Dennis Prager, the sometimes controversial, always thought-provoking radio host and syndicated columnist, wrote a column last week on the legacy the baby boom generation has bequeathed to younger Americans.
“We live in the age of group apologies,” wrote Prager. “I would like to add one. The baby boomer generation needs to apologize to America, especially its young generation, for many sins.”
One of those sins, according to Prager, is the mindless pacifism espoused by Sixties-era liberals and leftists and passed down to their ideological heirs – a pacifism neatly summarized by the popular 1960’s slogan “Make love, not war.”
“Our parents,” Prager continued, “had liberated the world from immeasurably cruel and murderous regimes in Germany and Japan – solely thanks to waging war. But instead of concluding that war could do great moral good, we sang ourselves silly with such inane lyrics as ‘Give peace a chance,’ as if that deals in any way with the world’s most monstrous evils. So we taught you to make love and not war. And we succeeded.”
The column struck a chord because the Monitor has long viewed baby boomers as the most overindulged, overrated, self-infatuated and self-destructive generation America has produced to date. (Full disclosure: the Monitor’s alter-ego is very much a part of that horrid generation.)
There are many things about the boomers that the Monitor disdains, perhaps none more than the baseless claim – repeated so often it’s been virtually inscribed as historical fact – that antiwar boomers basically shut down the Vietnam War.
Of course, even if one accepts the premise that the antiwar movement ended America’s involvement in Vietnam, the fact is that most of the more intelligent opponents of that war, and certainly just about all of those with the means and influence to do something about it – elected officials, journalists, financial contributors to political parties – were born well before 1946, the start of the baby boom era.)
But the reality is that antiwar activists – of whatever age – were in no way responsible for ending the war.
All the major public opinion polls of that era, from the first stirrings of antiwar sentiment in 1965 to the mass demonstrations four and five years later, showed that the majority of Americans remained more or less supportive of their government’s policy in Southeast Asia.
The peace candidate Eugene McCarthy’s near victory in the 1968 New Hampshire primary was fueled in great measure by voters who felt the Johnson administration was not being aggressive enough in its prosecution of the war.
Many of those McCarthy voters actually went on to support the third-party candidacy of the Vietnam hawk George Wallace in the November general election.
As late as 1972 – a full eight years after the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, four years after the Tet offensive, three years after revelation of the My Lai massacre and two years after the National Guard shootings at Kent State – the Democratic presidential nominee, George McGovern, running on an unambiguous vow to stop the war, suffered a loss of cataclysmic proportions to President Richard Nixon.
By then, of course, the antiwar movement itself had largely petered out as the Nixon administration implemented a series of troop withdrawals and the draft gave way to an all-volunteer armed forces.
Rather than give credit to the antiwar movement for stopping the war, it’s at least as valid to suggest that the turmoil created by the movement served further to paralyze U.S. policy makers, whose aims in Vietnam were never very clear to begin with.
After all, the war in Vietnam, at least in terms of Americans fighting and dying, lasted three times as long as the Korean conflict of the 1950’s – a war that, by way of comparison, elicited minimal backlash on the home front.
Speaking of the baby boom generation, former “NBC Nightly News” anchor Tom Brokaw is out with a new book, Boom!, a follow-up of sorts to his mega-seller The Greatest Generation, which chronicled a generation that, unlike its boomer offspring, actually did end a war, defeating Germany and Japan in World War II.
Boom! makes for interesting reading, but for a more substantial – and sobering – look at boomers and what they wrought, see Peter Collier and David Horowitz’s Destructive Generation: Second Thoughts About the Sixties.