an all-expense-paid trip to Southeast Asia? Under these circumstance, you hardly needed an altruistic view of the world to oppose the war; you needed only a healthy regard for your own safety and well-being. A student of the era who marched in demonstrations to bring the boys home may or may not have been acting in his nation’s best interests, but he was most certainly acting in his own.

A quick examination of the history of the anti-war movement demonstrates beyond question the direct connection between draft calls and campus protests. That movement began in earnest only in mid-1966 — after the Selective Service System began breaching the walls that had previously protected college students from involuntary participation in the armed forces. Suddenly, draft boards across the country began conducting written tests or reviewing the grades of eligible young men to determine which of us deserved to retain our student deferments. I still remember that dark day when Army officials announced that even if we pursued graduate or professional study after college graduation, we could no longer expect immunity from the draft. This decision had a greater impact on us than all the horrible images of napalmed babies.

Strangely enough, the American politician who understood us best may have been Richard Nixon. Cynical manipulator that he was, he sought to calm the campuses by removing the irritant that had provoked our protests in the first place. By committing the country to an all-volunteer army in 1971, he effectively undermined the anti-war movement. It may seem strange at first glance that the most brutal U.S. attack of the entire war — the notorious Christmas bombing of 1972 — generated hardly a ripple of protest from America’s colleges and universities. Our silence is easily understood, however, when one takes note of the fact that draft calls came to an end at precisely that same moment in history — December 1972. By removing our own tender bodies from the line of fire, in other words, President Nixon significantly dimmed our heroic concern for the suffering masses of Southeast Asia.

Flash-forward to 2009 — who didn’t see this coming? Byron York writes:

Remember the anti-war movement? Not too long ago, the Democratic party’s most loyal voters passionately opposed the war in Iraq. Democratic presidential candidates argued over who would withdraw American troops the quickest. Netroots activists regularly denounced President George W. Bush, and sometimes the U.S. military (“General Betray Us”). Cindy Sheehan, the woman whose soldier son was killed in Iraq, became a heroine when she led protests at Bush’s Texas ranch.

That was then. Now, even though the United States still has roughly 130,000 troops in Iraq, and is quickly escalating the war in Afghanistan — 68,000 troops there by the end of this year, and possibly more in 2010 — anti-war voices on the Left have fallen silent.

Meanwhile, Kathy Shaidle spots a silver lining amidst the nation’s all-enveloping Obagloom:

Since President Bush was the focus of Sheehan’s wrath, one might have expected that the election of the ultra-leftist Barack Obama would have sent the nation’s most famous agitator into retirement. But as Hannity reported last night, Sheehan now plans to transplant her anti-war protests to the new President’s Martha’s Vineyard retreat. Chances are, though, she’ll find herself alone, without her Code Pink retinue of America-haters or her erstwhile media cheerleaders.

She doesn’t seem to realize that, as Byron York observed in the Washington Examiner, “…opposing the war was really about opposing George W. Bush. When Bush disappeared, so did their anti-war passion.”

As Hannity said last night about Sheehan’s latest quixotic stunt: “I’ll be looking for those big headlines, but I won’t be holding my breath.”

For those of us looking for a silver lining to Obama’s victory, I suppose the shunning of Cindy Sheehan will have to do for now.

York calls the flip-over “an extraordinary change in the mindset of the left”, but something tells me he’s not that surprised by how quickly they’ve pivoted, a maneuver the left have plenty of practice with in general.