Home > Uncategorized > A Troubling Analogy: The Protests Against Gun Violence and the Protests Against Vietnam

A Troubling Analogy: The Protests Against Gun Violence and the Protests Against Vietnam

March 25, 2018

Several articles over the past week have drawn parallels between the student protests against gun violence and the student protests in the late 1960s and early 1970s against Vietnam. I hope this analogy results in a different outcome than the protests of my generation. Let me explain.

During the Vietnam War protests in the late 1960s I was more of an observer than a participant. I was opposed to the war but like many in my generation willing to give our elected government officials the benefit of the doubt. At the time as a college student I was reading George Orwell’s works, some books on systems theory, and media accounts on the protests from a wide range of sources: the National Review, the Saturday Review, mainstream media, and the many counter culture broadsides that emerged in that time. My conclusion was that the mindset of the protesters was as totalitarian as the mindset they perceived the military possessed and as doctrinaire as William F. Buckley. The other under-reported reality was that while tens of thousands were protesting the war, tens of thousands weren’t. And while lots of ink was spilled explaining the mindset of the protesters, not much thought was given to explaining why millions were not engaged in the protests.

The shrewd politician who DID notice that millions were not engaged in protests was Richard Nixon, and he gave a name to those who were not protesting: the Silent Majority. His “Southern Strategy” drew on the worst instincts of this group by using dog whistles to signal his opposition to the segregation that was mandated across the country. But his victory was not only based on the racist Southern Strategy, It was based on a “hold the course” message that resonated with countless Americans who had confidence in our elected officials and, by extension, our military leaders, believing that they were acting in the best interest of the voters.

By 1972, even after the publication of the Pentagon Papers by Daniel Ellsworth, the GOP’s “hold the course” message prevailed as Nixon thundered past George McGovern’s antiwar platform, despite the highest turnout of 18-24 year olds in history. In fact, Nixon won the under 30 demographic in 1972, the continuation of the Vietnam War notwithstanding and the recently released facts on the basis for the war being known.

I offer this factual analysis because it might come into play following the gun violence protests, particularly in light of how those protests are being presented in a binary fashion by the news media. Contrary to their portrayal in the right wing media outlets like Fox News, those who marched to end gun violence were not advocating the confiscation of weapons. Indeed, as noted in my previous post, the Parkland students whose voice is being amplified the most did not seek ANY confiscation of weapons in their “manifesto”. Nevertheless their nuanced position on reducing gun violence has been reduced to being “anti-guns”. We are led to believe that if they had their way ALL the guns would be outlawed… and that, in turn, leads “fence sitters” to have empathy for the minority of Americans who own guns and some degree of antipathy for those who are protesting. This antipathy is exacerbated when the spokespersons for the opposition to gun violence are minorities, women, and “elitists”.

Alas, this whole protest against gun violence is looking too much like the Vietnam protests which, in the end, did little to change the outcome of the war and ultimately led to the dissolution of the Democratic Party from being the “Party of FDR” to the “Party-of-Not-Trump” or, worse yet, the “Party-of-not-the-GOP”.

I do believe there is a New Silent Majority that longs for a reasonable dialogue on complicated issues like gun control and an end to the demonizing of one side or the other. MAYBE a politician can capture the spirit of the young. idealistic, and reasonable youth who are articulating a different vision for our country… and MAYBE those of us who log for dialogue can ignore the “noise” of the mainstream media and make it clear that choices about guns, taxes, military spending, and— yes— public education are not binary.

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