Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Where Are The Rest of the Jean Rohes?

An address to the graduating class of The New School in New York City by student speaker Jean Rohe preceded the remarks of the guest speaker, Senator John McCain. Ms Rohe showed a great deal of courage as she set aside her prepared speech and addressed the points that she already knew McCain was going to make in his speech. McCain had previously spoken at two graduation ceremonies and said the same things each time.

Jean Rohe is one college student graduating in 2006. She is merely one. Where are the rest…?

On May 4, 1970, four college students were killed at Kent State University in Ohio. The situation that culminated in this tragedy revolved around a student demonstration against the Nixon Administration’s invasion of Cambodia.

Kent State may be the most well known college campus anti war demonstration that took place during the sixties and seventies, but it was far from the only one and far from the largest.

In fact, starting in 1964, almost immediately after the Gulf of Tonkin non attack that gave Lyndon Johnson a congressionally approved blank check to send Americans to fight a war in Southeast Asia, college campuses began to become the sites of almost constant protests. Throngs of people attended them and they weren’t all violence free, as Kent State proves.

College students didn’t merely protest and demonstrate, they actually overtook by force and occupied the offices of deans and college presidents.

During the Vietnam war, middle aged people didn’t use an internet to encourage other middle aged people to show up at rallies against the war. In fact, those who were in their thirties, forties and fifties mostly supported the war.

We, the people who belong to groups like The Mount Diablo Peace Center, MoveOn, etc., were the kids who were demonstrating against a war that we saw as anything but in defense of the safety of The United States of America. We are now the middle aged, and older people trying to stir up opposition to The Regime’s War in Iraq.

There have been relatively large demonstrations and marches in opposition to the Iraq War. These protests and demonstrations are few and far between. They’re also pre-planned with everyone on a Progressive mailing list informed well ahead of time.

Large demonstrations may not have taken place daily during the Vietnam War, but there was college unrest, a daily uneasiness caused by the fact that, at any moment, students might spontaneously gather and start to speak out against the war.

Today, students are still initiating demonstrations against the war in Iraq. In fact, the same students who kept the fires against the Vietnam War constantly burning are coordinating the demonstrations against the war in Iraq. Literally, the same people, who are now in their 40s, 50s and 60s, and older, are coordinating these well planned demonstrations.

There is no unrest on college campuses. I dare say that one may be able to find almost as many college students who “support their president” on campuses as students who don’t support “him”.

This essay asks the question, “What’s the difference between the college students who opposed the Vietnam War and the college students of today, some of whom support “their president”?”

Representative Charles Rangel, Democrat of New York, knew what the difference is when he introduced a bill in 2003 that called for reinstituting conscription.

Actually, the reason Rangel called for the return of the draft was to level the playing field. Rangel believes that those who need a job or need to learn skills but can’t afford to do so join the military to reach those goals with the help of Uncle Sam. Wealthy people don’t need to join the military.

I disagree with Rangel because, as people like Bush and Cheney proved during the Vietnam War, money can buy one’s way out of the draft or at least out of combat. A draft will not level the playing field.

What it would do, however, is to end the war in Iraq fairly quickly. Centers of higher education would once again become centers of major anti war activity. Those who “support their president” may revisit that position.

I spoke with a young woman not too long ago. I told her of my song, Casey’s Song. She asked who Casey is. I told her that Casey is the name of Cindy Sheehan’s son. She asked me who Cindy Sheehan is. This young woman is 24 years old.

Some people abhor Cindy and some adore her. However, I would not have thought that there was anyone who didn’t know at all who Cindy is.

The young lady knew that there were Americans fighting and dying in Iraq, but she seemed emotionally detached.

I know people who do lots of work to help find a cure for cancer. These people all know someone who’s been affected by cancer. It seems that every time I meet someone who feels strongly about an issue or volunteers to help address the issue, that person has had a personal experience with that issue.

We had a vested interest in the war in Vietnam in the sixties and early seventies. It seems as if there were a lot more pacifists during the Vietnam War than there are today. We also had the draft.

Bringing back conscription is very close to bringing back slavery. However, one difference between the draft during Vietnam and a draft today would be that, back then, kids were sort of resigned to the fact that they were going to have to eventually make a difficult decision concerning the Vietnam War. They were going have to decide to accept their induction and go kill people they’ve never met, let alone knew, go to jail for refusing to answer the call or move to a country like Canada with whom the US didn’t have an extradition agreement.

If The Regime reinstated the draft, kids who feel very comfortable today, even comfortable enough to support “their president”, may begin to see combat in Iraq as undesirable. They may even become born again pacifists.

I believe that it’s the nature of most people to care little about an issue unless and/or until it potentially affects them intimately.

I am absolutely opposed to a draft. As I said, it’s akin to slavery. Forcing people to kill others and to put themselves in a position to be killed is a sick game that governments can play.

However, it appears that nothing short of reinstating the draft will gain the attention of college students. Young men and women will become antiwar activists in a hurry.

To friendship,

“And what if you track down these men and kill them? What if you murdered all of us? From every corner of your Republic, thousands would rise to take our places. Even Nazis can't kill that fast.” – Victor Laszlow (played by Paul Henreid), from “Casablanca” - (1942)

ps Neil Young put out his fantastic collection of songs entitled “Living With War” because he didn’t think that people were using music enough to inject life into the anti war movement.

Well, I’ve got good news for Neil and anyone who feels the way Neil feels. My album, “Flameland”, will go on sale at CD Baby in the next five days. It contains “Casey’s Song” and 13 other songs, all aimed at “giving peace a chance.”


Natylie said...

Thanks for this post. I have mixed feelings about the draft. I agree that too many people will not get off their duffs or even act like they really care unless something forces them to.

Frankly, I think that a volunteer military/standing army is a big problem and so did Thomas Jefferson. Not only does it create a poverty draft it also creates a standing army/institution that exists for and has an interest in war, whether overt or covert. Perhaps something like what Switzerland has, from what I have read, would be better. Hitler didn't dare invade Switzerland even though they had no "standing army". All fit males would automatically form into militias if their borders are attacked. Hitler knew that the Germans would face quite a fight if they invaded Switzerland. Also, the Swiss would never go along in some bogus military action that had nothing to do with truly defending their borders because the participants would come from all walks of life and would have an interest in recognizing something that was not legitimate to fight for.

Michael said...

I didn’t know that about Switzerland. It’s the right idea. It’s sort of like Direct Democracy. The people actually make the decision to or not to go to war.

I read Zinn’s “People’s History of the United States”. I was amazed that several militias actually walked away from battles during certain wars. I think the Civil War was one, but I’m not sure. I’m thinking that conscription started during the Civil War as well.

To friendship,