The Vietnam (Letters) War Continues

Alex Li asserts in his 6/10 letter that baby boomer activism after Vietnam “died on the vine” and that “your activism did not enter your board rooms, involvement with your kids’ schools or neighborhood barbeques.” However, Li’s claims are not supported by the historical evidence.

Sociologists Richard Flacks and Jack Whalen studied the political engagement and career paths of former UC Santa Barbara anti-war activists in their 1989 book Beyond the Barricades: The Sixties Generation Grows Up. In addition, sociologist Doug McAdam examined the values and politics of student activists 15 years after their participation in the civil rights movement and, specifically, the 1964 “Freedom Summer” in Mississippi — a campaign led by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to register black voters.

These and other scholarly studies of post-Vietnam activism reach similar conclusions: Those who were most active and the leaders in the anti-war movement on campus later continued their activism and participation in anti-imperialist movements such as opposition to intervention in Central America; the global nuclear freeze movement; the renewed labor and civil rights movements, such as support for the United Farm Workers and Justice for Janitors; and the new social movements such as the environmental, food justice, feminist, LBGTQ and disability rights movements.

The changes that occurred due to the social movements of the 1960s were profound, though insufficient to uproot structural inequality and racism and curb American intervention in Third World nations. Nonetheless, history suggests that one generation’s achievements build upon those who came before.

Marty Bennett

Sonoma, California