Re­mem­ber­ing how a move­ment trans­formed Amer­i­can pol­i­tics.

The Washington Post Sunday - - OUTLOOK - Sarah Jaffe is a re­port­ing fel­low at the Na­tion In­sti­tute and the au­thor of “Nec­es­sary Trou­ble: Amer­i­cans in Re­volt.”

The United States has long had a prob­lem with his­tor­i­cal mem­ory. The pro­test­ers who re­cently flooded the coun­try’s air­ports, in re­sponse to Pres­i­dent Trump’s ban on refugees and trav­el­ers from seven pre­dom­i­nantly Mus­lim coun­tries, car­ried hand­made signs declar­ing the United States a na­tion of im­mi­grants, and some of those signs took a longer view of the lat­est im­mi­grant back­lash. Some, for ex­am­ple, noted that the cur­rent wave of Is­lam­o­pho­bia was ginned up af­ter Sept. 11, 2001; oth­ers re­minded view­ers that there is al­ready a bor­der fence, be­gun in 1994 un­der Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton. The ur­gency of the protests and the sense of vi­o­la­tion en­gen­dered by Trump seem so im­me­di­ate that we can feel dis­con­nected even from the re­cent past, miss­ing the threads of how we got here in the first place.

On the cam­paign trail last year, as Amer­i­cans weighed who would be the next pres­i­dent, Bernie San­ders breached what of­ten ap­pears to be a silent un­der­stand­ing that politi­cians should not bring up his­tory more dis­tant than a year or two. His tar­get: Hil­lary Clin­ton’s chummy re­la­tion­ship with Henry Kissinger, the ar­chi­tect of much of the Viet­nam War. “I hap­pen to be­lieve that Kissinger was one of the most de­struc­tive sec­re­taries of state in the mod­ern his­tory of this coun­try,” San­ders de­clared.

The re­ac­tion to his com­ment was a stark re­minder of our ten­dency to­ward his­tor­i­cal am­ne­sia. It was seen as al­most rude to point out that past ac­tions — ac­tions that cost thou­sands of lives — have rel­e­vance to­day. Kissinger was just an­other el­der states­man to be courted, while any dis­cus­sion of his deeds was off-lim­its. For San­ders to dis­obey the dic­tum, made fa­mous by Barack Obama but that cer­tainly pre­dates him — look for­ward, not back­ward — felt rad­i­cal.

Tom Hay­den’s fi­nal book, “Hell No: The For­got­ten Power of the Viet­nam Peace Move­ment,” is a strike against such for­get­ting. To re­mem­ber the power of the move­ment, Hay­den ar­gues, is to re­mem­ber that there were those who at the time ac­cu­rately saw the Viet­nam War for what it was. It is to re­mem­ber that our ac­tions have echoes, that our present is shaped by the choices of the past.

Hay­den, who died Oct. 23, 2016, may have con­sid­ered that this book would be land­ing in a United States that had just elected Don­ald Trump pres­i­dent. He cer­tainly felt the ur­gency of his ad­vanc­ing age; it is pal­pa­ble when he writes: “Who will tell our story when we are gone? So much has al­ready es­caped mem­ory, and now the time to cap­ture re­mem­brance is rapidly pass­ing.” Af­ter his death, with Trump in of­fice, Hay­den’s call to re­mem­ber the value of re­sis­tance is even more poignant.

“Hell No” is brief yet ram­bling. Read­ing it feels as if one is lis­ten­ing to Hay­den rem­i­nisce, wan­der­ing back­ward and for­ward in time, re­call­ing some events in great de­tail and oth­ers with the barest men­tion. For a book con­cerned with mem­ory, per­haps its big­gest flaw is that it tends to as­sume that Amer­i­cans have a knowl­edge of their own his­tory — that they know, for ex­am­ple, about the mora­to­ri­ums, as those mas­sive marches against the Viet­nam War were called.

It’s un­der­stand­able: U.S. pol­i­tics con­tin­ues to ex­ist in the shadow of the 1960s. Fig­ures like Hay­den still play a strong role in dis­cus­sions and de­bates, and for a while have been the gen­er­a­tion with the money and the power. But the call to re­mem­ber — taken up ably by many re­cently, in­clud­ing Greg Grandin with “Kissinger’s Shadow” and Penny Lewis with “Hard­hats, Hip­pies, and Hawks” — ob­scures the fact that these days, many of us never knew.

Hay­den ar­gues that the gen­er­al­ized dis­rup­tion that the an­ti­war move­ment caused was akin to a gen­eral strike, a wide­spread re­fusal to take part in “the reg­nant po­lit­i­cal cul­ture.” In par­tic­u­lar, he draws on W.E.B. Du Bois’s ar­gu­ment that the re­fusal of en­slaved peo­ple to work any longer un­der the Con­fed­er­acy brought about vic­tory for the Union in the Civil War. It’s a rather strained anal­ogy, but it con­tains the seeds of an im­por­tant les­son: Protest de­rives its power from its abil­ity to halt busi­ness as usual. To shut down the war, the an­ti­war move­ment and the coun­try as a whole had to be­come un­govern­able.

In ac­knowl­edg­ing this fact, Hay­den does not shy away from the con­tro­ver­sial and even vi­o­lent tac­tics used to re­sist the war. He dis­cusses the fire­bomb­ing of ROTC of­fices; the at­tack­ing, known as “frag­ging,” of of­fi­cers by troops serv­ing in com­bat; and the ur­ban re­bel­lions of the pe­riod as part of the broader re­sis­tance to the war. The an­ti­war move­ment, in Hay­den’s telling, is the over­ar­ch­ing nar­ra­tive that makes the ’60s make sense. “The tragedy of the an­ti­war move­ment was that the whole never grew to be­come greater than its parts,” he writes, ac­knowl­edg­ing the splits within the move­ment along lines of class, race, gen­der and po­lit­i­cal ide­ol­ogy.

But in or­der to sweep up all of the threads of the 1960s and ’70s move­ments, he gives short shrift to the work by or­ga­niz­ers around civil rights, Black Power, fem­i­nism and eco­nomic equal­ity. How­ever im­por­tant the an­ti­war move­ment was, how­ever much it served as an um­brella for the anal­y­sis of the New Left, it is as crit­i­cal to re­mem­ber the dis­tinct move­ments against racism, poverty and ex­ploita­tion as it is to re­mem­ber the re­sis­tance to the Cold War con­sen­sus that a mas­sive amount of blood was worth shed­ding to con­tain com­mu­nism.

Some of that blood was shed at home, Hay­den re­minds us, as mas­sive state power was ex­pended to si­lence the move­ment. He de­tails the tri­als of ac­tivists and whistle­blow­ers, and does not let us for­get the stu­dent pro­test­ers killed on their cam­puses, the po­lice as­saults, the growth of a mas­sive sur­veil­lance ap­pa­ra­tus that sees the gen­eral pub­lic as sus­pects to be spied upon.

It is not just the se­cu­rity state that is still with us, nor even just the specter of Kissinger loom­ing over our for­eign pol­icy de­bates. Our past two sec­re­taries of state and un­suc­cess­ful Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates both ap­pear in “Hell No”: John Kerry as a mem­ber of Viet­nam Veter­ans Against the War, and Clin­ton as a young pro­tester find­ing her way. Their ap­pear­ances feel ele­giac in the wake of the elec­tion, serv­ing not to re­mind the reader of a lost rad­i­cal past but to un­der­score just how far from rad­i­cal­ism so many for­mer peaceniks have come.

But honor is best given to the an­ti­war move­ment by those who take up its torch of re­sis­tance, and that is ev­ery­where. Tac­tics such as stu­dent strikes and teach-ins have been re­vived in the days since Trump’s elec­tion, and mil­lions took to the streets af­ter his in­au­gu­ra­tion. We have seen once again the power of veter­ans’ protests as veter­ans trav­eled to Stand­ing Rock to stand with the Na­tive wa­ter pro­tec­tors against the Dakota Ac­cess pipe­line. Look­ing at this, it is a shame that in his med­i­ta­tive fi­nal chap­ter, Hay­den does not spend more time con­nect­ing the dots be­tween our re­cent age of protest and the one that formed him. Surely there are lessons from the Viet­nam era for our own time of ar­mored ve­hi­cles and tear gas on Amer­i­can streets.

Still, Hay­den’s most im­por­tant take­away res­onates pow­er­fully to­day: “Of one les­son I have no doubt: peace and jus­tice move­ments can make a dif­fer­ence.”

CHARLES TASNADI/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

ABOVE: About 150 mem­bers of Viet­nam Veter­ans Against the War rally at the Lin­coln Memo­rial on Dec. 28, 1971.

HENRY BUR­ROUGHS/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

BE­LOW LEFT: A demon­stra­tor car­ries an up­side­down flag, a sym­bol of dis­tress, dur­ing a march past the White House on April 22, 1971.

GE­ORGE BRICH/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

BE­LOW RIGHT: Anti-Viet­nam ac­tivist Tom Hay­den in 1973. In his fi­nal book, he calls on read­ers to re­mem­ber the value of re­sis­tance.

HELL NO The For­got­ten Power of the Viet­nam Peace Move­ment By Tom Hay­den Yale. 159 pp. $25

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.