Have you ever made contact with representatives of Fidel Castro’s government to see if there was a role for you in helping Cuba spread “peoples’ democracies” throughout Latin America, maybe by joining the Fair Play for Cuba Committee?
I suspect that most Americans under the age of 50 would think that I am being an extremist if I said that many baby boomers did all these things back in the days of the so-called “student movement” of the 1960s and 1970s. But my recollections are accurate. Jane Fonda was willing to act as a cheerleader for the North Vietnamese gunners aiming at American pilots because she knew there were many people back home who would applaud her upon her return. That was why, in a speech at Duke University in 1970, she told the gathering, “If you understood what Communism was, you would hope and pray on your knees that we would someday become Communist.”
There was a reason why Viet Cong flags flew over the anti-war rallies organized by the Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam. Many of the young people in these protests had no objective beyond ending the war. But not all. There were those who were reading Frantz Fanon and Herbert Marcuse and who considered themselves revolutionaries in the truest sense of the word.
Anyone who was of college age or in an academic setting during those years knows that I am not exaggerating. There are middle-aged men with pot bellies and gray-haired ladies with granny glasses who sounded just like Jane Fonda back then, who sat cross-legged on the floor and debated if the time had come for them to use “physical force” in their resistance against the war. Frail young men who had never been in a fist-fight in their lives joined groups like the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) and sat around discussing anarchist literature about how to make bombs. The peaceniks and vietniks took themselves quite seriously, even if a photograph of them in their beads and beards would elicit a horselaugh today.
I can remember a brief conversation I had one afternoon in the early 1970s with my department head at the high school where I taught in the northern suburbs of New York City. He was an old school, Adlai Stevenson liberal, a Harvard graduate. Our school was in the middle of a few days of sit-down strikes and protest marches against the war. The protests were student-led, but several faculty members were active in prodding the students to become “involved” and to “take a stand” against the war and the “establishment” that promoted it.
I was friendly enough with my chairman. (I suspect he hired me to placate community complaints about the liberal leanings of most of the social studies staff.) As the rhetoric heated up during the protests, I whispered to him, “I hope no one has a tape-recorder going. These kids will be embarrassed someday if anyone remembers what they are saying and takes it seriously.”
“I hope that never happens,” he answered solemnly. “We don’t want another McCarthy era.” He was quite serious. The air that day was filled with talk about the evils of American capitalism and militarism and the need for a revolution of workers and students against the “pigs” and the corrupt establishment.
But why bring up the old hippies and vietniks now? Because the protest movements of the 1960s have a lot to do with the current brouhaha over who was responsible for 9/11 bombers not being apprehended. Conservative commentators have been appropriately exercised in recent days over information provided by Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, who has testified that he was a member of an Army intelligence unit that had identified Mohamed Atta and three other of the hijackers as terrorist suspects more than a year before the attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center took place. (A naval officer, Captain Scott J. Phillpot, corroborates Shaffer’s claim.) Shaffer states flatly that he was told by military lawyers that his unit could not share this information with the FBI.
The conservatives have been placing the blame for this tragic lapse on members of the Clinton administration who had established a “wall of separation” that made it impossible for CIA and military intelligence to share intelligence with civilian police forces. They point to a 1995 memo by Jamie Gorelick during her tenure as second in command at the Justice Department that specifically sets this policy.
Former Attorney General John Ashcroft maintains that Gorelick’s policies resulted in our agents being “isolated by government-imposed walls, handcuffed by government-imposed restrictions and starved for basic information technology. We did not know an attack was coming because for nearly a decade our government had blinded itself to its enemies.”
Gorelick’s wall of separation, however, was not meant to protect the likes of Mohamed Atta. It was set up to protect the members of her generation who crossed the line into rhetorical, and perhaps even open, collaboration with enemies of the United States such as Cuba and China in their zeal to end the war in Vietnam and in pursuit of other counterculture causes. The CIA and military intelligence had that kind of information at their disposal. If the FBI gained access to it, there was the likelihood of public disclosure and criminal prosecution. Collaborating with enemies of the United States is still a crime.
The media and academic elites have not had to eat any crow about the way they depicted the Soviet Union as the wave of the future, and brutal thugs such as Mao and Fidel Castro as champions of the downtrodden during the Cold War years. Which is not all that surprising. The Left still controls much of the media and the academy. They are not going to devote many television specials or academic seminars to revealing how wrong they were on this great historical clash. Jamie Gorelick’s wall of separation is an example of the same frame of mind. It was an effort to keep material embarrassing to her old crowd in the counterculture from seeing the light of day.
Would it be a cheap shot to bring up what might be in those CIA files about Bill Clinton’s anti-war activities in Eastern Europe when he was a student at Oxford, the ones that he worked so hard to keep hidden during the 1988 campaign against George W. Bush? I don’t think so. I don’t think that Clinton was engaged in anything criminal or treasonable; just some of the activities Gorelick was trying to keep out of sight.
(This article originally appeared in The Wanderer and is reprinted with permission. To subscribe call 651-224-5733.)