Thursday, June 01, 2006
The spur for Taranto’s fine critique was an essay by Dotty Lynch at CBS News’ web site, in which Lynch expresses puzzlement over the lack of (significant) student protests against the war in Iraq.
Lynch expressed her confusion with a generational comparison:
As the war in Iraq rages on I keep asking myself: Where are the young people this time around? Where are the campuses? Where are the new Tom Haydens and Sam Browns and where are the Noam Chomskys, William Sloane Coffins and Daniel Berrigans?Taranto describes Lynch’s theories for why student are silent as “pretty trite stuff,” which it surely is. What Taranto finds most interesting is the underlying assumption deeply embedded in Lynch’s befuddlement: that all wars are supposed to result in opposition. Specifically, Taranto quotes from an earlier Opinion Journal piece, “a war is supposed to become a quagmire, which provokes opposition and leads to American withdrawal.”
For the past four months, I was at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, surrounded by idealistic young people and their liberal professors. There was virtually no support for the war (except for the offspring of a few famous neo-cons) but neither was there serious organized activity to try to stop it.
Large groups of students traveled to New Orleans to help rebuild it and another group went to Washington to protest the genocide in Darfur. But why so quiet about Iraq?
Taranto goes on to quote New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., who exhibits a startling but revealing amount of generational aggrandizement:
“When I graduated from college in 1974, my fellow students and I had just ended the war in Vietnam and ousted President Nixon.”Taranto also makes other observations about “Baby Boomer Liberalism,” with insight into what amounts to War Theory orthodoxy, adhered to by aging liberals, and thereby gives an answer to Lynch’s question:
Baby-boomer liberalism, with its smug sense of moral superiority and its impatience with America's imperfections, is today the prevailing worldview among many of our elite institutions, not least the so-called mainstream media. This explains why Dotty Lynch is puzzled that Iraq hasn't become another Vietnam.But there’s another answer, not offered by Taranto, that I’ll offer here.
The answer to her question is that Iraq isn't Vietnam because "Vietnam" was the product of a peculiar set of conditions at an unusual moment in history--a moment that has long since passed.
One of my NCOs made a pointed observation about there being certain points of common understanding, understood but intentionally unspoken. “There’s the BS we tell others, use to strut our stuff, compete, hold our own against other sections [units, services, etc.], and then there’s what we know between ourselves. It’s all good, unless you start believing your own BS.”
This “peace protest,” counter-culture generation was oh so full of itself, and still is. As Taranto observes, for a variety of reasons, reality never punctured the bloat of false identity and self image. Those who have done so much to coarsen and diminish both culture and politics, have likewise cheapened and undervalued the credos and principles of our republic. Their extreme undervaluing and dismissal of military service as a citizen’s responsibility is but one small but critical component of that undervaluation. They have sold cheap what once was dear.
Only a generation that fooled itself into “believing its own BS” could think that whatever they dreamed up to “fight the system,” to “give it to the man,” or to give “power to the people,” was anything more than youthful exuberance, hubris, and no small amount of self-aggrandizement.
My answer to Lynch and her contemporaries? Iraq is no “Vietnam” as you dream in it your imaginations, at least in part, because Vietnam in all its stark reality was no Vietnam, either.
You changed the world, but many of us who are inheritors now fail to see in what way it was improved. At least by the efforts of which you’re most proud.
(Cross-posted excerpt over at Milblogs)
Linked over at Andi's World.
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