Forty-one years after the debut of "Hair," New York's Public Theater has revived--resucitated?--the hippie rock-sical that, as the New York Times reliably put it, "became the soundtrack of a generation enraged by the war in Vietnam...."
Was it really just the war in Vietnam that they were enraged by? Or was there also something else a little closer to the bone? If we look back at the antiwar protestors-- "the moral conscience of our society," according to one (self)-satisfied, 65-year-old theater-goer who first saw "Hair" as a Berkeley grad student--there is a terrible coincidence the morality-mythology never admits: the fact that "the movement" dwindled before the Vietnam war ended, but shortly after the Nixon administration made its intentions known to "Vietnamize" the war and end the draft.
From The Death of the Grown-Up, p. 49:
The synchronicity, post-1970, between a fizzling-out protest movement and a winding-down draft--even as the most intensive bombing campaigns of the war raged on--cannot be explained away as unrelated coincidence. In other words, it’s tough to dismiss the fact that interest in the war as a political movement waned as self-interest in the draft became a non-issue. Concern about Southeast Asian “victims” of American imperialism vanished as those same Southeast Asians became targets of North Vietnamese and Khmer Rouge aggression. This reality ultimately struck David Horowitz, a famed thinker of “second thoughts” about both the antiwar movement and his own antiwar activism as editor of the New Left magazine “Ramparts.” Comparing two Washington antiwar protests that fell to either side of President Nixon’s decision to “Vietnamize” the conflict and end the draft--one in June, 1970, that drew close to one million people, the other on May Day, 1971, which only 30,000 attended--Horowitz realized “the rationale for most people to protest was gone.” He continued: “When this fact registered on me, the effect was devastating. The driving force behind the massive anti-war movement on America’s campuses had been the desire to avoid military service.”
In Radical Son, p. 195, Horowitz continues:
Because of my early fatherhood, I had never been draft elible, so had failed to realize how paramount a factor this prospect had been in motivating college students against the war. Other considerations may have swayed their opinions, but only this seemed to have prompted their actions.
I was struck anew by this snatch of history on reading in the Times account that the show's artistic director Oskar Eustis emerge from from deep 1960s-mode to explain to his 21st-century audience what draft cards even were.
Barefoot, his own mane of dark hair matted down by the heat, Mr. Eustis introduced the performance, saying, "We're still fighting an unpopular war abroad," adding his own editorial note that "we're responsible for it, and if we want to stop it, it's our job." His statement received enthusiastic applause.
Mr. Eustis, 50, also took a moment to explain to "people younger than I" that the scraps of paper being burned at the end of Act I are draft cards....
Now, if he could just get around to explaining the rest of it--you know: "Let the sun shine in...."