In the late Sixties, my Dad told me "It will be 40 years before we know how much damage the Vietnam War did to this country."
Forty years have come and gone; we still don't know.
As Richard Blumenthal reminds us.
Blumenthal, 64, is the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate in Connecticut. He's also the state's attorney general. The New York Times discovered he repeatedly told constituents "I served in Vietnam." That's not true. Blumenthal was in the Marine Corps Reserve: He never left the East Coast. His self-created overseas service has appeared in many profiles and other stories about him. Not once did he call for a correction, the Times reports.
Blumenthal says "I misspoke." Misspoke is confusing Indianapolis with Minneapolis not Saigon with Washington. The people of Connecticut will decide if they want a man of Blumenthal's character in Congress, a man dishonest about the Sixties.
The Sixties have long been an object of conservative commentators' scorn. Sex, drugs and rock and roll destroyed respect for authority and undermined a great nation, they tell us. We've been in moral crisis since the hippies started doing their thing.
Their "thing" included protesting against the Vietnam War. I was a protestor, but I should be careful about what I say. It would be easy to exaggerate my anti-war credentials. How could anybody check them? There were any number of hippies who showed up at anti-war rallies simply hoping to pick up chicks and get stoned. Grace Slick had a receptive audience when she wailed "Feed your head." This was a time, a friend reminded me, when you could walk into a bookstore in Chicago's Old Town and find a sign that read "Please don't feed the cat speed. It makes her throw up on the floor."
My opposition to the war was made less anxiety-producing because my parents opposed the war. I wasn't embroiled in a generational conflict. In 1967, my Dad sent me a letter with the postscript "You one of those revoltin' students William F. Buckley is complaining about? I sure hope so."
Clarence Page recently wrote a column comparing the tea party and the New Left of the Sixties. I admire Page, so I guess I'll just say he got up on the wrong side of the bed before turning on his computer.
The New Left -- the people who wanted to transform the nation politically and economically -- was small, smaller than the tea party. The anti-war movement was huge -- as was the number of hippies. The people I knew wanted to end the Vietnam War, not bring the American Leviathan to its knees.
Many anti-war protestors were young Democrats. Some of them chanted "All the Way With LBJ" and voted for him in 1964. They supported Johnson's social programs but mocked and ridiculed him because of the war. How could he continue this destructive conflict when he had to know it was wrong and unwinnable? (Two of my Fairbanks friends became convinced that if they broke into the White House and smoked pot with the president he would not only end the war but thank them, confiding "You boys are on to something.")
Today, too many people conflate the anti-war movement, the hippies, flower power, the drug philosophy of Tim Leary, the spread of astrology and the belief in reincarnation, the civil rights movement, Black power and the entire smorgasbord of Sixties ideas -- some brilliant, some daft -- with the New Left's critique of capitalism. Too bad Allard Lowenstein died too young to clarify history. Lowenstein, a liberal anti-war activist, was elected to Congress from New York state as a Democrat. He wanted an activist, humane government; the tea party wants no government.
But let's return to lying about the war. Yes, Richard Blumenthal is appalling. So are the thousands of men who have embellished or invented their service records -- some of them to the point of buying medals to pin on their chests. But their lies were of far less consequence than those of the men who directed American involvement in Vietnam, especially Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. Presidential lies about the conduct and prospective outcome of the war killed 58,000 Americans -- and damaged this country far more than all the hippies who smoked a hookah, got naked with the "Kama Sutra," or felt the universe stand still when Jimi Hendrix asked "Is this tomorrow or just the end of time?"
Michael Carey is the former editorial page editor of the Anchorage Daily News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org