Play It Again, Sam.
It looks like Sam Alito will be a Supreme Court Justice. Before he gains whatever credibility inheres in this lofty office, let me record my objections to his contributions to the revision of Sixties history and point out the glass house from which he has lofted a few stonesin my direction.
It has been a rough thirty years since the end of The Sixties. Not least because The Sixties has taken such hits in its rewriting. What was (among many things) a time of almost childish naivete, innocence, and idealism has been slowly, purposefully and completely robbed of its virtues. It is now depicted as a time of confusion, irresponsibility, self-indulgence and unwarranted violence (on the parts of demonstrators, not the military and police!).
The fact is our stances back then on Vietnam, womenıs rights, civil rights, more liberal educational practices, sane drug laws, a clean environment, were right. We were right. We were right even about the things we expressed most naively and innocently: Give peace a chance; all you need is love; make love not war; Save the Whale; Earth Day, Imagine. Just because we lost; just because the "establishment" finally caught on to how to beat us by co-opting our image, our language and our issues and turning them to advertising and sit-coms, does not mean we were wrong. We were right.
It has been a rough thirty years.
Now insult meets injury. Sam Alito describes me and my cohorts at Princeton as "irresponsible and privileged." How dare he. I entered Princeton in 1964. At the end of my sophomore year, I was drafted because of an administrative error on the part of the university. A long and tragic story boils down to this: One day I was a (admittedly) privileged long-haired tiger and the next I was a bald private. Untimely ripped from the Ivy womb.
It wasnıt all bad: I became politically radicalized. I returned a changed young man to a changed Princeton in the fall of 1969. While I was growing up, so, apparently, was Princeton. They had begun to admit women (albeit slowly and reluctantly). The selective, generally racist and sexist eating clubs (I belonged to one) were beginning to (often grudgingly) relax their biases. Courses were more relevant and more open to student input. Grades were optional. These changes were forced upon the university by students - responsible students. I doubt that Sam Alito was among them. I donıt think he was asking many questions of authority. The Sixties were winning at Princeton and everyone save those who clung to White Male Privilege was a benefactor.
Then, in the spring of ı70, Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger completely abandoned law and decency and invaded Cambodia. Kent State followed. And Jackson State (How many remember that?). The campus reacted as if it had been punched in the stomach. Seven thousand people came together at Jadwin Field House to consider how a responsible academic community should react to blatant, criminal immorality on the part of its government. We decided by
acclimation: the university would be closed. We were on strike. It was surely Princetonıs finest hour and we knew it. There was a lump of pride in our throats, a sense of history in our hearts.
Shortly after, in one of the plush locker rooms in Jadwin, the Princeton lacrosse team met without coaches. We argued, discussed, agonized and in the end about half of us decided we could not in good conscience continue to play this game while Nixon rampaged, while so many innocent people died and while the university was on strike. It is difficult to explain to anyone who has not played varsity athletics the difficulty of this decision, but to a young jock, it meant a lot.
I stayed on campus during the strike, as did many others. Probably not Sam. It was a heady time. Efforts were organized by students and faculty to accomplish all kinds of idealistic goals: changing Congress, unionizing the military, resisting the draft, supporting veterans (Yes, Virginia, the spitting is a myth). Many of us went to other universities to encourage students nationwide to strike. I canıt argue that we werenıt privileged to be at Princeton, to have time, to be out of danger - this includes Sam Alito, regardless of his background. But what we did with that privilege strikes me as eminently responsible.
I wonder what Sam did that spring while he watched us being so
"irresponsible." We know he did not go on strike against his ROTC unit,
but it is dismaying to believe what his roommate has said:
"The war was a subject of some conversation on campus, but I think we (he and Sam) tended to talk more about what was going on in our classes. We didn't talk much about politics."
I wonder if it is responsible during one of the most upheaved times in American political history to be a student and to be so apolitical. I wonder if it isnıt irresponsible and privileged to be concerned more about Princeton classes than those bothersome political realities like body-bags. I wonder if it wouldnıt have been more responsible and less "privileged" for an ROTC cadet to join the fight in Vietnam rather than defer it for law school.
The Sixties was planted in The Fifties. Our parents urged us to share,
care, love, forgive. Many were shocked when we actually tried to do just that and then to advocate these virtues as a way for the society and the government to behave. Succeeding generations have increasingly been exposed to a worldview that is mean, cynical and ironic. MTV and its clones sell a consistent message that anyone who actually believes in or cares about anything beyond him or herself is a chump. No seeds of a second Sixties there. But maybe if kids knew there was another time in which another way of seeing damn near prevailed, in which even privileged kids at Princeton acted responsibly,swell, just imagine.
Richard Hendrick is an educator and film maker. He is a member of Veterans for Peace and was Dennis Kucinichıs Media Coordinator in the 2004 New Hampshire Presidential Primary. Email to: firstname.lastname@example.org