Monday, September 26, 2005

The era of irresponsibility returns? Probably not.

Going back to me college days, I've viewed the Vietnam time frame as America's era of irresponsibility. It was a time where people-mostly young adults-cast away personal responsibility like they cast away their clothes at Woodstock. They found fertile ground to act out their irresponsibility in a society fatigued by sensationalized negative news from the war. And with the war requiring many young men of that generation to become soldiers carrying the responsibilities of their nation on their shoulders, the anti-war movement blossomed.

Today we are seeing a parallel movement of irresponsibility. The lede in a Washington Post article sets the scene:
Out there, in front of the Washington Monument, it was eerily reminiscent of another place and time, a time when the Old Guard was young and the Young Guard didn't yet exist, and people made a point of not putting their trust in anyone over a certain age. A whiff of weed wafted on the air. Couples made out in the grass, oblivious to anyone but each other. Onstage, Joan Baez stood solo, guitar strapped like a weapon against her chest, crooning "Where have all the flowers gone?" while people stood swaying, some crying, fingers forming peace signs or holding up posters of Che.

Some of the ingredients from the 1960's and 1970's are in place, but I'm not sure that today's anti-war movement can blossom in the same way.

The Vietnam era anti-war movement was as much a youth revolt against the impending responsibilities of adult responsibilities as it was a revolt against the war. Most of those old peaceniks eventually accepted the responsibilities of adulthood, but have always looked back romantically on their days of free love, cheap drugs, and intoxicating political influence. Today it is these graying old peaceniks that are leading the anti-war movement. This in and of itself puts a cap on the youth involvement. No self respecting young adult wants to make out with and grope their boyfriend/girlfriend at a protest while sitting right next to their parents who are doing likewise. One of the key factors in the 60's and 70's was impetuous youth revolting against their elders. Today, it would require the young to link arms with their elders-hardly an explosive and seductive mixture for the young.

Second, the young today have less reason to rebel at the responsibilities of war. It is their choice to join or not join the military. They don't feel that military service is a yoke being placed on them by older generations. That is the second powder keg of the 60's and 70's that is non-existent today.

So take stories like the one in yesterday's Washington Post. We are seeing a resurgence of irresponsibility today, but it is being led by a group of graying former hippies looking to regain their glory days, as well as some America hating groups. The smaller number of young adults involved are just along for the ride for the most part. Many more have to reason or motivation to join this self righteous movement.

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