June 05, 2005

Old People and Paranoia

Eugene Volokh responds to an entry at the Huffington Post that wonders why we haven't heard about a major anti-draft movement on campuses. Eugene hits it on the nose: college students don't pay attention to the people telling us to fear the draft.

First of all, even the anti-Vietnam boomers didn't have a broad protest going until '68 or so (though socialists protested more or less from day one). Why would they expect us to protest a draft that doesn't exist when they didn't protest until several years into the war, following massive mis-reporting of the Tet Offensive? They took years to get to that point, and here we are and a draft isn't even on the table except from people who aren't even ideologically allied with the people running the foreign policy agencies.

In a larger sense, those of us in the current generation, sometimes called Generation Y, don't really listen to the people who lived through Vietnam or the Great Depression. They're whiners. Forget Tom Brokaw; old people whine all the time about life was hard and about how heroic they were. It's seriously tiresome. I mean, it's bad enough that EVERY SINGLE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION is scarred by Vietnam memories and that every debate on Social Security and Medicare is tainted by the Depression. Old people - the GI Generation and the Baby Boomer Generation - dominate the debate on everything. That's only natural since, old people are the people who are or recently were in power. But the side effects are damned annoying.

Not every war is another Vietnam. Not every economic restructuring is another Depression. I've spoken to and known hippies who see every politician as either a Nixon or McGovern, every war as a Vietnam, and every political activist as ROTC Nazi or a Yippie/Hippie. By the same token, I've known a number of grandparents, especially grandmothers, who urge their grandkids to go to graduate school "in order to avoid a draft" and heard stories of more than a few who stockpile canned food and stash jewelry under mattresses in case of another Depression. This is all anecdotal and occasionally rumor, but it still shines some greater truth on the subject: every generation thinks that history is doomed to repeat what happened to them. That's not terribly surprising, but again, it dooms us in our teens and early to mid twenties to listen to Vietnam protest stories and Depression stories all the time.

The real problem is that too many people are too conservative to realize that the world today is not 1968, nor is it 1933. Not every foreign policy failure is 1938, not every foreign policy success is 1945. Not every political sweep is 1964 or 1972. Not every heroic president is a JFK, not every political scoundrel is a Richard M. Nixon.

Of course, they don't see it this way. To the ex-Hippies and the people who see the world through a Vietnam-Watergate-colored lens, the GOP is the party of Nixonian plumbers, a war is waged cynically, illegally and violently through the worst of means for the slightest of ideals and the fate of the young and idealistic is to fight and win against the uber-strong forces of oppression. That's exaggerated, but they really seem to think there's a parallel from the Vietnam business to the Iraq War. There isn't really.

They want to think that the young, college idealists will protest against this war just as they did three and four decades ago. Sorry, different war, different students, different power. Today, the Hippies like you are the old fogeys we're rebelling against. You Hippies and Boomers ARE The Man. You're the ones with too much influence to make stupid, oppressive, backwards policies.

And the grandparents and great-grandparents can be worse. There are some old people living perpetually in fear of another Depression. The first mention of Social Security is greeted with raging egoism and stubborn opposition to reform. We always hear from some of them about how tough they were to live through the Depression, yet they bristle at the idea of going through it again.

If young people were to protest against anything, it would be getting rehashed, recycled advice from people who refuse to realize that they're living in the past. Check your calendars: it's 2005.

Don't expect us to live our lives as slaves to your history.

UPDATE: This is a Politics editorial under the issue articles section of the website. It's especially cool because I managed to work in a quote from Thomas Paine at the end.

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