One of the under-reported stories from the 1960's is a fundamental change that took place at that time in the male rite of passage. Ever since the first humans began the arduous trek from primitive tribal societies to civilized society, the male adolescent's progression to adulthood included some rite which demarcated childhood from manhood. Most of the time this rite of passage was explicitly designed to evince the young prospective man's physical prowess and courage. There is a clear line of communication from the young tribesman who was expected to kill a lion or bring down a buffalo by himself and the British aristocrat training at Sandhurst. There were always those who did not take part in such rites, but for the culture's elites, evidence of courage were considered a sine qua non to entry into adulthood.
The mass mobilizations of the last centuries allowed everyman to take part in this rite of passage. The Bands of Brothers of WWII, in the retrospective popular imagination, were the apotheosis of courage under fire, solidarity, and steadfastness.
During the Vietnam War the children of the elites, to a much greater extent than in previous wars, avoided serving. This was especially prominent in the children of the liberal elites. As with any complicated and conflictual behavior, all sorts of psychological reactions ensured. Via the beauty of the reaction formation, the covert anxiety felt by many was transmuted into its opposite. The moral of the Vietnam War struggle, for the counter-culture,l was that the truly brave fought against the unjust, imperialistic war. However, beneath the defensive bravado, the anxiety persisted. Mark Rudd documents this in his Washington Post op-ed over the weekend: [HT: Trevor Loudon]
In 1970, when I was 22 years old - the same age as Jared Loughner - I was a founder of the Weather Underground, an offshoot of the antiwar group Students for a Democratic Society. That spring, a small contingent of the Weathermen, as we were known, planned to plant three pipe bombs at a noncommissioned officers' dance at Fort Dix, N.J. Our intention was to remind our fellow Americans that our country was dropping napalm and other explosives on Vietnam, killing hundreds of thousands of civilians. I wasn't among the bombmakers, but I knew what was in the offing, and to my eternal shame, I didn't try to stop it.
I considered myself an agent of necessity in a political revolution. I'm not sure if Loughner, who seems to suffer from mental illness, can be considered an agent of anything. But I'm sure that if, as alleged, he pulled the trigger, he had convinced himself that he was doing what needed to be done.
At his age, I had thought myself into a similar corner. My willingness to endorse and engage in violence had something to do with an exaggerated sense of my own importance. I wanted to prove myself as a man - a motive exploited by all armies and terrorist groups. [Emphasis mine-SW] I wanted to be a true revolutionary like my guerrilla hero, Ernesto "Che" Guevara. I wanted the chant we used at demonstrations defending the Black Panthers to be more than just words: "The revolution has come/Time to pick up the gun!"
Mark Rudd's use of his own experience to somehow illuminate any aspect of the Tuscon shootings is curious at best. What is more interesting is that he cannot yet question his own politics:
On March 6, 1970, the Weather Underground's bombs, assembled in a New York townhouse, exploded prematurely. Ted Gold, Diana Oughton and Terry Robbins - three brilliant and passionate young people who had decided that they must become terrorists - were killed. Only by their deaths was the greater tragedy we were plotting avoided. Emotionally shattered, I dropped out of the Weather Underground but remained a fugitive until 1977.
After I turned myself in, I spent the next 25 years trying to figure out why I had made so many disastrous decisions as a young man. One of my conclusions was to pursue only nonviolent action - righteous action still, but without anger or brutality.
It was never Mark Rudd's goals that were problematic, only his means, yet once the Left determines that its goals no longer justifies its means, it is no longer a revolutionary force, but an emasculated one. If you are fighting oppressors who are tormenting the innocent and helpless, every means must be used; after all, true heroes will risk all to protect the innocent. The young Leftist must either question his assumptions or condemn himself as a coward.
Some in the modern Left believe they can attain their goals by stealth; the election of 2010 has made that problematic. At this point the Left is being repudiated throughout the Civilized world. As Walter Russell Meade has pointed out, the Social Welfare model of the last half of the 20th century has failed and we have not yet found a new model. The great problem for the Left is that they have failed spectacularly. The Soviet Union is now a kleptocracy surviving off oil; China is a State run Corporation; Cuba can barely feed itself and its much vaunted healthcare system is a shambles for all but the well connected who can obtain western (Capitalist) medical care; Venezuela is going off a cliff despite its oil; everywhere Socialism has been tried it has failed to do anything but terrorize and consign its people to perdition.
For the new generation of Mark Rudds, who have not yet surrendered their Utopian ideology, there are few options for exhibiting their courage. They can engage in mindless violence with the anarchists; they can support the oppressed by joining the murderers fashioned in the image of those most lovely of sociopathic killers, "Che" or Yasser; or they can attempt through subterfuge to achieve an impossible dream which has already been repudiated.
The true heroes, men and women of courage, are those few willing to stand up against barbarism in defense of our way of life. This is an intolerable state of affairs.
Mark Rudd has the self awareness to recognize that he desperately needed to prove he was not a coward even as his ideology precluded the possibility of doing so; a generation of 60's radicals are still trying to prove their courage and importance; it would be sad if they weren't still dangerous.