... the young [looked] to politics for an answer to a question which is fundamentally religious - the meaning of life. (Roger Scruton) "Days of Hope", The Listener 5 May 1988
It is late October 1962. A family is gathered around the kitchen table. Voices are hushed, hearts are in anguish; a very real fear of death penetrates the atmosphere. A twelve year old child goes to bed. He is not sure that he will wake up the next day. For many others it is their first confrontation with imminent death. It is the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis and humanity hovers on the edge of destruction as the great powers maneuver in a deadly game of brinkmanship. Suddenly, questions of international power politics have become matters of immediate personal survival in the lives of ordinary people. For the first time in history an entire generation of humanity is bound together in a universal expectation of total annihilation. This dramatic turn of events is a warning to mankind; it brings him one step closer to a full realization of his mortality as a species.
Of course the Cuban Missile Crisis did not occur in a vacuum. The whole of post-war history has been overshadowed by the prospect of a nuclear holocaust, and humanity has been conditioned to accept this as a reality of life. Fear of nuclear war has scarred the mind of twentieth century man. This has produced in many people an inclination to think in absolute terms about the world around them -and about themselves.
The reaction of some to this dilemma has been to embrace an apocalyptic vision of Christianity. According to this view, world conditions point to the fulfillment of dire predictions recorded in the Bible, and so facilitate an outlook on life coloured by religious fundamentalism, and a sense that there is a God at work in human affairs.
For others the true path lay in the activist politics of the ban-the-bomb movement, and later the political movements of the sixties. Although myself a "child of the sixties", I did not share the general political and philosophical orientation of (supposedly) most of the other members of my generation, whose "convictions" I found to be in the main self-serving and conformist. Over the years I have thought about the philosophical underpinnings of the youth culture of this period and the great gulf that separates my outlook from that of the stereotypically educated, concerned individual of the modern era.
It was with the rise of Reagan in America, and the accompanying publicity surrounding the Moral Majority, that it occurred to me that there was an intriguing connection between religious and political thought in the popular political movements of recent decades. It was clear that there were deeply philosophical influences at work in the make-up and development of these movements. (Though not directly relevant outside of the American political context, the appearance of the Moral Majority there nevertheless symbolizes trends of thinking within the religious right worldwide.)
It was said that Reagan's appeal lay in the superficialities of his sunny, folksy disposition; that he was able to make Americans feel good about themselves again. Yet there had to be something more. The crucial support given to Reagan by the fundamentalists suggested that there was an enormous reserve of religious feeling among Americans. This was a surprising development for two reasons. Firstly, because religious belief - always thought to be out of place in the modern world - was considered virtually moribund in the wake of the apparent triumph of secularism during the sixties. Secondly, because it demonstrated that the natural antithesis of the left-wing activists of the sixties was not right-wing conservative politics as such, but something quite different, though philosophically related. One only had to consider the cult-like (if frequently airy-headed) tendencies of the youth activists of the sixties, and the picture began to emerge of a struggle which was being waged not so much on the political level, but on the spiritual plane. But there was one more element needed to fully complete the picture.
On November 1, 1979 a singer had walked onto the stage of the Warfield Theatre in San Francisco. He had tuned his guitar, adjusted his harmonica, and begun to wail a heartfelt gospel tune in honour of the Lord Jesus. If this had been one of the many born-again "Jesus people" who were around at the time it might not have attracted much attention. But the identity of this particular performer was enough to make hordes of baby-boomers choke on their corn flakes. The singer's name was Bob Dylan.
Dylan had been the embodiment of sixties' cool, political sophistication and hardened skepticism. It was these qualities which had made him the voice of his generation. Yet, here he was expressing a deep spirituality and commitment to religious fundamentalism which made evangelicals like Pat Boone proud. (The latter was especially loathed by the politically conscious exponents of the youth culture).
The choice for the baby-boomers seemed to boil down to either an overtly religious interpretation of our condition in the twentieth century, or a desperate ideology of activism designed to enable man to save himself through his own efforts. The common denominator was a quest for meaning which transcended political considerations. This I describe in the language of spirituality, an obscure term to most people. Spirituality is the impulse we feel to try to make sense of our personal lives. It is generally thought of as a religious phenomenon because it is only through religion that we are able to come to terms with life's greatest mysteries - suffering, death, the problem of evil, and the purpose of human life. It can be compared with concepts of philosophy and ideology. We devise these abstract systems of belief as a way of making sense of the world. We also devise moral precepts as guidelines for putting our ideals into practice. But it is only in the spiritual realm that we work out the meaning of our existence as individuals.
This is why I think of the radical politics of the sixties as an exercise in spirituality. Goaded by the meaningless of their own lives, people constructed philosophies and ideologies in response to spiritual needs, as a way of dealing with an otherwise chaotic world. This was something more than an exercise of mere intellect alone, as I hope to show in the following pages. This side of the issue has been unduly neglected in the past, and provides the only adequate explanation for the radicalism of the time.
My understanding of these questions is founded upon a recognition that there is a real God who inhabits a spiritual realm of existence, and that man possesses a spiritual dimension to his being. This is not merely a rhetorical figure of speech, as conventionally understood, but a living reality which directly affects our attitudes and our thinking, and is attested to by the persistence of such ideas as belief in God, and in the prospect of some kind of afterlife. It is my contention that not only do these ideas have substance, but that our inclination to believe such things is bound up with an understanding of who we are, and what makes us tick. For example, I believe we are not complete human beings unless we live with a general feeling of being humbled before God (this includes anticipation of Armageddon, or a final judgment on humanity of some kind) and that we are denying our humanity to the extent that we try to avoid these issues. Factors such as these tell us more about humanity, his history and his future, than we will ever learn by applying the tools of rational thought alone. Ultimately, the only meaningful answers we will ever have to the big questions of life will be referable to these religious truths. Spirituality is an encounter with God in which all the questions of life's meaning are resolved. In what follows I hope to prove the validity of such ideas. Furthermore, it is my prediction that despite all arguments to the contrary, the world will see a religious revival take place in the near future, which no amount of fashionable political philosophy will account for, nor anticipate.
The aim of this book may be summarised as follows. It is an examination of the soul of the baby-boom generation of the sixties; a critique of what its members believed then and now, and an attempt to demonstrate the convergence between political and religious thought. It is about the war going on between political liberalism and religious fundamentalism, and above all about how we can delude ourselves through secularised thinking which denies a fundamental aspect of our humanity - a sense of the religious. The secular options recognise the problems but don't provide any of the answers. The questing individuals of the modern era have inherited a set of social and political attitudes from the turbulent sixties without recognising the basis of their beliefs. If they did, they would discover that there are motivations at work which are of an essentially religious character. In this book I present an alternative view based on the conviction that these elements play a crucial if unrecognised role in shaping our perceptions of the world.
While this book is not exclusively about the baby-boomers, every social and political issue dealt with has been profoundly influenced by the activism of the sixties. The issues I have chosen to discuss represent the high points of our radically altered perceptions of life from previous eras. The "Vietnam cult" has become virtually a secular religion for our time. The same could be said for the theory of evolution. The evolution/creationist controversy has now become a highly politicised issue, and has taken on a deeply symbolic significance in the struggle between the forces of social libertarianism and traditional religion. Gay rights represents a general assault upon all conceptions of moral restraint. Internationalism, anti-Americanism, and multiculturalism provide insight into the philosophical background of alienation from western society which makes people receptive to ideas of social and political radicalism. The culmination of this process comes in the form of the political radicalization of Christianity (Liberation Theology and "the social gospel").
Utilising these ideas, an intellectual elite lodged in the media, the universities and the churches is brainwashing our society in the precepts of secular humanist philosophy. This book endeavours to counter and rebut these influences.
As a believing Christian, I would in principle eschew involvement in political controversies, but what has happened since the sixties is that political ideas have intruded upon my religious view of the world As such they demand a response.
THE IDEOLOGICAL WAR
God is dead! Nietzsche Nietzsche is dead! God Anon.
There is a titanic struggle raging in the western world today. It is a struggle for the soul of man. The battleground is the field of religious and political philosophy. Competing systems of thought strive to dominate our ideas about the world and man's place within it. As the twentieth century progresses we become fixated by the prospect of cosmocide, and evermore conscious of the need to find an all-embracing explanation for our plight, and some hope of a solution. This need is being met through an appeal to ideological forms of reasoning which offer us the promise of a coherent view of the world.
The social and political upheavals inspired by the youth generation of the sixties have transformed popular attitudes to the great questions of our day. With the growth of popular political movements such as the New Left and the Moral Majority a conflict has arisen between two fundamentally opposed systems of belief. The one materialistic, and secularistic, the other, religious. This we sum up in the language of left against right, liberalism versus conservatism, humanism versus fundamentalism. Both systems are inimical to each other, and they are locked in a bitter fight to the death. These ideologies reflect innate tendencies towards a relativistic liberal view of the world, and a traditional and conservative view, taken to their extremes by the urgency of our predicament.
Moreover, when we survey the cultural landscape, we find that modern anxieties about the deplorable condition of humanity have forged a curious convergence between religious and political thought. This tells us much about how human beings function as thinking creatures. We tend to regard politics and religion as occupying separate compartments of the human brain, but it is now possible to discern that much of our thinking actually has a deeply religious frame of reference. There exists a profoundly spiritual dimension to human experience which finds expression in the traditional religions; but what is not properly understood today is that these spiritual impulses also play a crucial role in forming our attitudes on the social and political plane. It is the spiritual side of man's nature which causes people to question the ultimate meaning of human existence.
Mankind has spiritual needs. He possesses an ineradicably spiritual way of responding to the world around him. As such, he has never been so ill-equipped to deal with his problems, and as a consequence he resorts to radical solutions.' It is my contention that the political ideologies which have captivated so many people in the western world are a substitute for religion and a counterfeit of genuine religious experience.
Modem man exists in a spiritual as well as a moral vacuum. Since the Industrial Revolution, and the total re-orientation of human life around the demands of technological progress, we have dwelt in a virtual wasteland, cut off from the natural world and traditional social relationships; those things which served to provide us with a sense of identity and purpose. We have become detached from ancient moorings and certainties which have given us a place in the scheme of life. We lack a sense of who we are, where we have come from, and where we are going. All of these things are a part of the natural order of life in traditional societies, and have been part and parcel of life even in western society until comparatively recent times. The lack of these things creates an emptiness in our lives even if we do not acknowledge it.
What we are suffering from is a disease of the soul called self-absorption. Consider some of the terms we have used in describing the nature of contemporary society: "the me-generation", "the nuclear family", "the generation gap". In times past, people fitted into the wider social circle of the extended family. A man was connected with his past through identification with his elders and his more remote ancestors. Because he occupied a place within his wider family his place in society was clearly defined. There was no such thing as a generation gap. A child would spend his days with his father and mother. His education was not taken out of the hands of his immediate family by the state, and hence he was not divorced from those things which served to provide a common view of the world. Because a son learned the trade of his father, he possessed the same preoccupations and interests in life.
What we have lost is what Christopher Lasch describes as a sense of historical continuity. 2 Not only are we cut off from an appreciation of the past, but from any kind of belief in the future. We are afflicted with a self-centredness which is symptomatic of our failure to believe in anything much beyond the here and now. Self-absorption is not far removed from self-hatred. The youth culture of the sixties was in large part a reflection of inner loathing by a generation rather inappropriately labeled the "beautiful people". The dominant themes were hatred of self, hatred of parents, and hatred of country.
We have also lost a meaningful sense of authority. The trade-off for the liberated lifestyle originating in the sixties is that we are free not only from society's constraints, but also "free" of guidelines for living that are built into traditional society. The huge increase in crime rates and drug addiction throughout the western world in modern times is arguably traceable to this very phenomenon. Why should this not also manifest itself in the realm of social and political attitudes? The decline of parental authority, and institutions of authority, roughly coincides with a general decline in the belief in God. Where belief in God is absent the vacuum is inevitably filled in modem times by resort to systems of belief which we call "ideology". One of the foremost of these modem philosophies is Marxism. It is not surprising that in its rejection it should be termed "the God that failed"!
The fact is that man's intellectual progress since the inception of the Age of Reason has consisted of numerous attempts to find viable substitutes for the belief in God which has sustained him throughout the ages. We think of the basics of life in terms of food, clothing and shelter. We totally ignore questions of basic philosophical import such as "why was I born"? We fail to discern that humanity inwardly dwells on such seemingly obscure issues. We often think that it would be nice if we knew the answers to such questions. What we do not properly understand is that we MUST know the answers to these questions, and if one system of belief fails, we will turn to another. Lack of answers has created a breed of psychic mutants from the hippies all the way through to the yuppies.
For many centuries man possessed answers to the three greatest questions which have troubled his soul. The first of these is where did he come from? The answer was provided in the Book of Genesis. The next was, where was he going? This time the answer was in the Book of Revelation. As for making sense of the time in between, the answer was to be found in the same sourcebook. With the coming of the Enlightenment, religion was overturned and the Bible was thrown out the window. What happened in the realm of philosophy? By the middle of the nineteenth century man was so desperate for a few basic clues to the meaning of existence that within a short time he had developed a whole new set of beliefs, albeit bravely termed "rationalism", but systems of beliefs which were in reality every bit as much grounded in the realm of faith as the religious beliefs he had previously rejected!
Consider the "isms" which have grown up in the last couple of centuries. When the Book of Genesis, and the Book of Revelation ceased to have relevance what replaced them? Answer: Darwin and Marx. One told us where we had come from; the other, where we were going. Is it an accident that these twin beliefs arose in the middle years of the nineteenth century with the decline of religion? Why do these ideas exert an almost mystical fascination for their adherents? Marxism and Darwinism possess a power over the human mind which is unique in the realm of ideas. They serve much the same purpose as traditional religion in providing a fully developed philosophy of life. Like the religious dogmas of the past they are believed in with a conviction which is total and utterly uncompromising.
Evolution is ostensibly believed in as if it were simple scientific truth, but the fact is that evolution is persuasive not because of its inherent scientific soundness, but because it meets a deeply philosophical need. Embedded deep down in the soul of every man, woman and child on earth is a profound hunger to know where we came from.
When we come to the question of Marxism it is almost too trite to pursue the same line of reasoning. How many people raised as children within the Catholic Church have forsaken belief in God only to embrace the gospel according to Marx. The transition from one faith to the next is a natural progression.
The whole panorama of social attitudes to politics, morality and religion has been profoundly altered by the social upheavals of the sixties. Terms such as "left-wing" and "right-wing" are now used in everyday conversation, often in an intensely personalised way. It is as if we are defining who we are by using these terms, and not merely expressing our political inclinations.
The meaning of the left-wing/right-wing dichotomy is generally agreed upon. Left-wing is taken to denote a commitment to ideals of justice and equality which transcend considerations of class or race; to internationalism as opposed to patriotism (hence, peace as opposed to militarism); and to tolerance as opposed to rigid morality. Right-wing on the other hand invokes the idea of conserving traditional values, including orthodox religion, preservation of the family, and patriotism; individualism as opposed to collectivism; free enterprise as opposed to state control. The right/left distinction arose out of the politics of revolutionary France, and referred to the opposing factions within the French parliamentary assembly, depending upon which side of the chamber they were seated. This was not so much descriptive of. a general state of mind, or philosophy of life, but a socio-political class. These terms have of course taken on a rather wider meaning. These days they loosely correspond with the concepts of liberalism and conservatism, which have application in political thinking, but also express a basic disposition on the social and personal level.
What all this amounts to is that there is a widely accepted recognition by just about everyone who thinks about the world in a theoretical way, that being right-wing or left-wing not only defines one's politics, but in fact constitutes a more or less complete philosophy of life.
Actually the language of "left" and "right" is really out of place in the English-speaking world, where the tradition has always been one of tolerance for opposing political opinions. It is essentially a product of the irrationality of continental European politics, which in the twentieth century has produced both communism and fascism. This includes a right-wing Hitler, a left-wing Stalin, and a socialist who invented fascism (Mussolini)! The English-speaking democracies lag behind somewhat in these areas of political innovation. In common parlance today, one is "right-wing" only to the extent that left-wing political philosophy says so. "Right-wing conservatives" in the popular imagination are largely a product of left-wing demonization.
The identification of left-wing activists as Marxists these days derives not simply from a tendency to look favourably upon the oppressed working-c lasses, and to promote revolutionary action for their benefit, but from the underlying Marxist principle of putting one's words into action ("Philosophers have only interpreted the world ... the point is to change it".) 3 Marxists in the past have tried to change the world in the realms of economics and politics. The emphasis now is on developing a "radical personality" - an intensely life-changing experience of an almost religious character. In the sixties this was the crucial point of difference between the "Old" Left and the "New" Left. Regardless of how right or wrong Marx himself may have been about history, politics or economics, a Marxist style of thinking still exerts a powerful influence. The activism of today lies in communicating political consciousness. It is the politics of personal self-awareness. Its chief proponents today belong to the comfortable middle class which does need to improve its position economically. Moreover, there is a lingering attraction for ideas of collectivism among well-heeled left-wingers ("Chardonnay socialists"). This supports theories of totalitarianism (such as Hannah Arendt's concept of the rootless "mass man") which view this uniquely modern phenomenon as a substitute for the sense of community which used to be offered by religion.
The idealism of the youth movement has become part of everyday consciousness in the post-sixties western world. It is not because the political objectives of the activists were all that desirable or realistic, but because the activism itself represented a belief in something in the midst of a society which had stopped believing in anything. Indeed, activists of this period were constantly endeavouring to up the ante by cultivating a more progressive self-image then their compatriots in it the Movement". This was a game whose only rule was to argue for virtually any kind of political change so long as it represented a movement away from the conventional. Making a statement about your degree of political awareness became more important than any claim to have, objectively speaking, actually changed the world for the better. Consider the support given to gay rights since the sixties. People who might ordinarily hold homosexual conduct itself in abhorrence lend their support to gay liberation for purely philosophical reasons. This has, by its promotion of the homosexual lifestyle, helped facilitate the spread of AIDS in the 1980's and 90's.
When you analyse the politics of the baby-boom generation what you detect is an underlying quest for spiritual values. This was a generation which, because of its affluence, did not have to strive for survival as every previous generation had done. (None of its members had lived through a depression). It had a lot of unanswered questions because it had been born into a culture which had failed to provide any sense of the meaning and purpose of life. Because it grew up within the protective embrace of democracy there was unbounded optimism about what could be achieved through a little political agitation, especially on behalf of the benighted masses of the underdeveloped world, who only stood to benefit from an application of the dictum "do it!"; and to complete the picture, it faced imminent extinction at any moment via a nuclear holocaust.
In short, the baby-boom generation was shallow, bored, and empty; but it had a lot of political muscle potentially, because there were so many of them. Armies of highly motivated munchkins were ready to recreate the world in their own image, to the tune of "All you need is love". Their philosophies and underlying ethos have been successfully passed on to the broader community, in the absence of any apparent alternative philosophy. After all, in a world where millions of people have died of famine from Biafra to Ethiopia, traditional ideas and values don't count for much, insofar as they have demonstrably not cured the world's ills. The positive articulation of leftist philosophy which occurred in the 1960's (customarily the preserve of utopian dreamers such as the Cambridge radicals of the 1930's) could have only received widespread support and expression via the baby-boom generation. Left-liberal ideology has the genius of simplicity. It provides its proponents with the illusion that they hold the key to understanding the root causes of evil and injustice. Like Marxism itself, its precepts can be addressed to virtually any social or political question. Its success lies in the fact that it makes the individual into an actor who actually participates in reforming the world by possessing the requisite ideologically sound reasoning. As such it appeals to the ego. It says that the beginning of the solution to every problem lies in the commitment of the individual to radical political change. Moreover, an enduring legacy of the baby-boomers was the development of a sense of oneship with each other (originally among the hippies, now among the "politically conscious" yuppies) as some kind of moral and intellectual elite divorced from the world's evils. The idea of belonging to a select group in society is what feeds and sustains this thinking. The identification process now centres on sanctimonious media personalities. These smug, self-satisfied individuals mesmerize their followers with protestations of idealistic concern, but they divert attention away from the real issue, which is man's deplorable spiritual condition - not a "lack of political consciousness".
It is precisely the lack of any identity based on culture, race, values, or according to any other criteria, which the boomers inherited from the society they grew up in. Conversely, the dearth of people around who will combat these ideas by appealing to traditional religious, moral and social values is a product of our secularised age. There are few people with sufficient strength of their convictions to argue a contrary viewpoint. In these circumstances the element of intellectual intimidation is quite pronounced. In the sixties the "finest" achievement of these supposedly socially conscious individuals was the ability to make one actually feel defensive in debate. The general proposition went as follows: "Well explain yourself. Just why are you pro-war, and pro-injustice?" much as one is asked "When did you stop beating your wife?" This was roughly the equivalent of the shell game where the pea is dropped through a hole in the table. Their own it pro-war and pro-injustice" inclinations (summed up in their support for the Vietcong), and their actual inability to bring about meaningful change in the world, were concealed behind a lot of high-sounding rhetoric. From what position of moral authority did they presume to speak? With comparative ease one could be written off as "to the right of Attila the Hun" by people who could now be described as "to the left of Pol Pot"! The question is why have they been able to get away with this self-serving fantasy for as long as they have?
We live in a society beset by crime, violence, drugs - and a total lack of moral conviction. The convictions that do exist are a self-centred quest for individual freedom. And when people do put themselves out to pursue "political ideals" it is really essentially an exercise in doing something for themselves, rather than for mankind as whole.
Baby-boom politics perfectly summed up the search for answers by rootless and soulless individuals in the modern era. Despite the overtly political nature of student activism in the sixties it has often been observed that the dominant feature of this period was not a coherent world view so much as an all-pervasive nihilism - a striving after something which could not even be articulated. The baby-boom generation - my generation - opened up new vistas of confusion to the world, and are now really on the defensive regarding most of the high profile issues of the sixties. Reality has not been kind to the "brave idealism" of the sixties. There was only a veneer of coherent thought underlying their politics. This can be demonstrated by looking at what happened during the 1980's. It is an astounding fact that the political triumph of the Reagan presidency came about very largely through the support he received from young voters. They proved to be his natural constituency. That this fifties style cold warrior should have been supported by contemporary college kids is remarkable enough, but an even more astonishing revelation was that the baby-boomers themselves also voted for Reagan en masse. The very ones who had been out on the streets in the sixties burning the flag were now falling over themselves to vote for an old time anti-communist. Naturally left-wing commentators were non-plussed. They were quick to explain that these people were not actually voting for Reagan's policies, but the man himself ("the feel good President"!). This was a rather glib rationalisation, since an attractive personality has never given a presidential candidate a mortgage on the White House in the past. Why should it do so now? The fact is that the whole Reagan phenomenon was completely inexplicable to the "politically aware", because of their blinkered ideological outlook. The political ideals of the sixties still dominate America (and the western world) on the cultural level, but when it comes down to hard questions of voting-in national leaders, people are in reality-land. It is the Thatcher's, Reagan's and Bush's who will be voted into power, not the McGovern's, Dukakis's and whoever else. There was actually a very thin line dividing the political activists of the sixties (ie. white middle class, affluent, well educated) and the "silent majority". Those ostensibly wishing to change the world for the better, and those who wished to ignore as much as possible the world's problems, actually shared a preoccupation with the self which was merely expressed in different ways. Their concern for the world was transparent, and thinly disguised. Their true motivations were egocentric. The real commitment of the baby-boomers for radical social change can be seen in their later support for a free enterprise, cold war, anti-communist at a time when getting a job was more important than upholding one's liberal credentials. Moreover, the widespread skepticism of baby-boomers with "law and order" issues in the 1960's has undergone a radical change in the minds of many who now find themselves husbands and fathers, and feel threatened by urban crime and violence. All of this suggests, in the final analysis, that the ideological solution was found to be not particularly satisfying; and that people were attempting to find the right answers by looking in all the wrong places. The materialism of our culture contributes to this. Once people have got their Volvos and Jacuzzis, it is then that they will begin to ask questions about life's meaning. The people of the sixties were in this position because they had all that material life can bring. After worldly needs have been satisfied, it is then that the spiritual side takes over and the questions begin to arise.
In his recent survey of American intellectual life (The Closing of the American Mind), Allan Bloom tells us that "Man is the problem, and we live with various stratagems for not facing it". He makes mention of attempts to bring about integration in American society by such programs as affirmative action (forcing universities to accept a minimum number of minority students at the expense of better qualified white students), when it is evident that in fact blacks do not perform as well as whites (much less Asians) in higher education. The easy way out is to simply say that all men were created equal. According to this ideological view, Blacks should perform as well as Whites, therefore let us proceed in practice according to how we would like things to be in theory.
Sixties' people failed to recognise what the real problem was with man's condition. It was man himself - and that problem basically related to the spiritual dimension of human existence, and to the lack of spiritual sustenance. In this they were like the anguished philosophers of the nineteenth century (such as Nietzsche) who confronted the issue of the silence of God. It is not enough to simply say that there is no God. Atheism alone will never suffice. This is why, as Bloom implies, it is better for us to agonize over the great questions of life, such as "Is there a God?" than to opt for the comparatively easy way out by simply denying his existence. At least it represents a truer picture of the state of the human soul and the human mind. Even in these days of secular materialism the standard line among non-believers is generally agnosticism, not atheism.
The activists of the sixties (like their humanist allies of the present day) denied this inner need, but unconsciously sought to alleviate their spiritual emptiness by participating in programs of social reform. It was all based on a false premise which held that humanity's problems could in reality be solved by concentrating attention on man's basic goodness, and raising the requisite level of political consciousness regarding the true source of society's evils e.g. capitalism, consumerism, racism, militarism, and so on. The solution lay not simply in identifying the problems, but in realizing that all evils were essentially the product of conventional ways of thinking which once overcome automatically created the answers. In this sense it was quite true to observe (as did John Lennon) that there were indeed "no (real) problems, only solutions". The difficulty with this incorrigibly optimistic view of life was simply that this is not how things work. The fact is that change for its own sake (supported by "ideologically sound reasoning") does not solve man's problems, as is attested to by the various experiments in socialism which have been attempted this century. What it failed to take account of was that man can never be his own salvation. Just saying that this is so does not make it so. It was based on a wrong assessment of man's nature, and of his potentialities. Political movements aimed at achieving justice in the world are wrongly founded insofar as they do not demonstrate an appreciation that individual people are the source of injustice. A true striving after justice would begin with the individual and his own culpability. But it is not characteristic of human beings to see themselves as the problem, and this is why the ultimate truth of these matters lies in the realm of religion, and not politics.
"If there was no God it would be necessary to invent one". So says Voltaire. Many people regard this as a final answer to the claims of religion. It seems to perfectly express the notion of human beings attempting to grapple with their fears, failures, and frustrations by reliance on a purely mythical being who will serve as an antidote to the myriad problems of existence. Of course there is no God! He is simply an invention of weak-minded and dependent individuals who need a security blanket.
The problem with this proposition is: just why do we need to invent God? Exactly why does the human mind think in these terms? Why is humanity geared for a life of religious contemplation and spiritual experience? The reason why it would be necessary for man to invent God is precisely because there is a God! A God who provided us with spiritual faculties. Man's need for a God is born of his innate awareness that there is in fact a God in existence. God communicates with man - with all men - on a spiritual level that modern man - as distinct from the people of primitive tribal societies - fails to understand. Man is incomplete to the extent that he does not cultivate this side of his being, and in its absence he will create substitutes for God. Why does man need to invent God if he is the product of impersonal forces such as those propounded by the theory of evolution? Isn't it strange that man should have evolved with some inner sense of the divine, when it is plain God played no part in his creation? These kind of loose-ends do not exist in the world of nature. If we are a cosmic accident I submit that man should have, and would have, been provided with the kind of brain which did not think in these terms. That man "would need to invent God" is about the best proof we have that there really is a God in the universe. That man functions in a spiritual realm is the best reason for thinking that there is a real spiritual dimension to the cosmos!
There is no better illustration of the persistence of religious thinking than by considering the history of religion in the Soviet Union, a state where, for most of the twentieth century, atheism has been the official line of thought; where religion would have been abolished if the Marxist regime had had its way; where the forces of officially endorsed atheism had their very best chance to completely eradicate religion from society. Why did they not succeed? Because there is a spirit within man. The survival of Christianity in the Soviet Union proves that religious experience is not just some passing whim on the part of humanity, but a fundamental aspect of man's nature -and therefore, it may be conjectured, of the whole nature of the universe.
The politically "progressive" and intellectually sophisticated in today's society reflect the same thinking on the question of religion as did the Soviet regime in 1917, and Marx in the nineteenth century. According to Marx, religion was a delusion used by the ruling classes to enslave the proletariat. Since the Bolsheviks came to power there has been no bourgeoisie in Russia indoctrinating the masses with religious propaganda. Why then has religion survived and even gone ahead in the Soviet state? The answer is that religion is not something amenable to political analysis. Marx failed to understand the true nature of religious experience. Similarly, during the liberated sixties many people, proceeding from deeply felt ideological impulses, were totally convinced that the phenomenon of marriage would simply disappear from view, as an outmoded institution. Yet the continued popularity of marriage proves that there are sides to humanity which are destined to remain forever beyond the dictates of ideological dogmas.
The political movements of the sixties were left-wing in orientation. On the surface it might be assumed that there was a high degree of admiration for the Soviet Union. This is not strictly speaking true. The attitude of student protesters in the 1960's to the Soviet Union was not quite so straight forward. There was actually little sympathy among western radicals for the Russians. Hardly anyone who took part in the political protests of the time actually believed Soviet communism held out much hope for humanity. There was little to be inspired about. Everyone knew that the Soviet Union was a cold, grey, political monstrosity. An ossified, bureaucratised, monolithic system ruled over by profoundly conservative leaders. The real attitude of political progressives to the U.S.S.R. was that hostility to the Soviet Union was a product of Cold War anti-communism. Since this way of thinking was palpably wrong, everything which flowed from it was prima facie wrong until proven otherwise. What this meant in the case of the U.S.S.R. was that all negative attitudes towards the Soviet Union should be minimised or ignored so as not to run the risk of validating traditional thinking, in accordance with the dictates of their highly systematised world view. At the same time, there existed a dogged faith in the ultimate truth of Marxist inspired thinking. Interestingly though, the brands of Marxism which were idealised were those of Third World countries like Cuba and China, as embodied by Fidel Castro and Mao Ze-Dong (Brezhnev and Kosygin were not heroes of the protest movement!). The reason why these individuals, and the political systems they presided over, were so admired was because they represented what has been described as a "spiritual form of Marxism". This was to be distinguished from the relatively sterile and bureaucratised Soviet brand of communism. The latter was characterised by a preoccupation with the use of military power in pursuit of old fashioned (Russian) imperialism. The Marxism of Mao and Castro on the other hand was more in tune with the prevailing ethos of the western youth culture. Here the emphasis was on a truly internationalistic outlook involving ideas of "continuing revolution", a permanent state of fervour, which would spread outward from the revolutionary state and engulf the world. This was demonstrated in China by the Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution (and more notoriously by the Khmer Rouge in Kampuchea). A recurring element is the attempt to create "the new man". Ideas similar to these formed part of the political thinking of Leon Trotsky in the early Soviet state - he wished to ignite a world revolution; consequently he was popular with sixties' activists too. The commitment to sustained revolutionary zeal in these countries was irresistible to the idealistic youth of the sixties. There was no sense here of the exercise of pure power politics; Cuba and China were not strong enough to play a truly strategic role in world affairs. Of course the Cubans have engaged in a whole array of wars going on in the Third World over the years. However, the essential point is that, even now, Castro's Cuba embodies in the minds of many activists a truly popular revolutionary movement, serving as a model for other pre-revolutionary states in the Third World, and an inspiration for new avenues of political action in the western world. Part of this is an overly romanticised view of the underdeveloped world, reflecting the self-hatred which so characterised the thoughts and feelings of the baby-boom generation, in the face of all evidence which might lead to a contrary view. This has now become an "ism" in its own right - "third worldism"; another angle in the ideological war which divides the western world.
The politics of the sixties was followed by a backlash from the so-called "religious right", as if to underscore the fact that the political conflict possessed a religious dimension. In the United States this took the form of a movement spearheaded by Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority. With the rise of organised religious fundamentalists on the political scene, born-again Christians became the main standard bearers of conservative politics. Religious fundamentalism and right-wing politics went hand in hand. Secular philosophy in the modem world had culminated in the radical political movements of the sixties. A counterpart had arisen in the form of, not a conservative political movement as such, but conservative religion. The whole scheme of human thought in the modern era immediately became apparent to anyone who bothered to think about the world in a philosophical way. In the nuclear age we are being pushed to formulate a rationale for our existence. Accordingly, humanity has divided into two camps. On the one hand there is a secular liberalism devoid of absolute statements of certainty. The only rule is that man must take ultimate responsibility for himself, guided by his rational thought processes. This is a path of political activism premised on humanistic conceptions of society, morality, and social progress. The alternative view is a conservatism borne of a traditional respect for the idea that there are higher realities to appeal to in understanding the world and guiding our behaviour, the most obvious being belief in God. This is not to say that all political conservatives believe in God or are particularly religious (though the two generally coincide).
As for what it really means to be a "conservative" in the Australian political context, the present Labor government delights in describing the Liberal and National parties as the "conservative parties". This is, intended as the ultimate put-down ("Look at these staid, boring conservatives, ho, ho, ho!") The great irony of this is that in trying to denigrate Liberals by use of a pejorative term, our Prime Minister pays them an entirely undeserved compliment! The fact is that the Liberal Party has never possessed a truly coherent conservative political philosophy. They are not worthy of the name. Theirs is a conservatism of simply staying where you are. They are not to be compared seriously with the genuinely ideologically-based conservatism one finds in Britain. This is a conservatism of ideas, beliefs and convictions quite uncharacteristic of these wishy-washy Australian conservatives".
Religious fundamentalism arose as the natural antithesis to left-liberalism, but Christianity itself was beginning to reflect the changes taking place in wider society. If left-liberalism had become the pseudo-religion of secular culture in the sixties, its impact on nominal Christians, for whom religion had lost its hold on the imagination, was riveting. Mainline Christian denominations had been in a state of steady decline since the nineteenth century. Fundamentalists would assert that this is a direct result of watered-down teachings on such matters as the resurrection, the virgin birth, the miracles of Christ, the Garden of Eden, and so on. They have suffered falling attendances, and a general sense of irrelevance, because they are directionless, vacillating, and lack a clear commitment to the tenets of their faith. The attraction of the fundamentalist and evangelical churches is precisely their claims to absolute truth. This answers the human need for certainty regarding the great questions of life.
Mainstream Christians have sought to inject new meaning into their religion by de-emphasising the miraculous and "mythical" aspects of church teaching; by adopting "higher criticism" in Bible interpretation (the belief that the Bible is not directly inspired by God); and by attempting to make this religion acceptable to a rational and humanist society. This is neatly summed up in the term "modernism", and is frowned on by fundamentalists of all persuasions, be they Protestant or Catholic.
The condition of spiritual emptiness within the institutionalised churches has produced a not altogether surprising reaction. The vacuum has been filled - in the case of mainstream Christianity - by a version of the Christian message deeply influenced by secularistic political philosophy. Proponents of this kind of thinking contend that this is the true meaning of Christ's teachings for the modern world. According to this outlook Christianity is made relevant through political action aimed at bringing peace and justice to the world. In this way love for humanity is demonstrated, and this in turn helps to bring about God's kingdom on earth. The more extreme form of this tendency is known as "liberation theology", in which Marxist analysis is utilised to show that the true message the Bible is expressed through ideas of class struggle.
These beliefs are held by only a small minority of professing Christians, but a far greater number accept a view of Christianity which is sympathetic to such ideas. This is a liberalised form of religious teaching based on the conviction that Christianity demands political action on behalf of the underprivileged. This is what is meant y the term "the social gospel".
Liberal Christians have attempted to make their religion more appealing by injecting an element of political consciousness, but have clearly lost something in the process. It is by no means certain that they have succeeded in giving new inspiration to flaccid and aimless Christians. They have certainly not satisfied the deepest spiritual cravings of their adherents. In this the fundamentalists have been more successful. It is said that this is because they provide simple answers to the big questions of life. Indeed, fundamentalist Christians are generally portrayed by the politically aware as simple-minded fools who lack the intelligence and sophistication to be able to come to grips with life's complexities. This assessment is shared by both secularistic thinkers and their compatriots in the mainline churches. But what the fundamentalists have done is to demonstrate that belief in the reality of a personal God, and the expectation of divine intervention in everyday life, is a valid part of human existence which can neither be overturned by the hardened skeptics of a materialistic culture, nor nullified by faddish social and political attitudes.
Religion is still very much alive and well in the smart and sophisticated western world, but the history of the political and philosophical movements of the post-war era suggests that here to there exists a deep longing for the religious and the mystical. The ferment of the sixties was more spiritual than political, it had more to do with the Age of Aquarius than the Age of Reason. Some of the dominant ideas of recent times have clearly possessed this character. In its anti-war phase, the baby-boom generation embraced the Vietnam War as if it were a religious cult, to be invoked like a magical incantation, a measuring rod to divine and exorcise the various ills of the world. Here were all the formulas and symbols of religious life in full bloom. The geopolitical issues involved were never really all that important. I could sit down and engage in a reasoned discussion with someone about why the U.S. should, or should not, have participated in World War I (or World War 11 for that matter). I could not reason with someone about America's participation in the Vietnam War (any more than I could reason with a Catholic about their religion!) because in this case one is clearly dealing with a total philosophy of life. However right or wrong they may have been about Vietnam geopolitically, they were only using Vietnam as a pretext for a general assault upon traditional values and beliefs.
In another sphere of thought, evolution has been set up as a substitute for the God of Judeo-Christianity. Because it purports to explain man's origins, it is more than just another scientific idea. It goes to the heart of our understanding of who we are, what we are, and our relationship with the cosmos. Evolutionary thought would almost qualify as a faith to compete with the great religious ideas of our time. (In fact, in the legal battles fought in the United States to have "creation science" accepted in schools, it has been argued that evolution is actually a "religion" in its own right, and on constitutional grounds should therefore to be banished from the class-room!)
Our beliefs about the world are a guide to what we think about ourselves. To some extent we actually define ourselves by what we choose to believe in. It has been observed that figures like Philip Roth (Portnoy's Complaint) and Woody Allen despise middle-class Jewish 8 culture because they hate themselves and their own Jewishness. When we read Philip Roth or view a Woody Allen film, we should forget about the critique on the supposed crassness of middle class Jews, and look at what this preoccupation tells us about Philip Roth and Woody Allen.
The same reasoning may be applied to the politics of the youth movement in the baby-boom era. It isn't that their ideas were so instructive about the meaning of life. Rather it revealed something about the people who chose to think in this way. The feminism of Germaine Greer has probably told us more about Germaine Greer and her problems than about the state of women in contemporary society. Left-wingers can be defined more in terms of a visceral hatred of anyone who can be described as a "right-wing conservative" than in terms of the things they actually believe in. They impute to themselves the qualities they idealize in the political activists (and activism) which they admire and support. Hence they become in their own eyes people of peace, justice, humanitarianism, and so on. They are simply making a decision about what they are, or rather what they think they are. In truth, they have not become any of these things simply by laying claim to a "set of beliefs". It follows logically that those who incline to traditional, conventional ways of thinking are held to be intrinsically pro-war, pro-injustice and inhumane. A recurring element one encounters in discussions and debates with left-wing activists is a tendency on their part to resort to abuse and verbal obscenity. Following criticism of leftist ideology in a letter to a local newspaper, I received a phone call from an individual who wanted me to know that in his opinion I was a 'f--wit". This very "sixties" style language was reserved for anyone who couldn't be described as a raving radical. I have never myself used this language or even thought about others in this way. Even admitting the fact that radicals use such language to signify a break from traditional constraints on behaviour, it occurred to me that personal abuse is basic to the whole mind-set of these individuals. It actually forms part of the substance of what they believe about the world. Even those who will not use a four letter word will resort to Keatingesque terminology such as "jerk" or "creep" in describing their opponents. This includes anyone who happens to come within their orbit of hate, whether Wall Street bankers or merely those who do not possess ideologically sound reasoning, and without regard to how honest, decent or kindly such people may be personally in day to day life. They necessarily see others in this light because it represents the converse of how they see themselves. They are after all 'liberals'. More civil minded people holding conservative social values of constraint are unable to indulge themselves quite so freely.
This is accompanied by a generally adversarial attitude to their own societies. Intellectuals are alienated from western society today because it has not provided them with a satisfying way of approaching the world philosophically. In the past, this need has been met by reverence for traditional culture, the extended family, or religion. They seek a role which gives them meaning, so they set about working for it peace and justice" politically. A political approach sees the conflict in terms of one group pitted against another in a battle between good and evil; between those who are politically aware, and those who are not. However, the problems are really spiritual ones, and are not a function of political systems and social organisation. What feeds the illusion that they are, is the creation of a political opposition which provides a focal point for one's activities. The role of the straw-man which is set up and promptly knocked down, is filled by "right-wing conservatives", a collection of people and ideas whose character is defined almost exclusively by reference to left-wing demonology. One is right-wing only to the extent that left-wing ideology defines you as such. All evils are now attributed to this vilified group. (In Marxist thinking for example, war is caused by capitalists - not just people -but specifically capitalists!) With this scheme in place, the idea of effectively achieving reform by political means takes on an air of plausibility. In this way modern intellectuals have re-invented themselves as a moral vanguard.
Political activism premised on these foundations is entirely wrong-headed. You may, for example, agitate for conservation by lying down in front of a bull-dozer. But if you are merely charging your life with meaning through the application of ideological dogmas, to the exclusion of other legitimate arguments in the other direction, you are not thereby acting for the good of all. The battle to intelligently conserve the environment, and the world's resources, is not simply to be equated with the search for meaning by individuals. I believe that the ideological commitment speaks to the psychological and spiritual state of the individual, and that this has characterised the real thrust of political activism and consciousness on every issue from anti-war protest to feminism, since the sixties. Political agitation for things which can and should be achieved politically is fine (eg. the abolition of slavery, which simply required the destruction of an institution) but not when it is simply to indulge a self-serving exercise in egotism and egocentrism. To the extent that this is the essential -motivation behind the activism engaged in, I believe that the political activism is misconceived. People today campaign against nuclear weapons. But insofar as anti-nuclear activists are interested only in the disarmanent of the U.S. and Britain (because they are primarily motivated by antipathy to the western world) their aims are entirely invalid according to my view of things.
Five hundred years ago the greatest human intellects devoted themselves to glorifying God in works of art, literature and music. Today's intellectuals, and those who aspire to intellectuality, now find edification within the embrace of a narcissistic sub-culture of it concerned and aware" individuals. The glorification is now reserved for the corporate identity which intellectually inclined people have constructed for themselves in our secular, spiritually starved world. This is the so-called "new class", whose actual contribution to human progress consists of nothing much more than a shared identity as it socially enlightened" people. Those who criticised Americans because they fell for a feel-good President in the 1980's, have themselves fallen for a feel-good, ego-driven, political philosophy which fails to ask the really hard questions of life concerning our personal shortcomings, morally and spiritually. Is it any wonder this style of thinking is so popular?
When an ABC presenter like Geraldine Doogue talks about Australian soldiers returning from Vietnam "shamefacedly", it is with an air of delicious, almost orgasmic, self-righteousness that she derides these poor fools who went off to fight for their country, notwithstanding that their endeavours would have prevented the Cambodian genocide.
The cultivation of an appealing identity should not be overlooked in all of this. When a Scandinavian country practices fierce neutrality and daring social libertarianism, or when New Zealand bans U.S. nuclear ships from its harbors (a move which is not going to prevent the outbreak of World War 111) it makes the citizens of these countries feel ten feet tall. These are merely contrived substitutes for a distinct lack of any recognisable national character. This is just a game, but it does show the tremendous need people have to possess a special identity of some kind.
This distracts attention away from the real issue. It is the lack of qualities of a spiritual character in the make-up of individual people (not simply their political or philosophical orientation) which has created the mess we are in. Not only are the ideas of our political activists wrong in themselves, but they conceal the truth of man's condition. These people have a false image of themselves as agents of social change. They are wrong to see themselves in this exalted light because their analysis of society's problems is wrong. They are not putting across concrete solutions to issues of "peace and justice". They are merely reinforcing an image they have of themselves.
This is all just another way of asking the question: Who are we? in an age more full of questions than answers. The politics of the contemporary era, with its nihilism, its radicalism, and its secularism are a sign that man is in a condition of spiritual desperation.
Part of the problem is our failure to ask ourselves what really motivates us to think in the way that we do. If we did this we might realise that there are other voices within us pointing the way to a fuller understanding of the world than that offered by the sterile human philosophies which have dominated our thinking since the sixties. These ideas have come to us straight from the bowels of the earth, and are designed for our ultimate destruction. Man's condition has only been worsened by his own attempts to save himself through the force of political ideas. This is a lesson the activists of the sixties generation never learned, and one that their ideological descendants need to.
1. Richard John Neuhaus The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1984)
2. Christopher Lasch The Culture of Narcissism (London: Abacus, 1980)
3. Karl Marx Theses on Feuerbach xi (1846)
4. Michael Harrington The Politics at God's Funeral (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1983.) p. 106
5. Francis Schaeffer A Christian Manifesto (Westchester, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1981) pp.76-77
6. Allan Boom The Closing of the American Mind (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987) p. 359
7. Christianity & Marxism / edited by Alan Scarfe and Patrick Sookhdeo (Exeter: Paternoster Press, 1982) pp. 73-100
8. Pearl K. Bell "The 'Schlemiel' as Intellectual" Encounter June 1988
HO CHI MINH HIGHWAY: A SAGA OF THE SIXTIES
Those who remember the past are condemned to repeat it...
Michael Herr Dispatches
The sixties was dominated by no issue so completely as the Vietnam War. No-one who grew up in this era could escape the impact of the war or the social unrest which accompanied it. Why go over old ground once more on this issue? It is because in the 1990's Vietnam still symbolizes everything the sixties' generation thought it stood for. It is still held up as the arch symbol of western capitalism, U.S. imperialism, etc. The memory of Vietnam and its so-called "lessons" still bedevil U.S. foreign policy to this day. Most of all, it is the clinching argument in the ideological struggles that dominate our culture - namely that the forces of left-liberalism and humanism art-_ the wave of the future (it still serves to give its proponents in the media, the universities and the churches, a clear sense of identity which would otherwise be singularly lacking). If you're talking about political attitudes in the sixties, and the more fashionable social and political views which have come down to us since that time, then you're talking about Vietnam. A dead issue? Invoking Vietnam is as modem as tomorrow.
Yet the question remains, did Vietnam bring about a shift in attitudes, particularly among young people, or did it occur against a background of an already existing state of disenchantment with life in general? My contention is that Vietnam did not actually "cause" the turbulence of the sixties. It was merely one of the more dramatic symptoms of the spiritual decay of western culture, chiefly characterised by a tendency towards nihilistic thinking. The striking thing about this period was that in general the baby-boomers seemed to know more about what they didn't believe in than what they did. Hence there was much "anti-war" sentiment, but there was never much discussion of just what constituted "peace". (It was generally taken for granted that terms like "war" and "peace" were self-explanatory.) We can test the soundness of baby-boom politics, and the popular ideas which it has subsequently inspired, by reference to the greatest cause of the day - the Vietnam War.
I believe that there were cogent arguments against the Vietnam War which were of a strategic nature - arguments related to the questionability of the U.S. getting itself bogged down in a war which may have been considered peripheral to western security, and the disproportionality between the significance of Vietnam geopolitically and the cost in lives and money required to keep South Vietnam from falling to the communists. What I do not accept as valid were the arguments of the student youth movement of the sixties which pictured the communist side in this conflict as heroic freedom fighters, and representative of the national will of the Vietnamese people. The ludicrous romanticisation of the Vietcong (and the traditional love affair among left-liberals with Marxist revolutionary movements in the Third World) betrays the naiveté and recklessness of people desperate to believe in something. These are matters of the spirit, not politics. The hysterical antics of the western protest movements (effectively an extension of the youth culture) dramatically demonstrated that the protesters for peace really knew nothing about peace, and had nothing to teach the world about love. The anti-Vietnam War movement was a textbook study on American sociology, not South-East Asian politics. It provided an opportunity for western youth to indulge in narcissistic self-congratulation for their perceived "awareness" and moral sensibilities. It was a youth-fest. It was a pseudo-religious cult. It was anything but hard headed political analysis. It was also the greatest confidence trick of the twentieth century next to Adolf Hitler and his Nazis! If anything dooms the memory of the Vietnam War historically, it is the fact that it was lost, not any lack of justness in the cause. Whatever Vietnam was, it does not represent a moral indictment of the U.S., but the question remains: Why do so many people desperately want to believe that it does? And even if it was "wrong" (however that is defined), why do people need to believe that it was something uniquely evil?
Opponents of the war were consistently represented as "the best and brightest", "the best of their generation", and all the rest. In fact, the determinative characteristic of anti-Vietnam war protesters was not intelligence, but ego. The two qualities are closely allied and are easy to confuse. The movement was top-heavy in those traditionally possessed of massive egos - movie stars, high profile academics and media people. It was seriously under-represented by the modest, the self-effacing, and the unsanctimonious. These qualities were really out of place in a political environment suffused with attitudes of stridency, arrogance, self-assertion, and - contrary to the supposed ethos of the movement - power-seeking. The hippies of yesteryear are the yuppies of today. Not only did they betray their former ideals by voting for Reagan, but have been at the forefront of the culture of greed and materialism in the present era.
The Vietnam War was called pointless. Anyone who honestly cannot fathom the reasons for fighting the Vietnam War should ask themselves whether the people of Indochina have experienced some kind of national salvation since 1975. The communist takeover has been followed by misery on a gigantic scale. A human tide of refugees has flooded out of Vietnam in an attempt to escape from communist rule. In Kampuchea millions were slaughtered in a genocide equaled this century only by the Holocaust of World War 2. (The world's first "boat people" incidentally were Jews who fled Hitler's Germany by sea. Like their Vietnamese counterparts, they were ignored by the world; left to drift on the high seas by passing ships. When they landed they were pushed back into the sea by countries which did not want anything to do with them.) How bad would things have to be for average Australians to escape political oppression in this country, even if it meant leaving in the comfort of a Jumbo-jet! The Vietnamese boat people have actually risked death on the high seas through drowning, sharks, and attacks by pirates in order to escape communism! The war was fought to prevent all of these things from happening. It is particularly obnoxious in this regard to hear the war in Afghanistan referred to as "Russia's Vietnam". The striking thing about Afghanistan was the outpouring of millions of refugees into neighbouring Pakistan. This was of course entirely the reverse of what happened in Vietnam. In that war millions of refugees did not flee from the U.S. "invaders" as they did before the Russians. -And it was only when the country was taken over by "native" Vietnamese communists that millions did flee. The common denominator here is that people will flee in the face of communism -an alien ideology. The Vietnamese have fled before their "own people", and where have they fled to? To the United States and Australia, chief participants in a supposedly evil war of aggression against the Vietnamese people! In a similar vein, anti-war leftists who have journeyed to Vietnam since the communists came to power express utter bafflement that the native Vietnamese do not possess any particular hatred for Americans "for what they did to their country"!
The rationalization for the refugee exodus is that the Vietnamese are fleeing the poverty of their country, and are merely seeking to improve their lot economically. This piece of left-wing propaganda ignores the fact that people in other impoverished countries, like India and Brazil, are not taking to the high seas and risking their lives merely to "escape poverty". The refugees have left Vietnam, and continue to do so, because the communist political system which they are suffering under offers neither them, nor their children, any hope for the future. This side of the refugee phenomenon cannot be admitted by leftists because it threatens the anti-Vietnam ethos (specifically their philosophy of anti-anti-communism) which underlies their whole critique of western society. The boat people are a complete insult to everything anti-Vietnam protesters stood for in the 1960's. People who ask incredulously "What were the Americans doing in Vietnam?" should ask themselves what the Vietnamese are doing in Richmond, or Cabramatta. The explanation is the same in both instances. The presence of Indochinese refugees in our societies proves that countries like the U.S. and Australia had a legitimate stake in trying to resolve the political turmoil of Indochina.
When discussing the possible re-emergence of Pol Pot onto the political scene in Kampuchea, people sometimes raise the point that there should exist some sort of international security effort directed against the possibility of such monsters from taking power. The fact is that there was an organisation in existence during the sixties which was dedicated to preventing people like the Khmer Rouge from taking power and murdering millions. It was well funded, had official government backing, and international influence. It was called the U.S. marines.
Anti-Vietnam demonstrations were premised on the idea of bringing peace to Vietnam through the removal of the Americans from the country. Once this objective was accomplished neither the subsequent genocide of Kampucheans by the communists, nor the invasion of that country by the armed forces of Vietnam, were deemed to in any special way undermine the "achievement" of the protesters! The idea that the regimes which came to power in Indochina would immediately set about persecuting various elements in society in the name of class war, was similarly regarded as being of no particular significance. They were still viewed as the true representatives of the whole nation. To this day, survivors of the protest era inexplicably refer to the activism of this period as if it were some huge step forward in human progress, with no apparent recognition of the fact that the chaos which followed in its wake viz. boat people and other refugees, Kampuchean genocide, famine, hostilities between Vietnam and Kampuchea, hostilities between Vietnam and China, and so on, were brought about largely through their own efforts on behalf of the communists!
There could have been a peace movement dedicated to the proposition that all sides in the dispute should simply lay down their arms. But this genuine commitment to peace is not what actuated the so-called "peace" protesters of the sixties. The people who marched down the street shouting "Peace now!" were in effect participating in a crime. The crime was, among others, aiding and abetting the Khmer Rouge in their take-over of Cambodia! The naiveté of these people in not anticipating this eventuality could never be laid at the feet of Cold War anti-communists, but it was, and remains, an ever-present element in the thinking of so-called "political progressives" today who heaped scorn on anti-communist philosophy. They did not anticipate what happened in Cambodia.
Consider the words of political activist Dennis Altman:
... for most of the Third World communism was a viable alternative, albeit an unpalatable one in some ways, ... there would be situations where one would favor the communist one over the pro-Western forces, eg. Cambodia today  [My italics] I
This incredible statement came in the course of a harangue directed against anti-communists of the 1960's. These people, supposedly out of touch with what was going on in the world, understood the potentialities for massive repression and genocide which would follow a communist victory. The "politically aware" did not foresee these things. Leftists know this and have devised the fantastic theory that the take-over of Cambodia was really the result of Nixon's invasion of the country in 1970. The Kampuchean genocide is now blamed on - you guessed it - the Americans! This line is pushed by people like William Shawcross in the book Sideshow, and John Pilger in the television documentary Cambodia - Year Zero. The argument runs that the war was brought to Cambodia by U.S. bombing and subsequent invasion. That these actions were precipitated by the use of Cambodia by the North Vietnamese as a staging base for their war in South Vietnam is considered to be of the utmost irrelevance when discussing just who was responsible for dragging Cambodia into the Vietnam War. According to this spurious recitation of the facts, the neutrality of the country under Prince Sihanouk was destroyed by a "U.S. inspired" coup by Lon Nol. This destabilized the country, pushing it into the arms of the Khmer Rouge. The audacity of this argument is breath-taking! In fact, it was a deeply felt antipathy towards the North Vietnamese occupation of their country which more than anything produced conditions favourable to a takeover by Lon Nol, and subsequently Pol Pot. It was a profound sense of national humiliation that their country was being used by the Vietnamese for their military operations in South Vietnam which provided the impetus for Lon Nol's takeover. It was the North Vietnamese militarization of Cambodia which laid the groundwork for the Cambodian debacle, not U.S. military operations. Left to itself by the Americans the country would have fallen to Pol Pot inevitably as a result of Hanoi's victory in Indochina. 2 Despite their subsequent falling out, the North Vietnamese and the Khmer Rouge were allies throughout the course of the Vietnam War. (Prince Sihanouk relates a poignant story about an ancient prophecy of Cambodian folklore concerning a tribe of "black men" who emerge from the jungle and wreak havoc on his country. This prophecy has always puzzled Cambodians because no black people live there. The prophecy has been fulfilled by the Khmer Rouge, who wore the black pyjamas of their Viet Cong brothers.) That these things could never be admitted by leftists indicates the extent to which ideology prevails over reality in their thinking.
This is probably the most egregious example yet of the pathological and almost mindless hatred of America which is the hall-mark of left-wing philosophy. Here is the U.S. fighting with all its might to prevent a communist take over of South-East Asia. The communists eventually succeed, and this results in the systematic extermination of 1-3 million people in Kampuchea, a potentiality which was the very basis of the anti-communist philosophy which put U.S. forces into Vietnam in the first place. What are they going to do? Admit that "right-wing conservatives" were right about something? The fact is that any concession to either anti-communism, or the aims of American foreign policy, is fatal to the whole scheme of left-liberal philosophy. If these things were admitted, the whole panorama of modern leftist thinking would collapse like a pack of cards. To the ridiculous notion that the Kampuchean genocide was caused by U.S. action in Cambodia one can only add "What else can they say?"
What we can say beyond any doubt is that these ideas were, and are, believed in with the ferocity of any of the traditional religious beliefs, because they go to the heart of what their advocates choose to think about the world. They go beyond considerations of logic or rationality. This exposes a significant aspect of popularly held political ideas today. The need for a transcendent belief - to believe beyond belief. This, is part of man's spiritual make-up, ignored in day to day thinking - but which exerts a powerful and profound influence on our view of the world.
We still hear about how the Vietnam War represented "a victory for the Vietnamese people", but we are given no further details about the joys of life under the present regime. Meanwhile, the two halves of the country remain as profoundly divided economically and socially as they ever were, and due to economic mismanagement by its Marxist rulers (combined with the in-built inefficiencies of the Marxist system) the whole country lives under the ever-present threat of famine. Communist rule and inadequate food production always go hand in hand. The communists will tell farmers to get up at dawn, labour until dusk and produce food. The farmer, knowing this will be of no benefit for himself and his family, asks why? Reply: "For the good of the revolution, comrade!" Indeed it is one of the great tragedies of modem Asian history that the people of South Vietnam (forget about North Vietnam!) have not been able to take their place, with countries like, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea as one of the newly industrialised nations of the Pacific rim area. The Vietnamese people clearly possess the application and industriousness to succeed at least as well economically as their non-Communist neighbors.
How, it might be asked, was it possible for a comparatively small number of communists to fight off the greatest military power on earth, unless they had the "enthusiastic support of the people"? The answer is simply that the U.S. never had a policy of actually winning the Vietnam War. Their goal was merely to deny the country to the communists. Has any country in history ever entered a war with the express aim of not winning it? (Bear in mind the fact that the Americans never lost a single major battle in Vietnam!) This was the fatal flaw in the Vietnam policies of Lyndon Johnson. Why did the U.S. not go for broke and simply invade North Vietnam to stop their prosecution of the war in South Vietnam? Answer: because they feared that China would enter the war - another Korea! The certainty of China coming to the aid of communist North Vietnam proves the validity of the containment theory. Obviously the communists of Asia, whether Chinese or Vietnamese, had a political stake in a North Vietnamese victory in South Vietnam.
Veterans of the protest era remain fog-bound in a pre- 1975 stupor. These people have nothing to gain by even critically discussing the post-1975 history of Indochina. Anti-war activists loudly protested that the Americans were standing in the way of Vietnamese independence and self-determination. But in the 1990's we do not hear these people triumphantly expounding on what a wonderful situation the country is in today, which should be the case if they were as right as they claimed to be. The people of South Vietnam are worse off for having being forcibly communised by the rulers of North Vietnam.
Nevertheless subsequent reactions to the political situation in South-East Asia since 1975 say a great deal about the competing ideological views which were current during the course of the war itself, and their respective claims to validity. A former Vietnamese political activist and opponent of the Saigon regime has put forward the following assessment of American student opposition to the war in these terms:
Vietnam to them was a fad, or something they did out of anger at their own government. Now  they don't care, I doubt if they ever did. It's not their fight.
The saddest delusion held by activists was that they possessed a genuine concern for the people of Vietnam. It is possible to prove that this was never actually the case. In the sixties we were told that the peace movement was taking a heroic stand against a super-power pushing around a small, Third World country. If these feelings were really genuine, why is it that no political action was ever taken over the war in Afghanistan? Most people who took part in anti-war demonstrations are still with us. Was Afghanistan not a case of a super-power attempting to impose its will on a small backward country in the Third World? Was it because it did not directly involve countries where the peace movement was strongest in the sixties (the United States and Australia)? This was no deterrent to anti-Vietnam protesters in Europe at the time. Is it because everybody knew that the foreign policy of the Soviet Union could not be changed by political action in the western world? How does this square with the "brave idealism" of the sixties, with its ringing exhortations that anything was achievable; where symbolic protests of all kinds were organised without regard for how realistic the political objectives were (a constantly recurring element in left-wing politics)? We very soon run out of excuses. Was it simply that the impetus for sixties-style activism had dissipated? This argument doesn't work either. In the face of a deafening silence by "peace activists" during the eighties where military action was undertaken by Marxist regimes (the USSR, Vietnam, Cuba) hordes of politically conscious people emerged on the streets in April 1986 when the Americans had the temerity to bomb Libya. The cynicism of this was remarkable for people who have not lifted a finger to demonstrate their "disgust" with the war in Afghanistan. There never was disgust with the war in Afghanistan. There is actually no disgust with any particular war even now! There is no identification with the oppressed masses of the Third World, whether they be of Afghanistan or Vietnam. What there is now, and was then, is a disenchantment with the boredom and alienation of life in affluent western societies. It can be summed up in the term "anti-Americanism" which is symptomatic of a deeper (spiritual) malaise which has infected our culture. Ironically, principled opposition to involvement in Vietnam bears a suspicious resemblance to the traditional lack of interest in the wider world shown by the population at large in both Australia and the U.S. This is really a product of both ignorance and insularity. Non-intervention probably suits the national mood of both countries better than idealistic concern for the well-being of others. In the U.S. this goes by the name of "isolationism". In Australia, it might be termed "know-nothingness". Even when this country did get involved in Vietnam, it was basically a political ploy on the part of our national leaders to get the U.S. enmeshed in our region militarily, in pursuance of our own strategic interests. (In left-wing fantasy, the Australian government was dragged into Vietnam as the obedient lap-dog of our "great and powerful ally". The truth was quite the reverse. It was this country which bullied the U.S. into its military involvement there!) 4
As regards political action aimed at ending war, it is interesting to reflect that this goal could actually have been achieved by a broadly based protest movement in the U.S. which had enlisted the support of people such as construction workers and unionists. 5 These people could have shut America down completely within twenty four hours, and forced the country's leaders to exit from Vietnam. Why did this never happen? It was because of the poisonous anti- Americanism of the anti-war movement. While students were burning draft cards, burning the American flag, and living out juvenile political fantasies, the construction workers were holding pro-America day rallies all across America. It was precisely the warped ideological tendencies of the protesters which made it impossible for these patriotic traditionalists to join ranks with them. This kind of shortsightedness emphasises the political immaturity of the protesters, and highlights the fact that they were in reality more preoccupied with externalising their own emotional hang-ups than with cultivating a sensible approach to world problems. As a matter of fact it is tempting to think that the whole story of sixties activism can be accounted for by one grand theory of adolescent psychology. It may be conjectured that the social unrest and protest at this time was motivated by nothing more mysterious than a desire for unrestrained sexual gratification. According to this view, far from being concerned about the welfare of Asian peasants, protesters who threw rocks at the U.S. embassy were merely attempting to undermine authority through a grandiose gesture, demanding recognition of the fact, and whether they were conscious of it or not, simply pushing the moral restraints of western civilization to their limits. After all in a society which is affording young people the opportunity to engage in total opposition to traditional morality (historically this has been virtually unknown aside from the sixties) aren't they going to try it on? Forget the issues, if your aim is primarily to overthrow all concepts of authority (arguably the principal aim of the youth movement) then it all comes down to the gratification of your own desires, not the welfare of others. The latter is merely the pretext for your actions. Consider the tremendous pre-occupation of sixties activists with sex-related matters. The great issues of the day were (and still are) feminism, abortion, homosexual rights. Every act of civil disobedience was a blow against social restrictions, the foremost - certainly for adolescents - being sexual in nature. A heterosexual who marches for gay rights is ultimately doing as much for the cause of sexual freedom in general, as for homosexual liberation. Were these the real motives behind the activism of the sixties, and not as claimed, simply the demand for "social justice"?
Whatever the truth of this theory, certainly the anti-war activists were guilty of loving humanity but hating people. The youth culture of the sixties was characterised by self-hatred. The image of enraged protesters shrieking anti-war slogans illustrates the fact that they really had nothing to teach the world about how to love one's fellow man.
If someone like Margaret Thatcher had visited a radical university campus in the late 1960's she would have been mobbed by a mass of enraged protesters. A Third World revolutionary like Pol Pot on the other hand, would have been welcomed like a conquering hero, notwithstanding the fact that he would later organize the extermination of three million of his own country-men. (The same might be said of Mao Ze-Dong who unleashed the Red Guards on Chinese society leading to the deaths of many hundreds of thousands of people during the Cultural Revolution - a historical fact which is still only dimly comprehended in the western world). In view of the innocuousness of leaders like Thatcher, what does this say about the political judgment of the baby-boomers? In the main, the political activism of the youth culture consisted of having a good time whilst setting up the people of South-East Asia for take-over by the likes of Pol Pot.
The rampaging students of the sixties are often held up as symbols of youthful dissent from rigid authority and hidebound tradition. The thinking is that a bit of spirited protest from the younger generation makes it less likely that they can be deluded by their elders into fighting in a dubious conflict. The trouble with this is simply that why should any group in society be allowed to take to the streets with its demands, when machinery already exists to change things peacefully? We live in a democracy with elected leaders. If it is a case of different groups in society simply jacking up and refusing to toe the line - be they young people, old people, or people with red hair! - all of a sudden we simply have a society made up of competing interest groups, all warring against each other to get their own way. We elect leaders to make decisions about such matters as war and peace, who are as competent to do so as any student leader or faction from the protest era ever was! This is indeed the trend in western society today (as argued by Jean-Francois Revel in his book How Democracies Perish) 6 and is the down-side of liberated social attitudes, and political activism "to change the world". The irony is that the enemies of the western democracies have not had to labour under these constraints on the exercise of national policy, and as a result, the decline of authority and patriotism provides them with an inbuilt advantage in bringing about a world where we would lose the right to dissent, peacefully or otherwise.
When Hitler invaded Poland in 1939, the universal reaction was that this represented a threat to the western democracies. When the North Vietnamese organised a "spontaneous uprising of the masses" in South Vietnam in the 1960's 7 the reaction of many people, particularly those belonging to the "youth culture", was that this was purely an affair for the Vietnamese people alone, and had nothing whatsoever to do with western countries like the United States and Australia. The Vietnamese communists, it was alleged, were taking up arms solely for the purpose of unifying their country and throwing off colonial rule. The men in black pyjamas were fighting for their country, not for the sake of a Marxist world revolution. The problem with this view is that almost from its inception, the Vietnam War was an exercise in power politics by an aggressive middle ranking power in the region - Ho Chi Minh's North Vietnam. This was entirely in accord with traditional anti-communist beliefs about the inherently aggressive nature of communist regimes. After all why should people who come to power through the barrel of a gun all of a sudden turn into powder puffs once they begin playing a role on the international political stage?
Notwithstanding the efforts of protesters to convey a contrary interpretation of the war, by the late sixties the Vietnam War had turned into an openly unambiguous struggle between two well armed world powers, the U.S. and North Vietnam, over South Vietnam. It was not (and never had been) simply a "civil war" but a geopolitical struggle for territory. The war was characterised by opponents as a mighty military machine (the U.S.) pitted against a tiny backward Third World country, an attempt to defeat an idea with tanks and guns. The fact that the other side, with or without ideas, was amply equipped with their own tanks and guns, and that the communists were acting in furtherance of North Vietnamese foreign policy (as much a part of a war machine as the Wehrmacht) 8 was casually dismissed. The idea that what advanced communism in Vietnam advanced the cause of communism worldwide was similarly brushed aside. The soundness of this view can be demonstrated simply by observing that the North Vietnamese war effort was being subsidised by huge infusions of aid and equipment from both the Soviet Union and China. Moreover, at a time when these countries were almost in a state of war with each other over events in central Asia. When the war ended, the former U.S. bases in Vietnam were occupied by the Russians, not some non-communist world power. So much for blithe disclaimers of monolithic Communism"!
Dissenters from the Vietnam War questioned the validity of the Domino Theory . This represented a serious and coherent belief about the region's vulnerability to wholesale communist takeover at a time when practically every country in South East Asia had been threatened by communist forces. It was an entirely reasonable viewpoint in the context of the times.
As for the issue of forestalling the influence of communist China throughout South East Asia consider the deplorable situation in Cambodia, with the ever-present threat of the return of Pol Pot to power. We have the Khmer Rouge being armed and supplied by the Chinese (as they were throughout the war)! And what do you think constitutes the ideological basis for Pol Pot's mad political theories? It is Maoism, China's own brand of Marxist-Leninist theory with its call to totally destroy the ideas and institutions of traditional society. Anyone who can be identified with this old order is to be liquidated. This was the very basis of the Cultural Revolution in the sixties - itself one of the most murderous rampages in history! It is no accident that these factors coincide in Cambodia. It was precisely the extension of Chinese influence into South-East Asia which was made possible by the communist victory in Vietnam. If Cambodia had been taken over by a bunch of Wall Street capitalists, do you think the same results would have followed? In any event, China at this time was ruled over by a certifiable lunatic (Mao Ze-Dong) who, as well as plunging his country into the madness of the Cultural Revolution, was not unduly afraid of plunging his country into World War 3. Mao reassured colleagues that China had nothing to fear from nuclear war, since, because of its huge population, China could lose hundreds of millions of people and still emerge victorious! Was the image of China as an aggressive, potentially expansionary power in South-East Asia really so outlandish?
During the Iran/Iraq War, received opinion was that it was better for the west that the Iraqis should win the war. The thinking was that the small states of the Gulf could be swamped by Moslem fundamentalism in the event of an Iranian victory (external military pressure from Iran, combined with subversion from within.) This view dictated western policy. I do not recall highly regarded analysts being derided as silly fools because they believed in what amounted to a Middle-Eastern version of the "Domino Theory". It was entirely reasonable in the context of the times to feel threatened by Mao's China. A communist takeover of South Vietnam could do nothing but benefit the Chinese in the long run, since it represented a defeat for the U.S, which was consistent with their ideological world view. Whatever the supposed faults of this interpretation, they are exploited not as a genuine critique of U.S. foreign policy analysis, but for purely ideological ends supportive of the left-wing belief system, which goes far beyond mere matters of international strategy.
During the Iran/Iraq War, received opinion was that it was better for the west that the Iraqis should win the war. The thinking was that the small states of the Gulf could be swamped by Moslem fundamentalism in the event of an Iranian victory (external military pressure from Iran, combined with subversion from within.) This view dictated western policy. I do not recall highly regarded analysts being derided as silly fools because they believed in what amounted to a Middle-Eastern version of the "Domino Theory". It was entirely reasonable in the context of the times to feel threatened by Mao's China. A communist takeover of South Vietnam could do nothing but benefit the Chinese in the long run, since it represented a defeat for the U.S, which was consistent with their ideological world view. Whatever the supposed faults of this interpretation, they are exploited not as a genuine critique of U.S. foreign policy analysis, but for purely ideological ends supportive of the left-wing belief system, which goes far beyond mere matters of international strategy.
However we might view the "domino theory" in hindsight, there is an aspect to the theory of containing communism which was totally ignored by the anti-war protesters due to their ideologically blinkered view of the world. This was that Marxist ideology has always been irredeemably hostile to everything the western democracies stand for, in terms of basic human values (freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, freedom of movement, etc.) There is an ideologically based animus to the non-communist world which, throughout the twentieth century, has given all communist countries common cause, and which has not allowed for compromise. Communist regimes may become more accommodating, but only to the extent that they turn their back on their Marxist principles - as is the case with Gorbachev's reforms, and those of Deng Xiaoping, who is to be commended for dragging China kicking and screaming into the nineteenth century. Of course, this leaves to one side the massacre in Tiananmen Square. In this instance, the protesting students, unlike those in the sixties, had something to complain about! The reforms carried out in Eastern Europe, and the Soviet Union, are a direct result of President Reagan's hard line policies towards the Russians during the eighties, convincing the Soviet leadership that continued rivalry with the U.S. was simply no longer a viable option for an economically, socially, and politically bankrupt communist system.
A unified communist Vietnam - a sizable power on the world scene, as recent history has proved - could only constitute an implacable enemy to western nations, as well as to all the non-communist nations of South-East Asia. This means that in all situations of tension in this part of the world a communist Vietnam could be relied upon to work against the interests of everyone in South-East Asia who is friendly to the west. What was at stake in Vietnam was the entire Indo-China peninsular. These views were simply rejected out of hand by anti-war protesters because of their own ideological predilections. The capacity of these people to continue to interpret the Vietnam War in the way they have, derives from a set of convictions which possess an almost religious aura.
When the Vietnamese invaded Kampuchea in 1978 it was claimed that this was in order to stop genocide being perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge in that country. This is nonsense. The Vietnamese and Cambodians have been at each other's throats for centuries. The Vietnamese did not invade Kampuchea out of feelings of fraternal concern for a dearly beloved neighbour. (Can you imagine the Irish intervening in an English civil war to stop the English from slaughtering each other?) The simple fact was that the North Vietnamese could not stomach Pol Pot's regime for political reasons (specifically for leaning more towards the Chinese than their patrons, the Russians), and wished to extend their power over the whole Indochinese peninsular. The history of Ho Chi Minh's Indochinese Communist Party, and his plans for future incorporation, of not just South Vietnam but the other Indochinese states also, 9 provides us with a historical continuum of militaristic aggression.
As soon as South Vietnam fell so did Laos and Cambodia to communist regimes. And as soon as one of them stepped out of line with Hanoi, it was occupied. Here was a mini super-power in the making, with the fourth largest standing army in the world, occupying Kampuchea. (There was no outcry from peace activists about getting involved in other people's civil wars. Such arguments did not suffice for the Americans in Vietnam!)
Which picture sums up the history of Indochina better? That of the expansionist regional power wishing to exert an imperialistic hegemony over other countries in this area of the world, or that of the downtrodden peasant classes rising up in spontaneous revolution, with a vacillating Ho Chi Minh reluctantly being dragged into the fray by his socialist brothers to the south, a view favoured by the doe-eyed protesters of sixties? It has always intrigued me that the people who used to chant the name of Ho Chi Minh would have vigorously denied the U.S. view of the Vietnam War as having been hatched in Hanoi. (A view universally rejected by opponents of the war by virtue of the fact that it was official U.S. policy!) Yet this man was lionized by the protesters as a great revolutionary hero. If Ho was not effectively the person who engineered the Vietnam War, his status as a Third World revolutionary would appear somewhat suspect. His fame among devotees of the anti-war movement suggests that his reputation was well earned as the catalyst of the Second Indochina War.
Recently attempts have been made to re-interpret the Korean War utilizing the arguments and the language of the anti-Vietnam War viewpoint. (One can almost hear nostalgic ex-sixties activists thinking "I wonder what we can do with the Korean War?") Actually, this example of revisionism is to be welcomed. It reveals fundamental weaknesses in the whole structure of sixties-style anti-anti-communism (why not just call it pro-communism!) The new arguments about Korea proceed as follows: the evidence indicates that Stalin was not as implicated in starting the Korean War as was widely believed in the fifties. The war was then simply a struggle between the people of Korea. Western (ie. U.S.) involvement amounted to interference in somebody else's civil war. Vietnam all over again! Assuming that it is correct to say that the North Koreans invaded South Korea without Russian complicity, how can sixties style anti-war activists who were supposedly committed to "peace", "anti -militarism", and opposed to "wars of aggression" justify the view that in this instance it was dreadfully wrong of the western nations to resist the armed takeover of South Korea by the communists? The answer is simple, and exposes the fatuous nature of this whole view of world politics, vis-à-vis communism and the use of American military power. Their answer is that so long as a war is waged in order to bring about the unity of a nation then such a war is justified. This view leaves one crucial factor out of contemplation, and reveals where the true ideological sympathies of its proponents lie.
Firstly, when we consider both the Korean War and the Vietnam War what do we find? We find that in both cases it was a communist half of the country having designs on the non-communist half. Is this because communists are more passionately devoted to national unification than the non-communists? Hardly. The reason why communists are responsible for initiating these armed conflicts is something which is quite beyond sixties' ideology to deal with. What the baby-boomers in their political naiveté could never grasp is the whole inherently warlike nature of communist ideology which creates situations like the Vietnam War. Korea was a case of naked aggression. (Consider also that in the Gulf War protests started up with U.S. military action, not the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait!) It is ironical that people so ostensibly devoted to "peace" could not seem to comprehend that communist regimes by their very nature are instruments of warfare, and can never be anything but that! Why is this so? It is because the idea of communism is premised on war! When these regimes take power their immediate aim is to conduct class war on undesirable elements in society, such as business-men and shopkeepers, to name but two. In short, anyone unacceptable to their totalitarian system. If the mind-set of people is geared for a war against their own people after they have taken power, this same state of mind clearly dictates their whole view of the world when it comes to the relations between nations. Is it any surprise that the United States should find itself embroiled in wars with both North Korea and North Vietnam in the years following World War II? It is precisely these considerations which make nonsense of the often repeated claim that the Vietnam War was more a question of nationalism than communism. On the contrary, the war can really only be understood by reference to communism, because it was the communist North Vietnamese who initiated the war. Without communism, contrary to popular thinking, there would not have been a Vietnam War!
Why should the South Vietnamese people have been sacrificed the expansionary designs of the communist North Vietnamese? The principle of opposing aggression is commonly accepted. Why should the assumption of sixties protesters have been that the communist side which launched these wars represented the national will? It is because they possessed an ideological framework which caused them to view Marxist ideology in the most favourable light possible. Hence when communist propaganda used terms like "nationalism", peace", "justice" and so on, there was a natural empathy for these expressed principles and ideals. Unfortunately, the baby-boomers lack of historical perspective obscured the reality that such ideals did not amount to much when the communists came to power. To a generation looking for something to believe in there was a natural tendency to think in terms of principle alone. This was especially so for those living relatively carefree, if confused lives in the democratic western countries. As long as it only threatened our yellow friends to the north, communism probably wasn't all that bad. They might even get to like the idea!
With this ideological background in mind it becomes inconceivable for these people to view the South Koreans, or South Vietnamese, as viable societies in their own right. Overt aggression by the communist northern half becomes in their eyes an entirely excusable expression of national unity. In reality, communists can never hold the status of true nationalists simply because they are ideologically opposed to so many facets of practically any national identity you can conceive of - the chief one which springs to mind is religion. This is a dominant feature of virtually every society on earth. What does communism ever do to further this particular national aspiration? One might add desire for self-improvement and individual liberty. The events in Europe in 1989 show just how much ordinary people hate living under communism -as opposed to western intellectuals living in conditions of political freedom, who think that this is a truly wonderful idea! Again, if the North Vietnamese were such ardent nationalists why did they not enter into serious negotiations with the Saigon regime over the formation of a genuine national government in the early 1970's when the Americans clearly wanted to get out of Vietnam altogether. At this time North Vietnam was undergoing intensive bombing by the Americans. If all they really wanted was self-determination for the Vietnamese people they could have negotiated a halt to this aerial destruction immediately. Of course they were ideologically motivated Marxists first and foremost, and would stop at nothing to ensure that only communists would rule Vietnam.
As for excusing aggression because it was in pursuance of unifying the nation, there is a precedent for this approach. It was precisely the desire to unify peoples of German origin which was the basis for the territorial demands of Hitler in the 1930's. His claims to Austria, and the German areas of Poland, Czechoslovakia, and France were all designed to restore the unity of the German nation. The "lesson" of this period is that you don't tolerate aggression, and that you stop it at its source. There is no reason why this principle should not have been applied in the case of the North Vietnamese whose territorial designs were never confined merely to South Vietnam but included the whole of Indo-China, together with an implicit threat to all the other surrounding nations who might stand in the way of their plans.
One of the most striking arguments I ever heard against the Vietnam War was that the communists were really just like the American revolutionaries who fought for independence from the British. The spuriousness of this argument, evidently missed by the politically conscious devotees of the protest era, is simply that the American revolutionaries were fighting only for independence. They emphatically did not possess an ideology which dictated that when they took power they would set about persecuting, oppressing, and liquidating persons belonging to particular classes in society. It is these very features which not only made it ludicrous to see in the communists the embodiment of Vietnamese nationalism, but which should have revealed to genuinely aware people of the sixties the true source of the violence and bloodshed. Not even the right-wing regime in power in Saigon possessed an ideology with the principled and idealised application of violence built into it, in the same way as the communists. People who peddled these misinterpretations of the Vietnam War were either woefully ignorant or active supporters of the communist war effort (in the name of "anti-war" protest yet!) and are thereby implicated in all of the misery the communists have subsequently wrought on the people of Indochina.
The contrary argument is put that the only solution in Vietnam was political not military, and that millions died in Vietnam through the application of cold-war anti-communist philosophy - itself a destructive ideology. This view, in keeping with the feelings of anti-war protesters but not the realities of life, fails to comprehend that Marxist revolutionaries operate through the application of terror. They will walk into a village, disembowel the head man, cut off his head and declare, "Greetings, we are your liberators, and you will do what we tell you." Of course the communists will claim that their first aim is to win the love and trust of the people. This is a worthy sentiment, but failing this, resort will be had to more persuasive methods. For political fanatics why should this behaviour be so surprising. The reason why politically conservative people - but not sixties' style protesters - have always detested communism is precisely because they view this ideology as being on the same level as international terrorism (terrorism of a community, or even an entire nation), by virtue of its totally uncompromising and violent character, and this was as true in Vietnam as anywhere else. Communism has always represented take-over and rule by a political/military elite which never has, and never can, truly represent the interests of common people. (If there is any doubt about this, ask a person from Eastern Europe!) These people would drag their opponents before Senate committees not merely for interrogation and political harassment, but to be taken away and shot!
The "now generation" of sixties' activists, exhibiting a characteristic ignorance of history, drew no distinction between communist revolution, and the concept of a general uprising of a nation. This was the very thing which happened in the Russian revolution. It was only through a later political takeover that the Bolsheviks actually came to power, replacing a democratic government (the Kerensky regime). The failure of communism in Europe in 1989 should not obscure the fact, long accepted by historians, that the success of these ideas in Russia was really an aberration, since Marx's theories were never applicable in the context of a feudal, pre-industrialised Czarist Russia. Marxist ideology is founded upon hatred and violence, but an uncritical reception of its precepts once again testifies to the almost irresistible allure of ideological thinking, and the rhetoric of idealism, to the spiritually starved youth of the sixties.
As for anti-communism constituting a war-making ideology in its own right, the example of Vietnam itself argues against this. It is beyond dispute that the Vietnam War began through political decisions taken by old men in Hanoi, contrary to the assertions of the anti-war movement during the sixties. The North Vietnamese regime decided upon a course of armed revolt in South Vietnam through the agency of men and material which it funneled into South Vietnam, in the late fifties and early sixties and long before any U.S. ground troops were committed to the fighting. (go to an article published in the Economist in 1983 'We lied to you') 10 The longstanding denial of this historical fact demonstrates the wilful blindness on the part of the protesters to the inherently warlike and violent nature of Marxist ideology. The significance of North Vietnam's early participation in the war is that explaining the conflict in terms of big power politics, as opposed to the revolutionary fervour of the masses, largely knocks the stuffing out of the moral outrage associated with the anti-war argument.
The most strident opponents of the Vietnam war were obviously the least informed about the history of communist rule in the twentieth century, 11 Anti-communism was treated by the sixties generation as a hackneyed cliché of the 1950's.
Some time ago a television documentary took a retrospective look at the quaint fifties era. In one segment, an earnest looking individual peers straight at the camera and announces that communism is really nothing more than "red fascism". At this point the audience is supposed to collapse in a fit of hysterical laughter. Ever since the sixties any fool knows that communism and fascism are at opposite ends of the political spectrum. Well aren't they? After all fascists kill millions of people in the name of racial superiority, whereas communists kill millions in the name of human brotherhood. Presumably the latter is preferable. (I know that I would much rather be shot in the name of brotherly love than racial supremacy!)
Similarly, during this period, the conservative Democratic Labor Party graphically depicted the evils of communism via images of mounds of human skulls and bones, invoking the Mongol hordes of Genghis Khan (much to the derision of the cultural elite!). And just what was the lasting image of Pol Pot’s killing fields?: piles of human skulls! An anti-communist of this era has had no cause to revise his opinions in the light of subsequent events.
Communists have killed many more people in the twentieth century than fascists have. Why then did people in the sixties not feel the same degree of distaste for communism as they clearly did for fascism? The answer is that communist ideology purports to be able to solve the fundamental problems of human existence through political activism - the basis of sixties social consciousness about feminism, racial equality, homo rights, and all the rest. Communism posits a universal program for man's salvation which gives it an almost religious aura, and which meets the need to believe there is a future. It addresses itself to more global human concerns than the mere destiny of a single nation or the charismatic attraction of a dictator. Communism also exerts an irresistible appeal on the intellectual plane. After all what is Marxism? It is a program of political change one of whose most basic components consists of raising political consciousness. Intellectuals play a crucial role in this process. Marxism is actually one of the few ideas of our time where if you are an intellectual you are really somebody (contrast Christianity). Normally intellectuals are an irrelevant and ineffectual group within society, so it is not surprising that they are attracted to Marxism. Journalist Paul Johnson has been taken to task for exposing the foibles of this class in his book Intellectuals. 12 Criticism has been made that it is not fair to judge the moral shortcomings and character defects of such identities as Marx, Sartre, and Picasso. But it is precisely the pretensions of Johnson's subjects to play the role of moral exemplars and beacons of truth in the philosophical sphere, which leaves them open to his kind of analysis. Those who engage in sanctimonious pronouncements and postures on social and political issues, but who are really quite loathsome on the personal level, deserve this sort of treatment.
We can discuss the Vietnam War today in a way that we could not in the 1960's because we can look back on subsequent history to see how the competing views look in the light of what has happened since that time. The sixties anti-war viewpoint has been largely blown out of the water by subsequent events; or at any rate now has more holes in it than a Swiss cheese. Latter day refugees of the 1960's political movements are stuck in a time warp of pre- 1975 attitudes, when it was possible to really believe that a new political system might arise which would create a society of justice, peace and equality, in Vietnam, and for that matter every other impoverished Third World country, via Marxist revolution. Since then it has been obvious that the communist regimes of Indo-China have been a massive disappointment in this regard, and have vindicated the anti-communist views of the Cold War era.
None of this can be openly admitted for essentially ideological reasons, which have to do with the nature of the political beliefs of the baby-boomers of the sixties. What they believed was actually in the nature of a religion. It was almost as if the Vietnam War was some kind of God, to be worshipped and adored. It helped to fill a spiritual void. Any admission of error would amount to denying one of the foundational articles of a secular faith.
The old way of thinking was wrong and outdated, and it could be summed up in one compendious term: "right-wing"! For the protest generation of the sixties to admit that they might have been wrong about communism would mean that a single plank of right-wing thinking was correct. If this is the case the whole sixties' ideology collapses around their ears - on this single issue alone - because the activism of this period was premised on a commitment to an almost religious faith in a correct system of interlinking ideas called "ideologically sound reasoning". This was contrasted with anything which could be termed conservative thinking. This made the baby-boomers friendly to Marxism - not because they really believed in the tenets of this ideology - but only because it constituted a rejection of white, western civilization, which had failed to give their lives any meaning or direction. The baby-boom generation saw Marxist revolutionaries in a heroic light not in terms of a global struggle between well-armed powers, but on a personal level. This is because they (and liberals of the present day) possess the same ideological foundations in social and political attitudes. It was not necessarily unqualified support for Marxist ideology, but an admiration for "freedom fighters" and those opposed to the status quo, more or less simply because here were people who, unlike the culture which surrounded them, believed in something. It amounted to a shallow understanding of the world and of history. The irony of this is that in their idealism the baby-boomers considered that they were riding the wave of history (it was more like the ripple of history) and that their view of things represented the dawning of a new era of human progress. The baby-boomers were a generation which sought to find a meaning and identity within itself, having been supplied with no such sense of identity or belonging by the established institutions of authority. It was the rejection of all accepted concepts of authority and traditional ideas which was at the heart of sixties protest. This was the principle article of faith.
The surface attraction of Marxism was that it represented an idealistic system of belief-, in a world of unbelief, without any anchors in traditional culture, belief for its own sake! Indeed sixties' activists generally engaged in a game of one-upmanship endeavouring to put oneself across as more radical than the next person. Here we see sixties' narcissism in full flight. The need to appear intelligent, aware, and concerned via political activism, may be the product of social factors peculiar to the mid-twentieth century such as mass communications and advertising, as well as self-absorption and spiritual emptiness. Ironically, and despite the intentions of the protesters, this may represent the ultimate triumph of America's Coca-Cola culture - the victory of image over substance! But again I have to ask, were these people really all that concerned about the welfare of the people of South-East Asia?
Consider also the failure of America's allies to support U.S. policy in Vietnam. Was this a prudent reluctance to get involved in an unjust struggle? This would no doubt represent the left-wing view. My thoughts run along different lines. In the mid-sixties John Lennon declared that he was more popular than Jesus Christ. This provoked a storm of outrage in the United States, because there people actually continued to believe in something! Such a reaction in Britain and Europe would have been inconceivable. In America, unlike Europe, there still existed a commitment to moral values. The Europeans simply did not want to get their hands dirty with somebody else's problems. I daresay there would have been no reaction to the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands in sixties' Britain before the advent of Margaret Thatcher, because the requisite moral resolve was not there. What happened in the sixties throughout the western world was the appearance of an ideology of nihilism, and we are still experiencing its effects.
Proponents of sixties style ideology continue to get away with murder over Vietnam because there are so few voices of moral authority around today, who care enough about the world, and are prepared to speak out in defence of traditional moral and spiritual values. (I think of this as the "conscience of conservatism".) These convictions, if expressed would effectively counter the voices of nihilism and relativism which sow so much confusion on social and political issues, such as our understanding of Vietnam. The lack of moral values in the youth of the sixties, and the inability to perceive a moral dimension in American foreign policy, would seem to follow fairly automatically.
Vietnam is often spoken of as the "bad war" as opposed to World War II - the "good war". 13 It is time this idea was scotched once and for all. Don't people realize that in the social context of the sixties, the U.S. would not have been able to sustain a war even against Adolf Hitler? Such was the state of moral decadence of western (particularly American) society. The same language of "not getting involved in the problems of other nations", America should stop imposing its will internationally, would have been raised ("Why are American boys dying in North Africa simply to defend Europe?") and so on. Of course a major difference would have been the absence of Jewish activists in this case, who would have rightly anticipated wholesale slaughter of European Jews by the Nazis. This would have effectively decapitated the anti-war movement.
Leaders of Third World nations could, and no doubt do, take this lack of national will into consideration when plotting expansionist and provocative actions internationally. In 1991 it is Saddam Hussein. In years to come it will be the leader of a major power with nuclear weapons who will know that he can face down the western democracies and impose his will. He will take his cue from the sixties, as a demonstration that western society lacks sufficient moral fibre to put up with the pain, suffering and sacrifice required to stand in his way, a degree of suffering which he will gladly inflict upon his own people.
Andrew Mack of the Peace Research Centre, in language reminiscent of the sixties, says that war must only be contemplated when the issues are "unambiguous". 14 No war is ever completely unambiguous, and it is totally unrealistic to approach problems of international conflict in this way.
Opponents of the Vietnam War could have actually been proved right in retrospect. If the Communist takeover had been followed by nothing more than the implementation of a mildly authoritarian political system which amounted to nothing more than an alternative way of organising society, politically and economically, it might be possible to argue that America's participation in the war was an over-reaction to the situation. However, this argument went out the window as soon as the first boat-people began washing up on our shores. The plain, unadorned fact is that the U.S. was fighting against evil in Vietnam, though this has necessarily been denied by Vietnam cultists to this day.
The whole youth-protest movement of the sixties should be viewed on the same plane as another youth related phenomenon of the period -the advent of the Beatles. I once heard a rock music commentator bleat imploringly "who will be the next Beatles?" Many people have asked this kind of question. They do not understand an essential element in the development of the youth culture of that time. The popular assumption is that the Beatles became a musical sensation because they were so artistically gifted and innovative; that they thrust themselves onto the world stage through sheer force of talent and charisma. The fact is, however, that far from singlehandedly turning the musical world upside down, they were themselves simply a creation of the baby-boomers, just as Elvis Presley had been created by the newly affluent youth generation of the fifties (the first instance in history of young people with money, and the ability to exercise economic power). In the early sixties the youth culture was just waiting to create someone (or something) like the Beatles. If it hadn't been the Beatles, it would have been someone else. There never was, and never is, going to be "another Beatles", not at any rate until there is another historical phenomenon like the sixties', post-war, baby-boom generation. (It is sobering to consider that Hitler rose to power on the backs of the post-World War I baby-boom generation in Germany! Look at the close identification the Nazis made between the Fuehrer and hordes of children, and other youthful admirers.) Vietnam War protest can be seen in substantially the same light. The Vietnam cult tells us more about the baby-boom generation than serious issues of foreign policy and international affairs. The Vietnam War had its peculiarities, but it was really just another war. The truly unique thing about Vietnam was simply that it coincided with a generalised youth revolt against the sterility of modern culture and the accepted ideas, values and institutions associated with it.
The baby-boomers attitude to the question of war in general was both confused and contradictory. In practice, this enabled them to have it both ways. Opposition to the Vietnam War was intended to denote an abhorrence of war in general. The attitude of the great majority of protesters was active support for the communist side in the war - a decidedly pro-war stance. This was based on the idea that the communists were engaged in a just struggle for their country. Evidence that the war was initiated by the North Vietnamese makes this forbearance of war-making and military aggression even more incredible. Activists could swing between these positions depending on the nature of the debate they were involved in and the kind of arguments they encountered from the opposition. This is understandable. After all pacifism as such is quite indefensible to the vast majority of people. On the other hand, a protestation of pacifist-style thinking possessed an irresistible attraction to idealists of the sixties. If they had been genuinely anti-war they would have eventually found themselves marching against the Vietcong! Supporters of the Vietnam War were in reality no more "pro-war" than most of the protesters.
This proves that the ideology of the baby-boom generation did not amount to a truly coherent political philosophy. What they possessed was more in the nature of an attitude to the world, one not overly influenced by considerations of reality. It is argued that the youth movement had genuine grievances to air about the state of the world. On the contrary, sixties' idealists were suffering from a kind of psychic "disease". Their thinking and their behaviour was an aberration; the product of underlying motivations unrelated to the substance of the issues which they addressed. Their attitude to war proves that this was the case, and that they were in thrall to a sterile system of rhetorical slogans and formula statements.
The idea that war is purely a function of social organization, and that "peace" can be achieved through political activism, are mere assumptions grounded in humanistic philosophy.
How do we conclude that people who called themselves "anti-war" were any such thing? What do we mean by the word "war", or the word "peace". If you had asked a typical student back in the sixties' about his views on war and peace, he would have said "Sure, count me in, I'm anti-war!". This statement is to me unintelligible, because I cannot see how anyone, other than a complete pacifist, can divorce himself from war. The question of war and peace is in reality not a political issue at all. It may not even be a philosophical one, but it is definitely a spiritual one. It is a conundrum which lies deep in the soul of individual men and women. It is not a condition amenable to mere political solutions, no matter how much this idea may be pressed upon a desperate and believing world. The mere declaration that we possess an "anti-war attitude" does not by itself signify that we have contributed anything to the general problem of the inherent aggressiveness of man, or are in any special way the instruments of a new age of peace. Did the masses who attended Moratorium demonstrations in the sixties and seventies go away spiritually rejuvenated individuals committed to attitudes of peace and non-violence in their personal lives? I doubt it. If a hundred thousand people walked away from these demonstrations with this attitude, having experienced a truly meaningful personal change, I am sure this would have had some noticeable impact on society - and I don't just mean in terms of gearing up for another round of political demonstrations! This does not appear to have ever happened, to my knowledge.
Following the Vietnam War millions died in the killing fields of Kampuchea or drowned at sea while attempting to escape from the communist regime in Vietnam. That these things occurred during a period of "peace" following the "war" in Indo-China, appears not to have inspired any rethinking by ex-sixties protesters about the meaning of these words or the wisdom of their endeavours in the cause of "peace". The inability of people to perceive this reveals the illusory nature of the political idealism of the sixties. A supposed attitude of peace was all sixties' activists could really lay claim to, and even that was rather dubious. There was arguably no actual revulsion with war at all, merely an infantile reaction to the general sterility and boredom of life by a generation of people hungry to charge their lives with some ostensible meaning. This they accomplished by posing as the pioneers of a new era of "progressive thinking". Manning Clark has said that this was the first generation of Australians who didn't believe in anything. It is not surprising that this should have given rise to a somewhat twisted perspective on the world. Intellectually inclined people sought solace in feelings of solidarity with other like-minded people. In this way they achieved a sense of meaning, purpose and identity. This was all really a self-indulgent fantasy rather than a historical reality, but it is one which continues to captivate people.
Those who stated their opposition to the Vietnam War bought the whole left-wing package of gay rights, women's liberation, pro-abortion, and so on. They became protagonists in the ideological war of our time, where specific issues were not centrally important, only an underlying philosophical stance consisting of an antagonism towards traditional ("right-wing") values and belief systems (especially ideas of God, country and family), and a generally adversarial attitude to their own societies.
There is no solution to the problem of war which can be understood in the language of political reformism despite assertions to the contrary. The problem here is not the lack of answers. It is the whole basic nature of the question. Just what is the real underlying cause of war? Anti-war activism was based on the idea of being anti-militaristic. It was almost as if it was armies, generals and the machinery of war itself which was perceived to be the problem. In reality, warfare is simply the final expression of the violence, hatred and aggression, inherent in all people in all situations of life. These attitudes are apparent to anybody who ventures out on to the main road in a motor vehicle. It may not be called war but all the underlying attitudes necessary to create war are present for all to see. It is spiritual demons within us all which we have to confront. This is something Christian teaching addresses but which anti-war activists would not want to know about, because they prefer easy, ego-soothing formulations. It is the teachings of Christ which direct us to the hard questions of life - not stylish, trendoid political philosophy. Simply doing away with armaments, or singling out so-called "militarists", "imperialists" and "right-wing conservatives" for blame is not going to solve the problem. What then constitutes a Christian attitude to war?
A Christian should not, in pursuance of his Christianity, support any war (nor a "people's revolution"!). In no sense do I express approval of Vietnam by reference to Christian teaching. But there is a difference between conventional wisdom and the New Testament discipline, and according to conventional wisdom, war is simply a necessary evil (because human nature in its present form is necessarily evil). Hardly anyone subscribes to philosophically based ideas of pacifism because they are so totally impractical. Christ taught his followers to practice pacifism, but this was a pacifism related to the influence of evil in their personal lives. This is an exercise of faith, not logic. His teaching was that evil comes upon us by the hand of God, even if it is through the agency of the Devil. To argue that God is not finally responsible for everything which happens in human life necessarily implies that God does not exercise ultimate power over his creation. This is why God in the person of Christ came down to earth and allowed himself to be crucified by mankind. He was taking ultimate responsibility for the creation upon himself, thereby making it possible to redeem all men. It is part of God's plan for mankind that we should be tested by evil. When Christ says "Do not resist one who is evil" (Mat.5:39) it is wrong to accept this as a simple call to pacifism in a philosophical sense. True Christian pacifism is premised on the expectation of a real God who will intervene to save a person from the threat of aggression, or alternatively, will accept the violence suffered as a punishment which God expects us to endure, as Christ endured his sufferings. It takes spiritual discernment to understand this. (Contrast this with humanistic ideals of pacifism based on an appeal to reason and rationality.) It is a demand that we acknowledge God's ultimate sovereignty in all aspects of life, that he knows what he is doing with us even if we don't. This is what faith in God is all about. Its ultimate expression for the individual Christian is to let evil come upon him, if that is the will of God, and to accept the consequences as a test and/or a punishment. Whether this implies that one should not come to the aid of another who is being attacked is another question. Here, sacrificing oneself on behalf of another may be a greater principle. This is something the individual Christian has to work out for himself. The idea that a personal God will either supernaturally save you from violence or test your faith by allowing you to suffer it, does not even enter into the thinking of the secularist, ‘political pacifism’ of leftists.
These principles do not have much relevance to the conduct of foreign policy in the international sphere, and it is somewhat pointless to try and frame a critique of Vietnam, or any other conflict, according to Christian doctrine. There is no such thing as a "just war" according to the New Testament discipline. Conventional thinking is the only guide in practical terms. Christ's teaching could be applied on the national level in principle. If a nation will submit itself totally to God's rule; if it will clean itself up morally, getting rid of drug abuse, crime, immorality, corruption, homosexuality, abortion, and every other affront to God; if the nation's leaders will get down on their knees (in Australia this lot would fall to Messrs. Hawke and Keating!) rend their clothes, cry out to God in repentance and beg for his mercy; command the entire nation to go without food and water for 24 (or 48) hours; then, and only then, could a nation expect God to intervene and keep the nation from having to go to war, and the need to defend itself through military action. There is not much point in pursuing this line of argument in relation to the modern nations of a morally decadent western world.
A Christian attitude to war will not be judgmental of others, and will see the issue in terms of the culpability of all people ("No one is good but God alone" Mk.10:18). Nowhere in the Bible is war-making" expressly spoken against in the same way as idolatry, adultery, or dishonesty (the sixth commandment forbids pre-meditated murder not killing per se.) This is because war does not represent some kind of distinct course of wrongdoing which you can put into a box and neatly delineate. It is simply the final result of evil tendencies which all people possess, such as aggression, lust and greed. Indeed, in the Old Testament war comes upon the Israelites as punishment for sin which they were expected to endure (Judges 2:14- 15), and not something to be avoided through the efforts of "politically aware" peace activists! (In the Book of Judges God actually commands the tribe of Judah to fight against the Canaanites, and in Numbers 1:47 the tribe of Levi is excused from the duty to take part in warfare!) A purely political approach to solving the problem of war pits groups of people against each other in an "us and them" situation. The attitudes inspired by the anti-war movement did not appeal to the spiritual nature of man. Rather it set up an adversarial attitude between people, and produced a lot of "mental violence" in all concerned. Adopting these attitudes did not help one to understand the desperate need to become a better person in life. The only solution to the problem of war will be a spiritual renewal of man's heart; a change to his basic nature, not a mere change of mind on the philosophical plane. And that is something no humanly based political movement is ever going to accomplish. The Vietnam War and its aftermath, and the anti-war movement it inspired, all bear witness to this depressing fact.
1. Dennis Altman "Anti-anti-communism" Quadrant December 1973, p.95
2. Peter W. Rodman "Sideswipe: Kissinger, Shawcross and the responsibility for Cambodia" The American Spectator March, 1981
3. Doan Van Toai "Vietnam: how we deceived ourselves" Commentary March 1986, p.42
4. Coral Bell Dependent Ally : A Study in Australian Foreign Policy (Melbourne:, OUP, 1988)
5. Stanley Rothman & Robert Lichter Roots of Radicalism : Jews, Christians and the New Left (New York: OUP, 1982) p. 29
6. Jean-Francois Revel How Democracies Perish (Brighton, Sussex: Wheatsheaf Books, 1986)
7. King C. Chen "Hanoi's three decisions and the escalation of the Vietnam War" Political Science Quarterly Vol. 90(2), 1975
8. Nigel Young An Infantile Disorder : The Crisis and Decline of the New Left (London Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1977) p. 177-178
9. Stephen J. Morris "Vietnam's Vietnam" Atlantic Monthly January 1985 p.76-77
11. Scott McConnell "Vietnam & the 60's generation" Commentary June 1985 p.42
12. Paul Johnson Intellectuals (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1988)
13. Studs Terkel The Good War (New York: Pantheon Books, 1984)
14. Andrew Mack "To go or not to go" The Bulletin August 28, 1990 p. 33