As spring slips toward the summer of 1978 we have been treated to only a few retrospective looks at this season a decade ago. Most attention accorded the first tumultuous months of 1968 has been directed toward the anniversaries of the murders of Dr. Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. But 1968 also was the year that the students almost burned down Columbia University, the year of the Chicago Democratic Convention and Mayor Daley and of the conviction that a new, antiwar politics was being put into practice by a special generation of young people. The Greening of America it was called.
Rich old men took their grandchildren seriously when they said they would reject their patrimony and overthrow the government. The word revolution was in fashion, and when younger persons began wearing blue jeans, their wealthy relatives assumed this was a sign that they'd joined the proletariat.
Did the uproar of those years leave us with nothing more than the social acceptability of blue denim and an assortment of ugly neologism-like "life-styles"? Unknown thousands are alive and unmaimed because of the antiwar organizations. Such demilitarization as there may have been in our society is also to the credit of such groups. Without them the involuntary servitude of conscription would still be with us.
Nevertheless, after the cessation of hostilities in Southeast Asia, it wasn't the armies of war, but the armies of peace which disbanded. The antimilitarist groups in the country now carry so little court clout that President Carter had no hesitation in sending Walter Mondale, his step'n'fetchit guy, to spout bellicosities at the U.N. special session on disarmament, while he did likewise at the NATO meetings in Washington.
For a president said to be so conscious of symbolic behaviour, this was an unmistakably legible statement. It said, "I don't even need to give disarmament lip service anymore."
It may be that this depressingly ferocious talk, so reminiscent of prior presidential Democrats Truman, Kennedy and Johnson, is all tactics and maneuvers. The hypothesis would be that President Carter knows he has no chance of getting an arms control bill through the Senate unless he can show the members of that millionaires club he's as good at rocket rattling as they are.
If that's his stragagem, it won't work. These guys may be gun-crazy but they're not dumb. If the president is restorting to such devices to get some kind of disarmament proposal enacted, it is a measure of how weak the antiwar organizations have grown.
The bipartisan consensus on foreign policy which showed signs of coming apart in the Vietnam years has reasserted itself. As has been the case for so many long decades now, it is once again impossible to distinguish between a Democratic and a Republican foreign policy line. Hence the debates in Congress on these matters are incidental and accidental with neither party being the party of lesser armaments.
Individual senators and representatives of both parties are still hostile to the infinitely long and infinitely expensive search for the one weapon that will gain us the ever-vanishing goal of national security. They are few and growing fewer, however. What's happening is that peace proponents are being shut out of electoral politics, and that also means out of ready access to the mass media. We are drifting back into the period when the only way a disarmament advocate can be heard is to commit an act of civil disobedience, and then he is dismissed as a kook.
Not that the disarmament people have ever been strong in our time. Since World War II they've only been able to stop work on one weapons system - the ABM, and that they may have had as much to do with its not working as with the fear it might work too well.
Since the late 1940s the Russians and the Americans have had more than 6,000 meetings on arms control and disarmament. That both sides have gone through the motions so often is owing to the weight of the sentiment of tens of millions, even though, as unorganized individuals, they are politically mute. But practicing such symbolic behavior or disdaining it as Carter has done is skip-rope jumping to Armageddon. For the substance of national security, not the missiles waiting like death underground in their silos, the armies of peace will have to be recruited again.*