May 3, 2005

by Joe Sobran

     The war in Iraq drags on, with daily reports of 
killings by the resistance, though not of killings by the 
invaders. We do read occasional stories of torture 
committed by "our" side, especially by allies to whom the 
rough stuff of interrogation has been outsourced, but 
these no longer command much attention. Lynndie England 
has been convicted for her part in the scandalous 
prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, but who really cares now?

     To anyone who remembers the Sixties, the contrast 
with the Vietnam War is startling. Today there is no real 
anti-war movement. The initial protests have fizzled out. 
Why should this be?

     There are two obvious reasons and a third one that 
is harder to define. The American casualty rate is much 
lower now, and today's young people aren't worried about 
being drafted to fight and die. Our rulers have learned 
that they can wage war with impunity as long as most 
Americans don't feel personally threatened by it; with an 
all-volunteer military, we can all feel assured that 
"someone else" will be shedding the blood. And since last 
year's elections, the Democrats have ceased trying to 
make the war a political issue; they have become a very, 
very loyal opposition. Howard Dean and Michael Moore 
already seem to belong to the distant past, almost 
like ...

     Well, almost like Jane Fonda. She is now peddling 
her memoirs, and the only unpleasant incident reported so 
far has been a case of spitting: she got a faceful of 
tobacco juice from a bitter Vietnam veteran. Most of us 
no longer think of her as "Hanoi Jane" for her infamous 
visit to North Vietnam. As a Hollywood producer once 
said, "We have all passed a lot of water since then."

     So powerful is nostalgia that I find myself feeling 
affection for people I used to hate. When I was young, I 
regarded them as enemies; now, they have simply become 
endearing reminders of my youth.

     Which brings me to what may be the deepest 
difference between the Vietnam era and this one. Vietnam 
was only part of an era of cultural change; anti-war 
protest helped propel that change -- in morals, manners, 
music, politics, and countless other things, including 
even religion. ("Death of God" theology became part of 
the general "coolness.")

     The Beatles and Bob Dylan supplanted Frank Sinatra 
and Lawrence Welk. Long hair replaced crew cuts. The 
Second Vatican Council changed the Catholic Church; the 
Pill changed marriage itself; civil rights, feminism, and 
sexual freedom were all hot new causes. The Kennedy and 
King murders intensified the sense of apocalypse and 
revolution. Political protest, especially but not only 
anti-war protest, became a campus fad, almost an 
obligation. Hippies were everywhere, even in your own 

     And somehow these things were all part of the same 
big, nameless thing, sometimes called "the Movement." 
Politicians all seemed to be aping the Kennedys and 
calling for unspecified "change." Rock music and the 
movies partook of political protest and sexual freedom.

     It felt as if absolutely everything was changing. 
That wasn't true, but that's how it seemed. We hardly 
noticed the things that remained constant through it all. 
And "change" became synonymous with hope. Optimism was a 
virtual duty. It was bad manners to wonder whether things 
might be changing, at least in some respects, for the 
worse, or whether even good changes might come at heavy 
cost. "Change" was by definition good. It was even fun.

     Progress, then, could go in only one direction, 
which it was both wrong and futile to oppose. So optimism 
became a form of fatalism. Good things were bound to 
happen, so you might as well help them happen. We now 
have a greying generation of reactionary optimists who 
still celebrate the Sixties without qualification, and 
who deplore anyone who, like the new Pope, wants to 
arrest, reverse, or just modify some of the changes of 
the period.

     That old optimism is mostly gone now; only the 
fatalism remains. The anti-war activists of the Sixties 
could still assume that their efforts might change even 
the government. But today the Leviathan state is bigger 
than ever, still taxing and waging war, and everyone now 
understands that there is almost nothing we can do about 
it. So there's not much point in having an anti-war 


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