Another decade, another retrospective--this one to mark the 40th anniversary of the sacking of Columbia. Of course, the New York Times chronicles the events of 1968 rather more sympathetically--namely, from the students' point of view:
The beatings. The arrests. The building takeovers. The heady communal life in the occupied college buildings. And, most vividly, the "bust," the early morning of April 30, 1968, when the police stormed the campus, pounding them bloody with nightsticks and dragging some to police vans by their hair.
How about a little context? As in:
The seizure of five campus buildings. The overnight imprisonment of the acting dean of the college and two assistants. The Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) manifesto from Mark Rudd threatening Columbia's destruction addressed to the university president (ending, "Up against the wall, motherf----"). Spitting at and punching senior faculty members. Urinating in trash cans. Urinating out windows. Destroying faculty research and papers. And the paralysis of a thirty-four-year-old policeman caused when a student jumped him from above.
Back to Timesworld:
Sipping white wine and hugging old friends at the opening reception Thursday evening, it looked like any other Ivy League reunion--the men's hair gone gray or white or just gone--but Robert Friedman, editor of The Spectator, the student daily newspaper back then, and an organizer of the event [and now an editor at Bloomberg News], grew increasingly frustrated as he tried to get them to take their seats for a panel discussion.
"Boy, this is an unruly crowd, " he said.
"Woooooooo," came the cry of wrinkled radicals, breaking into applause, proud they were as rambunctious as they had been 40 years ago.
It was an intensely emotional time, and those emotions were recalled during a series of earnest and well-attended panel discussions on the legacy of the student movement, feminism, race, political action and inevitably, "From Vietnam to Iraq." Indeed, "wooooooo" was without a doubt the most frequently used word as people as people cheered a political point or an often hilarious reflection.
No doubt. The story thrills on from there, concluding on a more somber note with an account of a memorial ceremony held to honor those who had died in the intervening years.
The dead were not only former students, but those who had touched their lives, like [sic] the Rev. Dr. Martine Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Mayor John V. Lindsay [who presided over their receiving mass amnesty for their crimes], Margaret Mead, Abbie Hoffman, the folk singer Phil Ochs and even Dr. Truman, the provost.
Among the names read out to the striking of a Buddhist gong--
These people live and breathe cliches...
--was Ted Gold, killed in March 1970 in the explosion of a Weatherman bomb he making [to set off at a dance at Fort Dix, which the NYT fails to mention] in the basement of a Greenwich Village town house; and John Jacobs, known as J.J. a founder of the Weathermen, who died of cancer while living under an assumed name in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Brian Flanagan, another member of S.D.S. said: "J.J. embodied the spirit of resistance of these times.
"J.J.," among other things, is best remembered for setting fire to the research notes for a book then being written by a history professor whose office the stoo-dents occupied. Flanagan continued:
"May J.J.'s spirit live on in ours." He added that his ashes had been spread on Che Guevera's memorial in Cuba.
How, um, authentic. And to what end? What did these revolutionaries from the pampered middle class accomplish? The Times is quick to note their achievements: "They ultimately won their goals of stopping the building of a gym on public land in Morningside Park, severing ties with a Pentagon institute doing research for the Vietnam War; and gaining amnesty for demonstrators and, not incidentally, the early resignations of their enemies, Columbia's president Grayson L. Kirk; and its provost, David B. Truman."
In other words, the mob ruled.
Not that anyone in Polite Society, or history books, or the New York Times dares to put it that way. Not being in Polite Society, or history books, of the NYT, I do. In fact, Chapter 3 of The Death of the Grown-Up goes into the subject at some length. Here's an excerpt.
From page pp. 58-60:
In the fall of 1969, Richard Nixon addressed the emerging danger of mob influence. Worth noting, for the sake of context, is that at no point in 1969 did any Gallup Poll show public support for Nixon’s conduct of the [Vietnam] war slip below 44%--at which point opposition stood at 26%. Even at the height of huge public demonstrations in the fall, 58% of the public supported the President, with 32 % opposed.
"In San Francisco a few weeks ago I saw demonstrators carrying signs reading: `Lose in Vietnam, bring the boys home.’
Well, one of the strengths of our free society is that any American has a right to reach that conclusion and to advocate that point of view. But as President of the United States, I would be untrue to my oath of office if I allowed the policy of this Nation to be dictated by the minority who hold that point of view and who try to impose it on the Nation by mounting demonstrations in the street.
For almost 200 years, the policy of this nation has been made under our Constitution by those leaders in the Congress and in the White House elected by all of the people. If a vocal minority, however fervent in its cause, prevails over reason and the will of the majority, this Nation has no future as a free society."
The words of the Republican president essentially expressed the logic behind the liberal argument against The Movement--which, of course, is not to be confused with the liberal argument against the war. It jibes with what Seymour Martin Lipset said at Berkeley at the beginning; with what George F. Kennan said in the middle; and with what David Horowitz said two decades after it was all over:
"In a democracy, where the people are sovereign, what justification can there be for self-styled “revolutionaries” like ourselves? In rejecting the democratic process, we had rejected the people, setting ourselves over them in judgement as though we were superior beings."
Of course, even superior beings could be touchy. In that same fall of 1969, during the fall semester following Harvard’s spring revolt, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then a Democratic member of the Nixon administration serving as Counsellor to the President, attended the annual Harvard-Princeton game. There, at Soldier’s Field in Cambridge, Moynihan could see the biggest stumbling block to mounting a defense of the democratic process: the superior beings’ parents. In “White House Years,” Henry Kissinger recalled the memo Moynihan sent to the president on the subject.
It described a scene … in which the assembled graduates--worth, according to Pat, at least $10 billion--roared support when the Harvard University band was introduced, in a takeoff of Agnew’s denigrating phrase, as the `effete Harvard Corps of Intellectial Snobs.’ Pat warned that while Nixon was right in resisting attempts to make policy in the streets, he should not needlessly challenge the young--because of their great influence on their parents.
In the cheers of the crowd, Moynihan heard more than just the sound of parental approval. As Peter Berger might well have pointed out, parental regard for their young had merged into a sense of shared identity, or perhaps shared vision. Parent and offspring alike saw that children could do no wrong. Which, in its universality, was a new one on the human race. It’s a safe bet that Ivy alumni at that same Harvard-Princeton match-up, circa, say, 1959--and certainly 1949 and earlier--would have slapped down any youth movement attempting to make policy in the streets.
But there was another factor in the emotional calculus that was changing the whole social equation: an increasing sense of self-awareness. This new state of self-consciousness was probably another tasty fruit of victory, relative peace, and rampant, increasingly technologically-based prosperity. Indeed, such self-awareness had become a “chief characteristic of our culture,” wrote Columbia’s Lionel Trilling, high, low, and otherwise. From academia, journalism, entertainment, and advertising, he wrote, we learn “to believe not only that we can properly identify the difficulties presented by the society but also that we can cope with them, at least in spirit, and that in itself our consciousness of difficulties to be coped with gives us moral distinction.”
What Trilling described was a perfectly phony brand of moral distinction, an ersatz morality--as in: I feel, therefore I am moral. Trilling found himself reflecting on it after reading the opening paragraph of the independent report on “the disturbances” at Columbia in 1968. These “disturbances” included: the seizure of five campus buildings; the overnight imprisonment of the acting dean of the college and his two assistants; an SDS manifesto from SDS leader Mark Rudd threatening Columbia’s destruction addressed to the university president (ending, “Up against the wall, motherf-----”); spitting at and punching senior faculty members; urinating in trash cans, urinating out windows; destroying faculty research and papers; and the paralysis of a 34-year-old policeman caused when a student jumped him from above.
Four decades later, more memorable than the report’s findings is the surrealistic, worshipful tone that was set in the opening lines by report author Archibald Cox of the Harvard Law School: “The present generation of young people in our universities are the best informed, the most intelligent, and the most idealistic this country has ever known.” (Good thing--bad thing?--the report came out a few days before that best informed, most intelligent and most idealistic young person Mark Rudd informed the Boston Globe, “We manufactured the issues.” ) Trilling describes his “natural bewilderment”on reading Cox’s words. Then he understood.
"In his high estimate of the young, Professor Cox accepted the simulacrum for the real thing: he celebrated as knowledge and intelligence what in actuality is merely a congeries of `advanced’ public attitudes. When he made his affirmation of the enlightenment of the young, he affirmed his own enlightenment and that of others who would agree with his judgment--for it is from the young and not from his own experience that he was deriving his values, and for values to have this source is, in the view of a large part of our forward-looking culture, all the certification that is required to prove that the values are sounds ones."
The phenomenon the professor is getting at sounds very much like an Old Boy riff on The Twist--the juvenile dance craze adopted and popularized by adults. In “deriving his values from the young,” as Trilling wrote, Professor Cox and his fellow fact-finders were defining their values down (to borrow Daniel Patrick Moynihans’ handy concept again) to those embodied by student protest. In affirming the enlightenment of the young--and thus his own, according to Trilling--Cox was likewise defining enlightenment down, mistaking “ `advanced’ public attitudes” (read: left-wing politics) for wisdom. This was a watershed moment. From this point forward, New Left values and “the enlightenment of the young” quintessentially defined the elites, effectively negating, and certainly downgrading, all experience and traditions that came before.
This elite embrace of youth-derived values and enlightened self-awareness became the basis of the 1960s legacy--and, thus, the basis of the so-called culture wars that would disrupt subsequent decades. In place of a hierarchy based on accrued wisdom, there would emerge a power structure based on accrued grievance. Authority and reason would give way to novelty and feelings. A new set of un-manners and non-mores would quickly overrun attitudes and practices that had evolved over generations by recasting refinement and restraint, honor and forbearance--virtues, not coincidentally, of maturity--as corrupt and phony, or, even worse, not “authentic.”
In that bid for “authenticity,” civility and decency, too, were quick casualties. Not for nothing, as noted by Diana Trilling at Columbia in 1968, did a filthy stream of public profanity rush through the various student upheavals. Indeed, the most memorable words of the movement are four-letter ones.
It was not alone President Kirk who was addressed as a motherf-----. Vice-President Truman was a motherf-----, Acting Dean Coleman was a motherf-----, the police were--naturally-- motherf-----s, any disapproved member of the faculty was a motherf-----. Rudd’s response to mediating efforts was `bull----.’ ... At a tense moment on the steps of Low Library a Barnard girl-demonstrator jumped up and down in front of the faculty line --the faculty were wearing their white armbands of peace--compulsively shouting, `Shit, shit, shit, shit.’
Small wonder, as Mrs. Trilling also noted, one pun-prone professor dubbed the student-revolutionaries, “Alma Materf------.”
Oddly enough, these cataracts of obscenity were barely mentioned in the press, if at all, no doubt out of reflexive consideration for middle class sensibilities. But, as Diana Trilling wrote, this phenomenon was “not of the gutter.” It was out of the mouths of babes from the middle class; and, as it turned out, few of their middle-class parents were willing to wash out the little darlings’ mouths with soap. “One discovered that a decent proportion of the decent American middle-class mothers and fathers of these young people, as well as other energetic spokesmen for progress, supported their offspring,” she wrote. Among the proud parents were the Rudds, with Mama Rudd giving “the proudest and tenderest interview to the Times about how her-son-the-rebel planted tulips in their suburban garden.” Up against the garden-wall, mother-f------, and all that. Indeed, roughly two hundred other mothers and fathers joined a Committee of Concerned Columbia Parents “to back their children and further harry the administration.”