Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Myth of the Hardhat Hawk

From In These Times:  http://inthesetimes.com/article/15226/the_myth_of_the_hardhat_hawk/

Was the working class really the biggest proponent of the Vietnam War?

BY Bhaskar Sunkara July 18, 2013 

In 1969, Richard Nixon commended “the great silent majority” of Americans who supported the Vietnam War while Vice President Spiro Agnew denounced the “effete corps of impudent snobs” who opposed it. This story has become ingrained in our national mythos: Blue-collar workers driven by patriotism supported the war, while resistance came from liberal intellectuals and degenerate hippies. But City University of New York sociologist Penny Lewis argues in Hardhats, Hippies and Hawks: The Vietnam Anti-War Movement as Myth and Memory that this dichotomy is a crafted fiction.

Iconic events of that period did fuel notions of a pro-war working class. In 1965, AFL-CIO President George Meany said that “for America to surrender, to withdraw, to abandon its solemn commitment to South Vietnam would be the first step toward a world holocaust.” And in 1970, construction workers in Manhattan physically assaulted demonstrators at an anti-war rally. Then there was the invented history, apocryphal stories of veterans thanklessly defending liberty abroad only to be spat on when they returned home.

Lewis’ own experience helped her re- cover the lost “countermemory” of this period. The daughter of two service members, she grew up with veterans, many of whom were suffering from economic hardship and deeply opposed the war. The poll data she summons suggests her experiences were the rule, not the exception: Elites were more likely to support the war, workers more likely to oppose it. By 1971, 60 percent of those with college degrees supported withdrawal, but even more—80 percent—with only a grade- school education did as well.

Close to a quarter of those who served in Vietnam participated in the military anti-war movement. Black youth from disadvantaged back- grounds numbered disproportionately in the ranks of non-registrants and deserters. They knew they had little at stake in the Vietnam War.

Lewis’ argument is not that the working class was uniformly radical, but rather that it was split along a left-right divide. Not everyone was against the war, but significant numbers were. Similarly, many workers were shop-floor militants. In 1970, 5,600 work stoppages led to 6.2 million lost worker-days. In 1971, 2.5 million workers were involved in major strikes. The era didn’t begin, or end, with flower power.

Continue reading at:  http://inthesetimes.com/article/15226/the_myth_of_the_hardhat_hawk/

No comments: