May 6th, 2008

Our Left in Vietnam: “Give peace a chance” wasn’t all they were saying

There’s a fascinating reminiscence by a series of aging boomers (are there any other kind?) in the Spring 2008 City Journal. It’s entitled “May 1968: Forty Years After,” and all of the writers appear to be to members of that group that so interests me today, the Left-to-Right political changers.

One of the best of the essays (all are recommended reading) is “From the Danube to Chicago” by Sol Stern, an editor at City Journal who’s been campaigning for years to waken the country to the dangers of the educational “reforms” of radical Leftist Bill Ayers (see this article, for example, written in the summer of 2006, before Ayers was on the radar screen of most people).

Back in 1968, Ayers was riding high as an SDS member at the University of Michigan. Along with wife-to-be Bernadine Dorhn, he was on the cusp of founding the more violent Weathermen and engaging in a series of bombings for which he has yet to pay any price and does not regret.

In 1968 Stern himself was a Ramparts editor and active in the “peace” movement to end the Vietnam War.

Why do I put the word peace in scare quotes? I have no doubt that many in the antiwar movement actually were interested in peace; in my own very minor role (a few meetings and a few demonstrations), I certainly was. But the picture Stern paints of the active collaboration of leaders such as Tom Hayden and other radicals with the North Vietnamese makes it clear that peace was not really their agenda, it merely was the hook:

Protesting against America’s wars has an honorable tradition, running from Thoreau to Eugene V. Debs and Norman Thomas. But starting with Hayden and continuing in the turbulent outbursts of 1968, that tradition of legitimate democratic opposition morphed into outright collaboration with the enemy. It wasn’t just that Hayden was rooting for the other side—abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison had done the same during the Mexican War—but that he was proposing to sabotage the American war effort by all means necessary. Soon enough, as members of the once-idealistic New Left and SDS crossed the line from dissent to treason, it became clear that those means included deadly violence. Within 18 months, some of Hayden’s followers were bombing military installations and public buildings in solidarity with their Vietnamese allies….

The latter group of course included Ayers and Dohrn, current Obamaphiles. Unlike Stern, they have not repented of their ways; au contraire.

The provocateurs at the 1968 Democratic Convention were not just incidently beaten up by the Chicago police while “the whole world [was] watching”—they went there for that express purpose:

(Tom Hayden and Rennie Davis) spent four months planning a massive confrontation with the “war machine,” otherwise known as the Chicago Police Department. At Ramparts, we all knew what was coming, and we were determined to be there for the combat.

Stern is not alone in his indictment of Hayden et al. Even Time, in its contemporaneous recount of the goings-on at the 1968 Democratic Convention, agreed with what Stern now reports.

One of the themes of several entries in the City Journal article is the idea that many of the reporters who covered the events of 1968 were journalists with an agenda and participants in the events they were covering, and that they utterly resisted the idea that this conflict of interest tainted their reporting—or, rather, they felt they were above such mundane concerns and exempt from such rules. Their agenda itself was the point, the very reason they had become journalists in the first place.

Forty years sometimes seems a long time ago. But sometimes it doesn’t seem so very long at all.

15 Responses to “Our Left in Vietnam: “Give peace a chance” wasn’t all they were saying”

  1. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Not long ago, and no surprise. Not that some of this stuff wasn’t known.
    And the less-public peace freaks, who had fewer worries about their words in public, would cheerfully say the goal was the victory of Hanoi, no matter what it cost.
    Nobody was fooling anybody, despite an admirable consistency at sticking to the fake message.

    Which reminds me of a hypothetical:

    Brezhnev is talking to the head of the KGB. “What are we doing to influence and support the American peace movement?”
    “We are doing nothing, o Grand Eyebrows.”
    “And why not?”

    The two possible answers are, first, the KGB had its scruples. The other is that the KGB had assessed the American peace movement and decided that it supported the USSR’s goals perfectly all on its own.

    I don’t see any alternatives.

    Of course, the answer could have been that the KGB was in the American peace movement big time.

    I mentioned that to one or another leftie and would occasionally be challenged to explain why that was a bad thing.

  2. ELC Says:

    To put it succinctly, their reminiscences describe two activities: subversion and treason.

  3. John Russell Says:

    Dear Richard,

    Oh! But they were. The Committee for Homeland – er, State – Security was funneling a lot of resources (for a notoriously cheap agency) into the American anti-war movement. It’s all in their post-U.S.S.R. selective (???) file dump.

  4. Occam's Beard Says:

    Not to sound like a paranoid conspiracy nut, but if the KGB were still calling the shots now, we wouldn’t have the Obama/Clinton slugfest we’re now witnessing. The KGB would have made a choice, and then put its thumb on the scales big time through its agents of influence in the media, academia, and Hollywood.

    Witness the leftwing gyrations, as orchestrated by the KGB’s antecedents, between the signing of the Nazi-Soviet pact and the beginning of Operation Barbarossa.

    Those same domestic groups are running around like chickens with their heads cut off because…well, their head has been cut off. No one there to make firm decisions and enforce doctrinal orthodoxy. The result: chaos.

  5. Gray Says:

    ….leaders such as Tom Hayden and other radicals with the North Vietnamese makes it clear that peace was not really their agenda, it merely was the hook.

    I was born in 1968. This has always reminded me of Germans pleading they knew nothing about the Nazis:

    “How could you not know!?”

  6. Occam's Beard Says:

    Gray, I knew. Within three months after arriving at Berkeley, I abandoned my previously fashionably lefty views and became the crusty right-wing curmudgeon you know and love today.

    I have your thought now with regard to Islamofascism. How could anyone not see clearly what the Islamofascist agenda is? How could anyone not see clearly that the agenda of those here who support the Islamofascists is to advance neither Islam nor America’s interest, but rather to undermine American society, with supporting Islamofascists being merely a vehicle toward that goal?

  7. Artfldgr Says:

    Occam said: Not to sound like a paranoid conspiracy nut, but if the KGB were still calling the shots now, we wouldn’t have the Obama/Clinton slugfest we’re now witnessing. The KGB would have made a choice, and then put its thumb on the scales big time through its agents of influence in the media, academia, and Hollywood.

    That was never their way, they love Hegel, and so the fight between Obama and Hillary are between the two major forces of the last century. On one side you have a more race socialism, and on the other side you have more an communist type of socialism. With the possibility of marrying the two with the fight only to decide who is on top.

    Their idea is bias, not force. A constant bias on a system will over time result in that systems complete movement to a new point. There is no question of the end result as long as that constant force is not opposed and reversed, which is why they don’t put the thumb on the scale. The rest of what happens is the long and noble struggle, and each who is aware of this wants to be the person sitting when the music stops.

    This is even brought up in George Kennan long telegram, of which I posted the link.

    The belief in the inevitability gives them a long view in that they only have to wait and constantly apply pressure wherever it’s safe. To do literally anything is what Lenin said and why Dzerzhinsky raided the prisons for the Cheka.

    There are lots of things that the news doesn’t discuss while it myopically looks at our navels, and entertains with frivolous opinion gossip taking up segment time. And there are a lot of things going on that the left would not want us to grasp as far as who the main players are and the histories.

  8. Thomas Says:

    “The KGB would have made a choice, and then put its thumb on the scales big time through its agents of influence in the media, academia, and Hollywood.”

    Dude, those grpups ARE all in the tank for Obama. 🙂

    Hill is hanging on with the pesky ‘bitter’ blue collar vote… who were, to be honest, never in bed with those other groups… or tools of the USSR.

  9. Ymarsakar Says:

    I’ve always said that treason is a thing that when it prospers, it stops becoming treason and starts breeding more of itself.

    It is called by a different name because now it is a favored social activity that has no costs and has great rewards attached to it.

    The Left complains about how they were called traitors and says this isn’t American. Given that when treason prospers, it stops being called treason and starts being called “American” and “patriotic”, the Left is just telling us that they will only recognize themselves as traitors if their treason fails or is made to fail by us.

  10. Ymarsakar Says:

    And that is a worthy goal to strive for in my view.

  11. Ike Says:

    Sadly, there are still “activist journalists” today. Too many enter the profession because they want to change the world.

  12. Ymarsakar Says:

    They need to change themselves before they can change the world.

  13. Teri Pittman Says:

    I think about this stuff when I hear the Left being oh so concerned about Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. I never heard a peep about North Vietnamese violations of the Geneva Conventions. I think that some folks were taken in by the Left because they had parents or grandparents from the FDR generation. My grandfather would not have forgiven me for voting Republican and it took a long time to shake that.

    I think that we will look back and realize that the worst thing we did was let the Left take over our schools and control the curriculum. It’s what I think has led to the split in the voting public these days. We may have to wait till the young folks grow up a bit more and can see how they were mislead.

  14. waltj Says:

    “…My grandfather would not have forgiven me for voting Republican and it took a long time to shake that…”

    My parents were the same way, FDR Democrats to the bone. Ours was a union household (UAW), so it was considered unconscionable to vote for a Republican. Fortunately, I started making my own decisions once I went off to college in the early ’70s. Never looked back.

    Neo, I’m glad you’ve seen the light, but it always amazes me when people are surprised by the hardcore communist viewpoint of the antiwar movement. The truth was there all along for anyone who wanted to see it. Sometimes, I think we on the right who did our homework knew more about the nature of the movement than those were a part of it. Not the leaders like Ayers and Abbie Hoffman. They knew. But the more casual adherents probably just read the pamphets and listened to the speeches without delving further into it. But we actually read the books–Marx, Lenin, Engels, Trotsky, Mao–behind the pamphets and speeches, so we knew what we were dealing with. (And if I ever have to plow through that turgid prose again, it’ll be too soon). Unfortunately, the right ended up playing Cassandra in trying to sound the alarm about these folks to an American public who either didn’t believe it or didn’t care. Too bad blogs didn’t exist back then.

  15. Desmond Says:


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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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