Thursday, July 27, 2006

More 1970 Deja Vu

Or why average Americans support the War on Terror

In my last post I put up some quotes from some activist leaders in the late 60's, early 70's advocating the violent overthrow of the regime in power in Washington at the time. Here's one to refresh your memory:
Not only will we burn buildings, we will take lives. If you want to break windows, if you want to kill a pig, if you want to burn the courthouse, you would be moving against the symbols of oppression. - David Hilliard in a speech at the University of Connecticut, April 1970.
Slogans like "Off the pigs!" rolled off the tongue of naive teens and youth across the country during those days. Cumulatively, tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, chanted "Ho! Ho! Ho Chi Minh! Ho! Ho! Ho's gonna win!" or similar, at anti-war demonstrations all across the country. Underground newspapers, which are the root publications for The Advocate and other quasi-mainstream alternative newspapers, published articles that almost routinely called for violent revolution, or advocated political assassination as a tit-for-tat response to the killing of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy. The SDS were portrayed as mild centrist political groups and terrorist activities of the Weatherpeople were excused in the name of the Cause.
Opportunistic and fear mongering politicians like Spiro Agnew did not have to go far to find examples that they could throw in front of middle Americans (middle income, middle aged, and middle politically) to persuade them to support the actions of the reactionary right. If used in the right way, and spun just right, there was a plethora of things that would convince the public that the nation was in grave danger from a radical communist plot. On their surface, college students cheering quotes like the one above, posters stuck on light poles supporting the Weather Underground, and the rising respect for the Black Panthers in the poor and marginalized communities all pointed toward the government being violently overthrown by sworn enemies.
But what was underneath it all? Was the average college student preparing for a good paying job in corporate America really on the verge of taking up arms in support of a communist coup d'etat? Were draft eligible young men and their mothers, who had taken to gathering at anti-war demonstrations organized by radical groups (since neither major political party were staging protests), and who got caught up in the hysteria and joined in the Ho! chant really sincere in a desire to provide aid and comfort to those who were killing American soldiers? Or was it more akin to a chant at a football game that has gone over the line in its mocking of the other team?
And what part of the Panther platform was really being embraced by the poor? Radical segregation and the disolution of the Union and the forming of a separate black state? Or free pre-school, decent public schools fully resourced with science labs and textbooks for everyone, and community pantries to help feed the hungry, and ridding poor and black communities of the scourge of addictive and powerful drugs like heroin? Or demanding that the justice system provide for a truly color-blind administration of the law?
If you look at the rhetoric from the period it could be incredibly frightening, or at the very least confusing, to the generation that had suffered through the hardships of the Depression as children and put their lives on hold or the line to defeat the incredibly vicious evil of Hitler's Nazi party, and who now saw their children claiming to reject the nation they had given everything to preserve. To them, Che was a symbol of a communism that had rolled over civil liberties and politically and economically imprisoned whole countries they had fought to free from the bonds of Nazi slavery. It was inconceivable to them how their children embraced his image as a symbol of political empowerment and economic justice. To the adults communism, and socialism by extension, was an evil. To the children, socialism and its cousin communism were the hope of the downtrodden. For the parents, America was the hope of people who had been crushed and oppressed by totalitarianism. For the children, Amerika was the face of fascist domination.
Enter unscrupulous politicians seizing upon people's fear and confusion and there is little wonder that people supported "law and order" candidates in the 60's and 70's. And if you listen to the rhetoric today, and read the news, the parallels are such that, once again, it's easy to understand why so many people jump to support the Bush administration in its War on Terror.
But we forget, war is waged against sovereign states. Law enforcement and the intelligence community engage those who engage in terrorist acts. And their popular support is determined by how well they represent the interests of the populace in achieving things like political empowerment and economic justice -- wow, the same things that gained and lost the Panthers support in the community! As our nations forebears demonstrated, when all other avenues of redress are cut off, people will eventually rise up and bear arms in defense of liberty. Hmmm, maybe those who advocate that radical defense of the Second Amendment as an enshrining within our Constitution the means for violent overthrow of the government aren't out in left field after all.

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