And Speaking of the Cold Civil War...
This excerpt is from the book Rules for Radical Conservatives by the noted Leftist radical, "David Kahane." If you don't know who David Kahane is, click here. And here. Buy it, read it, weep, and enjoy it if you can:
Despite all the evidence of the past several decades, you still have not grasped one simple fact: that, just about a century after the last one ended, we engaged in a great civil war, one that will determine the kind of country we and our descendants shall henceforth live in for at least the next hundred years – and, hopefully, a thousand. Since there hasn’t been any shooting, so far, some call the struggle we are now involved in the “culture wars,” but I have another, better name for it: the Cold Civil War
In many ways, this new civil war is really an inter-generational struggle, the War of the Baby Boomers. America’s largest generation, the famous “pig in the python,” has affected everything it’s touched, from the schools of the 1950s (not enough of them) through the colleges of the 1960s (changed, changed utterly), through the political movements of the 1970s and ‘80s (revolution and counter-revolution), and into the present, where the war is still being waged. For the dirty little secret is that all those fresh-faced kids, crammed together in public-school classrooms, have hated each other almost from the moment they first drew breath, and realized that they were to be locked in lifelong, mortal competition with the dozens, hundreds, thousands, millions of other kids their same age. From their first moment of self-consciousness, they were aware that they would have to fight for everything they got: for the love of their parents, for a desk in the classrooms, for a place in the elite colleges, for a job, for a title, for money, for everything.
It was back then, shoulder to shoulder in those crowded, stinky classrooms, benighted places where there was scarcely a grief counselor ever to be seen, where Attention Deficit Disorder and the whole host of other imaginary diseases we have since inflicted on you had not yet been invented (any kid claiming ADD would have been laughed at and, in Catholic school, probably slapped upside the head by the nuns), and where the idea of filing a lawsuit on just about any pretext would have been considered trashy, that our respective sides developed our deep antipathy for one other. My crew was resentful that we had to share space, not only in the classroom but on the planet, with inexplicably happy alien beings like you, who, at best, ignored us as you got on with your lives in pursuit of the chimerical “American Dream,” or worse, treated us with contempt as we whined, moaned, bitched and complained about the awful unfairness of life and the vast evil all around us and all that jazz. Just because you happened to be the so-called “majority” at the time didn’t mean we couldn’t start planning ways to take you down, to change things, to effect a fundamental transformation of your society. Which, in case you haven’t noticed, is now ours.
You admired strength, resolve and purposefulness; we were stuck with weakness and indecision. You saw the world as something to be conquered; we saw the world as a hostile force needing to be appeased. You dealt with life head-on, never complaining and never explaining; we ran home and told our mommies. You cheered when macho neanderthals like John Wayne or Steve McQueen kicked some “bad” guy’s butt, and swelled with pride at that whole faked “moon landing” charade, while we ogled Jane Fonda as Barbarella atop that anti-aircraft gun in Hanoi, and rolled around naked in the mud at Woodstock. Think of us as Cain to your Abel, hating you from practically the moment we were born, hating you for your excellence and your unabashed pursuit thereof while we were the ugly stepchildren. Well, Cinderfella – how do you like us now?
Today, we are cock of the walk, king of the world, all our vices made virtues, and all us sinners, saints. While you were out trying to make your way in the world, earning a living, being responsible, raising a family, paying your taxes, we infiltrated your every institution: the schools, the law, Hollywood, the culture, the government. We learned to train your own weapons upon you and, while you weren’t looking, we shot you in the back with them, metaphorically speaking
And sometimes literally. The Cold Civil War, in its early stages, was marked by repeated clashes between the visionaries among the Baby Boomer youth (my dad, the sainted “Che” Kahane, was of course one of them) and their parents, between students and the pigs, between the Free Speech Movement of Mario Savio and the other Berkeley protestors, and the university deans and presidents who at first resisted them but quickly and cravenly capitulated to hordes of unwashed goliards and -- at Cornell in 1969 – to an actual armed takeover of the school’s Willard Straight Hall on, fittingly, Parents’ Weekend, by gun-toting black students. Heck, we (and I’m talking Movement here, since I had yet to make my debut and missed out on the whole thing) even got our heads proudly bashed in on the streets of Chicago during the 1968 Democratic convention.
Those were heady early days, marked by the Left’s generational blitzkrieg against an unprepared and astonished Establishment. To hear my dad tell it, our side couldn’t believe how easy it was. I mean, here we were, ready to almost lay down our lives for what we believed in – and what we believed in was basically nothing, disguised as “protest.” We were the bastard idiot children of Rousseau as filtered through the nihilists of the 19th century (no wonder we all read the Russians in those days, for Dostoyevsky spoke to our suffering souls as did no other 19th century novelist, certainly not the overrated bourgeois Dickens or the impenetrable Thomas Mann), seething with rage against the Burroughs Soft Machine, but otherwise pretty much clueless as to what, exactly, we were protesting – except, of course, the draft; “Hell, no, we won’t go,” was our ultra-patriotic battle cry. We sure knew what that was about. And yet we rolled through our parents' and grandparents’ generation like the Panzers through Poland.
In retrospect, it’s almost tempting to feel sorry for them. They capitulated so quickly and so completely – especially the academics, who made the French in 1940 look like the heroic Warsaw Ghetto fighters under Anielewicz in 1943. That was the moment when we realized that the universities, far from being instruments of the oppressor, were actually ours for the taking and a natural nesting place for the long term, pretty much in perpetuity. Even after we so clearly provoked Mayor Daley’s coppers during the convention, and later during the “Days of Rage” – “direct action” was our euphemism for violence and vandalism – the Walker Report blamed it all on the fuzz and said what happened in the streets was a “police riot.” Can you believe that? By May 1970, what had begun on the steps of Sproul Hall at UC-Berkeley just six years earlier was essentially over, and we had won.
Alas, as is our wont, we didn’t know where or when to stop. One thing you can say about us is that we just can’t help ourselves, cannot control our appetites or inclinations in any way; try as we might, animosity, snark and rage are in us, and they’ve got to come out. And so it was the Cold Civil War moved to the trenches with the last battle of the shooting war, which came at Kent State in May 1970.
You remember that: it was in all the papers. Shortly after Nixon (who had replaced Johnson in our eyes as the chief villain) announced the outrageous and illegal Cambodian “incursion,” students at the Ohio university protested and demonstrated. There were the usual brave calls to “bring the war back home.” On the first day of the troubles, liquor and the late hour predictably ignited into a street riot that was finally quelled by the cops. But tempers and nerves were on edge, and so the National Guard was sent to “maintain order,” and the governor called the kids “un-American.” Unbelievable!
Well, you know what happened next. Faced with insults like that, the students upped the ante; to which the Guard responded with tear gas. (As Che tells it, you were nobody back then until you’d been tear-gassed, and then you could get laid anywhere, at any time. Never been tear-gassed myself.) Finally on Monday, May 4, a mass rally was held, the administration tried to cancel it, to no avail. The Guard tried to break it up. They fired tear gas, but the wind blew it away. The cry went up: “Pigs off campus!” The kids threw rocks and empty tear-gas canisters. And then the Guard fired back – not with rocks but with real, live bullets. In thirteen seconds, 67 rounds were fired and when the shooting stopped, four kids lay dead.
And that, my friends, was the end of the student protest movement.
Sure, some of the alter cockers on our side will tell you that’s not how it was, that the movement continued, that the fight went on and the dream never died. But that’s a lot of hooey. The minute those young Guardsmen turned their M1s on the crowd, and the student protestors got an ugly lesson in the first rule of protest – never throw rocks at guys with guns – that was pretty much the end of the violent prelude to our current conflict. (Luckily for us, no one cares about newly declassified FBI files relating conversations among agitators planning to torch businesses and the campus ROTC headquarters and foment a riot, and credible reports of shots fired first at the Guards.)
But after Kent State, the movement went both underground, with the heroic Weathermen bombers (shame about that townhouse in Greenwich Village) and, much more effectively, above ground: into the schools, the law firms, the journalism programs, the civil-rights movement, the environmentalist movement (which, believe it or not, actually started in the seventies, with the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970 – inspired by a call from a Democrat senator and activist named Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin) where, like the syphilis virus, it went dormant for decades until it finally burst forth, with what happy results we now enjoy. We are nothing if not incubators.
Now, just between us, I have no more intention of giving up my Escalade than I do of jumping off a bridge: hardship and penury are for the little guy, not big-time screenwriters like me. But if you think back over the events of the past several decades or so, you will see how even the craziest notions that we introduce gradually get accepted, mostly by sheer dint of our repetition. So that what started as a “clean up the garbage day” back in 1970 has gloriously turned into the “carbon dioxide is a pollutant” transparent but potent nonsense of our own time. Really, you have to give us some credit: what other movement could convince you that the very air you exhale is dangerous to the planet, and will eventually charge you a tax for the privilege of not having to hold your breath until you turn blue and die?
There, I said it: die! The purpose of war is to kill your enemy, but after Kent State – when it was we who were getting killed – we had to stop fighting up front and out in the open, and instead begin a gradual process of getting you to kill yourselves. Now, that’s what I call a Cold War! Probably for the first time in history, one side pins its hopes of winning on the other’s gullibility and willingness to believe even the most patently impossible things: Polar bears who can’t swim! Melting ice caps! Seas rising! And that’s simply “global warming,” the magnificent hoax with which we succeeded “global cooling” when that one didn’t work out thirty years ago.
But there’s oh-so-much more:
Your kids are all crazy -- give them drugs!
Your cars are going to kill us all – better to ride bicycles, even in sub-zero weather! Right down the middle of the internal-combustion-engine-propelled traffic we haven’t managed to eliminate yet!
Religion is the opiate of the masses – so go see a shrink!
Cow farts are destroying the ionosphere, or whatever it is – eat veggies!
Criminals should be allowed to vote!
Marriage is an outmoded, sexist, patriarchal institution – but let gays marry!
And it’s all your fault! So shut up and die, already.
It’s like that scene in Goldfinger, when Bond, James Bond, is lying there strapped to the table, with a laser beam (standing in for the usual buzz saw) slowing sliding up his legs towards his crotch, and he asks the villain, “You expect me to talk?” To which Goldfinger replies, “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die. There is nothing you can talk to me about that I don’t already know.”
Or, if it’s a movie closer to our own time you’re after, what about this exchange from Independence Day. You remember, the scene where the Area 51 alien has wrapped his tentacles around Brent Spiner’s neck so he can communicate with the pitiful earthlings:
THE PRESIDENT: What is it that you want us to do?
Well, those two scenes pretty much sum up our attitude vis a vis you.
And now you’ve reached the central conundrum, which is why you’re having such a hard time engaging us on the field of battle. And for this I must reach for an unpleasant metaphor from the so-called “war on terror,” now blessedly over, to explain our position.
Think of us as slow-motion suicide bombers. In the end, we understand that we will have to go, too, certainly if we follow through on the logic of our positions, such as it is. But, as proud atheists who see nothing beyond but darkness, we don’t care. We don’t care what happens in the long run, because, as John Maynard Keynes said, in the long run we’re all dead. And he should know, because a) he’s the guy whose cockamamie economic nostrums basically wrecked the soundness of the American dollar when Nixon took us off the gold standard in 1971 (I try to tell my progressive friends that Nixon was the greatest friend we ever had, but they’re still mad about the “Pink Lady,” Helen Gahagan Douglas), and b) he’s dead. Meanwhile, we’re damn well going to enjoy living in each and every “moment” while we’re here – being atheists, we are nothing if not “in the moment” – and failing that, at least make sure that your lives are as miserable as ours are.
I don’t want to bore you all with a lesson about, you know, ancient history that happened way before I was born, and about which I wouldn’t care a fig were my family not so heavily invested in the outcome, but – given my marching orders from Che and his homies down there in Lanskyland to at least try and bring you up to speed, it’s important that you get at least some of the deep background on the seminal events of our time. Much as we all would like to, we can’t blame this fight on Clinton or Bush and the “polarization of our politics” that the chin-waggers like to wag about. You think we’re polarized now, you should see the family photographs of Che and Uncle Joe, blood streaming down their faces from the truncheon beatings they got as, for some reason now lost in the mists of history, they tried to prevent Hubert Humphrey from becoming President of the United States.
I mean, you could practically pick an arbitrary starting point just about anywhere in American history to kick off the fisticuffs between Left and Right, and I realize those terms have changed meanings a lot over the past three centuries, but the point I’m trying to make here is that the Cold Civil War started during the Nixon Administration, and really is nothing new. The difference is that now it is no longer a battle between generations, but a civil war within a generation, yes, the good old Baby Boomers. If their parents were the Greatest Generation, what can we say of our glorious Boomer forbears? The Worst Generation slips trippingly off the tongue. The Me Generation got hung on them long ago. The Narcissistic, Irresponsible, Arrogant and Entitled Generation is a little long. So how about this: the Viper Generation.
For sure, weren’t they like vipers in the breasts of all those schlimazels who came home from the war and promptly went about their duties to be fruitful and multiply the suburbs? And the thanks they got was the poisonous asps who lay in their cribs, played in their leafy yards, broke down the remaining social barriers that had previously kept their riff-raff folks out of the Ivy League schools and turned on their own kith and kin with a ferocity that hasn’t been seen since Orestes whacked Clytemnestra and her boyfriend, although they obviously had it coming.
Dedicated as we are to striking, destroying, poisoning and destabilizing, we naturally flocked to a party with a long criminal history such as the “progressive” Democrats had, as we shall see, and their admirably “flexible” and “nuanced” approach to such arcane notions as law and truth and morality and standards of right and wrong… well, you get the idea. As they ladled on the moral superiority even as they violated every law and moral tenet in the Enemy’s book, well, who wouldn’t fall in love? It was like a permanent “get out of jail free” card, a form of atheist indulgence-buying, but instead of sinning no more, we went out sinned our tushes off.
A party, a movement, that promised us one thing above all – that it would never be “judgmental” – was just the thing some of us were looking for after those eighteen dreadful years with Mom and Dad. In its warm, if slightly clammy, embrace, we could indulge our every childish whim and fantasy, from our earliest erotic impulses to our inner four-year-old’s appetite for destruction. All of those so-called “rules” went by the board as we realized that, with the defeat of our parents’ generation, there was now nothing and no one to stand in the way of our complete hedonistic orgy of self-fulfillment, each vice now a virtue, each temptation an act of saving grace in the afterlife that we were sure would never come. Platoons, nay, brigades of shrinks and “social scientists” (novelists manqué without any talent, otherwise they would be real scientists) arose to counsel us not to suppress our deepest id, but to let it have free reign in the real world lest it damage us in the imaginary world in which they habitually dwelled.
Up was suddenly Down. Black was suddenly White. In was suddenly Out. How wonderful it all was. We never thought of the consequences, because consequences are for later and we are for the here and now. It’s no accident that one of our standard rejoinders when you lot object to one or another of our social experiments that we’ve just implemented, usually by judicial fiat, is: “well, the sky didn’t fall, did it?’ This is such an easy softball to swat out of the park one would have thought you would have long since figured it out, but no…
Only one thing stood, and continues to stand, in our way: you.
And by you I mean principally the other half of the Baby Boomer cohort, the ones who didn’t, like Satan, rebel. Some of them, a few, were like the angel Abdiel, who flirted with joining the insurgents but quickly repented and returned to the Enemy camp. But most of them – kissing cousins to those murderous National Guardsmen at Kent State – were deaf to our siren song, and set about living their lives in much the same stultifying ways their fathers and grandmothers had. They got up in the morning and went to work, dealing with reality as if it was, you know, reality, instead of the elaborate artificial academic construct we had fashioned. Unlike us, the constant kvetches, they never complained. They worked for ten cents on our dollar, their backs worth less than the penny for our thoughts, and still the fools were under the impression they were living the American Dream. Try as we might and we did to convince them otherwise, they believed in this country, believed in American exceptionalism, believed that their children would have a better life, believed – even when, like Abdiel, they slipped and fell – in the power of redemption. And even though we laughed at them, they persisted, which is one virtue we certainly know how to respect.
So the Cold Civil War continues, unto the generations, which would be mine. Because unless you finish us, we are most certainly going to finish you.