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The Capital Times (Wisconsin)

Today's Young Protesters Get No Adult Sympathy

Joel McNally

When a small group of high school kids and young college students vandalized an Army recruiting center near the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee campus, it was a golden moment of nostalgia for those who remembered the good old days.

Not the kids who broke windows and hurled a little paint, mind you. They were far too young to remember the split during the Vietnam years between the militant Weathermen and others in the anti-war movement.

The only weathermen they know wear navy blue blazers and stand in front of large screens with animated clouds on them.

But it now appears many of those who were in college during the '60s and '70s are now old enough to have become their own stodgy parents harrumphing around about kids today.

The most hysterical reactions to the minor incident came from some former young people who had aged gracelessly into right-wing talk show hosts with voices like clenched fists.

One particularly shrill female squawker called for the youthful miscreants to be brought up on federal charges and locked away in a penitentiary somewhere.

Of course, if we start filling up our Supermax prisons with vandals, we're going to have to build some Super Duper Maxes to deal with real criminals who actually harm someone.

That's not to say there weren't also anti-war critics who objected to rude tactics of the young.

An intergenerational battle raged on a local Indymedia Web site in which older war protesters scolded their young for alienating potential allies against the war, and anarchic adolescents sneered back about aging protesters walking around in circles chanting ineffectual slogans.

One young writer said he attended a family friendly anti-war march through downtown Milwaukee the previous weekend and nearly fell asleep. When we have a president determined to ignore public opinion and send more young Americans to their deaths, he felt the least he could do was break something.

It must be said the local media came down firmly on the side of young people busting up stuff if they want any attention to their views.

When 1,000 anti-war protesters marched down Wisconsin Avenue demanding an end to the war, not a word appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. When 21 young people were arrested for breaking some glass, the anti-war movement suddenly sprang to life in the media.

Actually, anyone who really remembers the escalating militancy of protesters in the '60s might suspect another connection between past and present.

We later learned that many of those who egged on protesters to increasingly obnoxious and violent behavior were actually agent provocateurs hired by the government to discredit the anti-war movement.


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If we find out Halliburton has a no-bid contract to replace glass in Army recruiting centers, we'll know the Department of Homeland Security was behind the whole thing.

Many of the conservative talk shows tried to twist the attack on the Army recruiting center into an attack on U.S. soldiers. Aha! Finally, they had proof that opponents of the war really hated our brave men and women in the military.

Hardly. Anything that even temporarily interrupts the business of an Army recruiting center has the potential to save the lives of soldiers.

The whole reason the Army recruiting office is located next to the campus is to prey on low-income students who desperately need money to complete their college educations.

All the talk from recruiters about providing free money for college is the most cynical bait-and-switch since the Bush administration took advantage of idealistic young Americans volunteering to defend their country after 9/11 by immediately sending them to war against a country that had nothing to do with that horrific event.

If you return home maimed and shattered before completing your military obligation, you don't get the money. You don't get it if you never return home either.

And everyone now knows the truth about the moldy, rat-infested veterans hospitals our grateful nation provides to care for those who are lucky enough to make it back.

Yes, ill-mannered young people showed a lack of respect for their government by breaking those windows. But nobody died as a result.

So far, more than 3,200 young Americans have died because of the far more destructive lack of respect their own government has for them.

President Bush has declared he doesn't really doesn't care what the majority of the American people and the majority of their elected representatives in Congress think.

The president is hell bent on escalating the war and throwing away more young lives. The president doesn't believe in the sort of democracy where the opinion of an overwhelming majority of citizens matters.

But our most pious opinion leaders believe that is no excuse for young people to get downright impolite in their public protests.

Joel McNally of Milwaukee writes a weekly column for The Capital Times. E-mail:

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