Vietnam protests and OWS

We’ve heard OWS compared to the anti-war protests of the sixties and seventies. Let’s revisit a little bit of history from that earlier time to see whether the comparison is apt. As you know, the Vietnam War was a decade long conflict in which over 2.5 million Americans served, and 58,000 Americans died. Vietnam era draftees numbered 1.7 million (and they accounted for 30% of deaths in Vietnam).

From the early days of the Vietnam War, there was a small anti-war movement, perhaps similar in size to the small groups that today gather in public parks in various cities. It included some people sincerely troubled by the war, but as David Horowitz said, it was led by “Marxists and radicals who supported a communist victory.” Until 1967, the Vietnam anti-war movement was something of a sideshow. After that it began to grow significantly in numbers and organization, as a result of changes in the draft. The growth of the Vietnam anti-war movement was in large measure grounded in self-interest; a lot of college students didn’t want to go into the military after they graduated.

The protest movement became intense only after the draft expanded substantially in the young adult population (first to 29,000 a month and then to 42,000 a month by spring 1968), and after the passage of the Selective Service Act of 1967. That Act made it more difficult to get a draft deferment, and in fact created the violent and intense war protests at prestigious institutions, since it cancelled graduate school deferments, beginning with the fall 1968 student year. That gave rise to the takeovers at Columbia and elsewhere, and led to the huge marches on Washington and other protests. There is no similar catalyst for OWS.

As contemporaneous reporting in the Harvard Crimson demonstrated, the end of the deferments threw elite university students and professors into the frenzy of sit-ins, takeovers, and demostrations that began in 1968. The students were given cover by the biggest of big guns in the media, Walter Cronkite. He said in February 1968 that it was “increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could.” Who’d want to sign up for Cronkite’s version of the war?

So, despite rhetoric that claimed all sorts of moral high ground, a lot of the protesters simply wanted not to get drafted. You can agree or disagree with that sentiment, but it is clear from the numbers that many of the young people had a simple objective. It was realized in 1973 when the US ended the draft.

By contrast, what specific thing do the OWS people want? Mark Steyn’s guess is that “the ‘Occupy’ movement has no real solutions, except more government, more spending, more regulation, more bureaucracy, more unsustainable lethargic pseudo-university with no return on investment…One of their demands is for a trillion dollars in ‘environmental restoration.’ Hey, why not? It’s only a trillion.” Since there is no clear demand for anything, the demands of this tiny group, such as they are, can never be satisfied. It’s hard to see what increased volume and hooliganism can lead to other than bad outcomes. (Jeff at Protein Wisdom says that’s not a bug, it’s a feature.)

Final point. It’s worth noting that while the mostly young protesters were pursuing their anti-draft goals forty years ago, the oldsters weren’t taking things lying down. Things didn’t out so well for George McGovern in 1972, though he did carry Massachusetts. So what’s the administration’s secret plan to avoid another disaster next year like the one they had last year?

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