Bruce Farrell Rosen
Author of books and articles, retired portfolio manager

The college protests of 2024 are far closer to Germany 1938 than America 1968

I came of age in the late 1960s and was a college student in the early 1970s when the Vietnam War raged seemingly endlessly and mercilessly.  There were three major television networks at the time, CBS, NBC, and ABC.  Each one of these networks would invariably begin the broadcasts over these war years with the number of Americans killed in the war, which was usually in the vicinity of about Forty or Fifty every single day, over months, over years, no end in sight,– a horrible catastrophe of violence that was taking young men from their homes in the form of a draft, training them to kill the Vietnamese, because if they did not the Communists might someday be at the doorstep of our American homeland.

The television networks did their best to maintain the American commitment to this war–a war being fought in the depths of the “Cold War”, a cold war whose origins began with the legitimate concerns of of “containing the expansion of the Soviet Union”, the doctrine of ‘containment’ propagated by George Kennan based on his analysis of the cultural and historical forces that shaped the motives of Soviet leaders.  It became the guiding principle of US foreign policy in the post World War 2 era through–some would clearly argue–the present day.

Many Americans–especially the American youth– did not see the Vietnamese people as our enemy.  The protests raged on College campuses, some students setting themselves on fire to attract attention to what America was doing to innocent people a half a world away.  Others committed to hunger strikes, even dying in this way to try to stop the war.  Our hair grew long, our music became transcendent,  the lyrics of protest igniting a revolution against America’s foreign policy doctrine, a generation gap emerging that produced radical changes in attitudes toward sexual liberation, and questioning the notion that to not bring the flag overseas in the form of combat meant cowardice, and antagonism toward patriotism.  Many youth fled to Canada, others tried to legally not serve by becoming “conscientious objectors”, often failing in that regard and either going to jail or into the military.

There would be many that  would direct their hostility to, perhaps, the greatest Heavyweight boxing champion of all time, Muhammad Ali, when in April 1967 he told reporters in Louisville that he’d refuse to be inducted, saying “Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam after so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights…I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong…”

Muhammad Ali would be stripped of his heavyweight championship crown, banned from boxing for three years, and sentenced to five years in prison.  He was able to avoid serving jail time, but he was ridiculed as un-patriotic, and held in contempt by many Americans. But he was a hero to many, particularly the young, many of which intensified their protests on campuses, protests that resulted in police brutality of the democratic national convention in late August, 1968.  The riots claimed the lives of 11 Chicago citizens, 48 were wounded by gunfire, 90 policemen were injured, and 2150 people were arrested.  And after the convention the war raged on, and so did the protests on the campuses, many starting out peaceful but turning nasty, ugly and violent.

But this was not a protest against American whites, blacks, Christians, Jews or Muslims.  It was a protest against the philosophy that had our young men at the beginning of their lives being sent to fight a war they did not understand and did so out of loyalty.  It was a war they thought they could win but realized while in the swamps and jungles of Vietnam that they could not win but hoped to survive.

It was against this backdrop that America’s most respected television news anchorman, Walter Cronkite of CBS, leveled with the American people in a prime time broadcast OP Ed.  On February 27, 1968, and after his trip to Viet Nam, he said that”…it is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could.”

Lyndon Johnson declined to run again for the Presidency–the Vietnam War and the protests against it had torn him apart mentally–and the protests continued to haunt the new President, Richard Nixon who had ‘a secret plan’ to end the war.  Promising ‘peace with honor’ Nixons plan was to escalate the war to win a ‘total’ victory.  And in time he realized that the cost of such a victory would be too high.  He appealed to the ‘silent majority’,–the great majority of Americans being overshadowed by the anti war minority, the protestors that received all the press on the campuses–to give him consent to achieve this total victory.  But in the end, counter culture was too strong, the War too unpopular for him to claim a silent majority vote of confidence.

The college campus revolts were in the end the catalyst  one might argue for bringing the War in Vietnam to an end.  Bobby Kennedy entered the presidential race, the darling of the young, promising to bring this war to an end.  Tragically he was assassinated on June 5, 1968, a date I will always remember.  I watched his speech celebrating his victory in the California primary, and then sat stunned as bedlam occurred resulting in the announcement that he had been shot and eventually was dead.  And just months before that, Dr. Martin Luther King had been assassinated, Bobby Kennedy speaking to a crowd of supporters in Indianapolis on April 4, 1968.  I’m not sure anyone but Bobby Kennedy could have mourned with the crowd in such an empathetic way that night, bringing all to tears, announcing that his own brother, Jack, had been the victim of an assassins bullet.

The protests brought an end to the War in Vietnam.  But those protests were far, far different from the racist, anti-Semitic, hateful, protests occurring across American colleges at this moment in time.  The protests that are scaring Jewish students on campuses to the point that they are afraid to come to school for fear of their lives.  This is not a unified protest against an  war in Vietnam–Jews, blacks, Christians, Muslims holding hands in opposition to this horror– it is a protest whose slogans and banners use the epithets of ‘Death to the Jews’; ‘ there is only one solution ( referring to Hitlers ‘final solution’ to liquidate all Jews); ‘from the river to the sea’; ‘long live Hamas’.

Yes, the horrific events of Gaza–a place from where Hamas emerged from their hundreds of miles of  tunnels placed under mosques, hospitals, schools residential homes  to torture, rape, murder babies, children, men, women, peace loving concert goers, more than 1200 innocent civilians–is one of the great tragedies of any century.  Hamas knew of the tragedy it would become, because they knew Israel would retaliate and civilians would die in the thousands.  Iran knew this to be the case, and have no doubt Russia knew this as well–already trying to take back Ukraine, this would also be part of their plan to gain influence in the Middle East, an objective that was thwarted by the demise of the PLO.  It is no coincidence that this attack by Hamas occurred just as a regional peace initiative was about to bear fruit, a Saudi initiative that threatened Iran and Russia’s objective to control the area and threaten Israel in perpetuity.  So, yes, indeed, it is understandable that college students would want to protest what is happening in Gaza.  And no doubt, many Jewish students, Israeli students would like to also protest the deaths of so many people in the Gaza strip, hold hands with their Palestinian and Arab friends and fellow students, praying and hoping for a settlement that would bring peace once and for all.

But that is not what is happening with these protests that are spreading like wildfire across American colleges.  These protestors and not engaging in constitutionally protected free speech, and the right of assembly.  Instead they are openly inciting violence against Jewish students, targeting them with hate speech verbally and in the form of banners, spitting upon them, encircling and taunting them.  This is not a first amendment right protected by the US Constitution. It is precisely the part of the first amendment that is not permitted, and considered unlawful.

At Yale University a student was intentionally poked in the eye by a protestor, luckily her eyesight was not damaged. At Columbia, Jewish students have been punched in the face by protestors. Campus after campus, from Harvard to Yale, to Columbia to University of Michigan, to Vanderbilt, out west to Stanford, Berkeley, Humboldt, and now, San Francisco State, the campus administrations have shown that they cannot adequately protect Jewish students!

It is abhorrent that at Columbia University it is primarily the Jewish students that have take their exams remotely because the campus cannot protect them!  It feels like Germany, 1938 when Jewish students and professors were demonized to create a climate of hostility that would eventually result in their expulsion and transfer to concentration camps.

Yes, these protests have nothing in common with the protests that galvanized an end to the war in Vietnam.  They have much more in common to the terror inflicted on Jewish students in Germany.  And it is the height of outrage that these protestors, protected by campus administrators, assembling in threatening and dangerous ways, received statements from Hamas thanking them for their activism!

Hamas is an organization that used hundreds of millions of dollars of Iran’s money to build hundreds of miles of tunnels that would eventually be used to conduct a war whose aim would be to destroy Israel–the people of Gaza useful shields in the ultimate success of Hamas in attaining the moral high ground–and they are seen as heroic freedom fighters for the cause of the Palestinians.  They could have used these millions to build an infrastructure of healthcare, transportation, education, that would lead to a peaceful co-existence with Israel resulting in a Palestinian state, but they used this money in the service of a Jihad that is prepared to last as long as it takes.  Yes, it is outrageous that these people are perceived as freedom fighters by American students and educators, rather than what they really are: cold blooded murderers with little to zero interest in  bringing about a Palestinian state that could co-exist with Israel.

As we speak a law suit has just been filed by an anonymous student from Columbia University.  It is a lawsuit that–from what I read on-line tonight–welcomes dissent but states that “…this extreme element is not just  expressing dissent; they have and are continuing to commit acts of violence, they are intimidating and harassing Jewish students and faculty members, they are inciting demonstrators to engage in hate speech and also commit acts of violence, which has been taking place…all of these acts have been calculated to disrupt the normal functioning of Columbia and to overshadow the voices of those engaging in constitutionally protected speech and protest…”

It would seem likely that there will be more such filings against colleges for their tolerance of such hate against Jewish students and teachers under the guise of the first amendment.

Yes, these protests are a long, long, long way from the meaning and spirit of the 1960’s.  They are much more reminiscent of Germany 1930’s.

Bruce Farrell Rosen

About the Author
My understanding of politics, economics, geopolitics, political theory is grounded in my undergraduate and graduate study of philosophy and international relations. I recently retired from managing investment portfolios for over Forty Years. I have also always been a writer, and have published two books of non-fiction: Bombed In His Bed, the Confessions of Jewish Gangster Myer Rush', and " If you Ever Need Me, I Won't Be far Away". I have done television and radio for these books. I have authored numerous articles on various subjects, such as international affairs, politics, economics, culture, music, sport for various newspapers, magazines and journals. I live in San Francisco California.