by Andy Granias
Thursday, December 13, 2007
This week, 13 members of the Harvard class of 1967 sent a letter to
President Drew Faust regarding a perceived lack of activism opposing
the Iraq war on the Harvard campus. In the letter, the alumni asked
Ms. Faust to create a task force in order to unearth the root cause
of "widespread apathy and political indifference of the student body
at Harvard." The letter cited, among other reasons, Harvard has the
largest financial endowment in the country and therefore should have
no monetary excuse for pandering to the prevailing "political mood in
the USA" by not encouraging opposition to the war through
institutional measures such as placing greater importance on
political activism during the admissions process and creating an
activism task force.
Oh, the irony.
With this letter, these well-intentioned children of the "love
generation" have promulgated an ironic solution to institutional
political injustice they have demanded institutionalized dissent.
Indeed, 40 years ago campuses across the country were simmering with
outrage and violent reaction that often resulted in vehement protest.
The American university was the beacon of protest and political
engagement by which the country expressed and gauged its indignation
over a futile and drawn-out Vietnam War.
The case was no different on our own campus, where violent and
nonviolent protests garnered Madison the activist reputation it still
clings to today. As a matter of fact, this university's political
engagement resulted in one of the most serious terrorist attacks in
the country at the time, when in 1970 four UW students inadvertently
killed a fellow graduate student by bombing Sterling Hall. This very
paper was founded in the late '60s on the premise of providing an
alternative voice to balance the extreme sentiments of the
anit-Vietnam protesters of the era.
But now? Where are the protests? Where is the outrage? Is Iraq not
our generation's Vietnam as the Harvard alumni and so many others have said?
From John Mellencamp to the aforementioned Harvard alumni to our own
dean of students, this generation's lack of protest and seeming
complacency in regard to the Iraq war has continually been
interpreted as apathy by previous generations. Many of us, myself
included, would beg to differ.
In response to the Harvard alumni letter, the university's student
newspaper, the Harvard Crimson, published an editorial saying while
they "appreciate the members of the Class of 1967's offer of informed
advice concerning the nature of protest, we respectfully decline. We
are doing just fine on our own."
The editorial piece appropriately pointed out the absence of a draft
in this era necessarily makes political debate and involvement a
different enterprise. The motivations that drove college protesters
of the 1960s into the streets are certainly not the same as those
that drive today's students; engaging in dialogue and arranging
peaceful protests seem to suit our generation's palate much better.
Additionally, leaps in the media industry have not only allowed for
better transmission of public information about the war, but have
provided a forum for debate and opining that was lacking in the
1960s. This very opinion page, for example, is evidence of just one
outlet students take advantage of in a way that might be less
visible, but might also be more pragmatic and effective.
To be sure, though, this generation's student involvement is not
limited to opinion pages and blog posts. The University of Wisconsin
Campus Antiwar Network, for example, recently proposed a plan to
bring displaced Iraqi students to this university in an effort to
raise awareness about the dire circumstances some students face in
Iraq and to help the cause of those who have been most negatively
affected by our military involvement. To label this sort of student
activism as apathetic or in some way inferior to the protests of the
1960s is, as the Crimson editorial said, simply unreasonable.
While the Vietnam War and the Iraq war certainly share the qualities
of being unwinnable and utterly disastrous those of generations
past must understand it is the nature of the war and not the nature
of the activists living in the war that has elicited such a seemingly
What hasn't changed from Vietnam to Iraq, however, is that human
beings, this generation or any other, are overridingly self-centered.
Without a draft, there is no draft to oppose. Without an immediate
risk to the individual, this war seems distant and removed. And while
you, or a frustrated group of Harvard alumni, may think this
generation's output is nothing more than a result of apathy, we know
it as the same self-centered aspect of human nature that once drove
students to the streets.
Andy Granias (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a junior majoring in
political science and legal studies.