There seems to be encouraging news for Democrats in Fay Fiore's L.A. Times piece
on polling showing that military personnel and their families are, largely through disenchantment with the Iraq war, are leaving the Republican fold for the welcoming arms of the pro-troop, pro-veteran party, the Democratic Party. She couldn't wrap it up, though, without slipping in a poisin pill. She writes...
Now the disapproval of Bush appears to have transferred to his party. Republican leanings of military families that began with the Vietnam War -- when Democratic protests seemed to be aimed at the troops as much as the fighting -- have shifted, the poll results show.
I don't know where Ms. Fiore was during the Vietnam war and the accompanying protests, but I was in the war and
the protests, as were many returning troops. I totally missed the "Democratic protests," though. The Democratic Party didn't adopt a definitive (and, even then, hardly unanimous) anti-war posture until the nomination of George McGovern in 1972. By that time, the largest and most memorable protests were already memories, and the Democratic Party didn't organize a single one of them. Most of the organizers, in fact, were likely to have viewed the Democratic Party with a measure of disdain.
Beyond that, there's the notion that protests - Democratic or otherwise - were "aimed at the troops as much as the fighting." One of the most common features of the anti-war protests I witnessed, whether from within the ranks or in the media, was a component of Vietnam veterans, usually in jungle fatigues, sometimes in wheelchairs, leading the parade. Along the route there often units of veterans of other wars, as well.
Of course, it's part of the continuing effort to associate Democrats with the New Left politics of the sixties, when any association is at best tenuous and likely of relatively recent vintage, as the radicals of the sixties (I yearn for the return of 'progressives' with the confidence to admit their radicalism. Their liberalism, for that matter.) have tempered their views over time and have allied with, if not exactly joined, the Democratic Party.
The next step in the myth-making process is to paint the anti-war movement of the time as an anti-troop movement. It's a notion that's been absorbed even by many of today's anti-Iraq war activists, who take pains not to repeat "the mistake" that, in fact, the anti-Vietnam activists really didn't make. Sure, there are the apocryphal tales of airport expectorations, but there's a much larger, and largely untold, story of the pro-troop, pro-vet activities of the sixties left. There were the legendary F.T.A. tours, mimicking the U.S.O. tradition with the anti-war artists that the troops actually wanted
to hear, and the G.I. coffeehouse movement, which established a chain of off-post safe harbors for anti-war, anti-brass or simply anti-boredom troopers. The typical posture of the left reflected the class consciousness that stirred the radical conscience and saw us as victims of an economy already in the thrall of the military-industrial complex. It was in that spirit that they supported our grievances against our former military employers when we demanded attention for the ravages of Agent Orange. It was the left that exposed the outrageous conditions in some military hospitals then, and the left that joined in the demand for improvements. History, in this instance, is repeating itself before our eyes.
It's not that we felt all that welcome when we came home. It was commonplace, for instance, for Vietnam vets to leave their military history off their resume and job applications. That wasn't because the hiring decisions were being made by a bunch of dirty hippies. The Chamber of Commerce wanted no more to do with us than did the V.F.W. We lost a war, after all, and, in the view of the H.R. manager, probably lost it in a drug-addled haze. Besides, there was something about so many of us, at least for a while, that just didn't seem right. Kind of jumpy, maybe, or always pissed off.
The clarion call of the day is "support the soldiers, not the war," but it's hardly a new idea, and it was the overwhelming attitude of the anti-Vietnam war movement, Ms. Fiore's historical revisionism notwithstanding. I only wish that the Democratic Party had demonstrated the insight and courage to have led that movement.
Labels: Democrats, The Movement, Veterans, Vietnam