The horrific Hamas attack on Israel on October 7, in which some 1,400 civilians were massacred, with babies being decapitated, women raped, parents murdered in front of their children (and vice versa), and grandmothers and toddlers kidnapped, initially elicited a wave of sympathy and support for Israel, and indignation against Arab terrorists, throughout much of the civilized world. Although Jews have been persecuted throughout their history, there was nothing to rival the barbarity of the Hamas attack since the Holocaust – and one would have to go further back to Russian pogroms, and even to medieval times, to find earlier parallels.
But while most Americans – some Muslim groups aside – immediately took to Israel’s side, understanding that the only way for the country to prevent further such attacks (which were the culmination of many smaller assaults ever since Israeli forces withdrew from Gaza in 2005), it didn’t take long for the worm to turn on the country’s college campuses. At the prestigious liberal-arts college in Massachusetts where I taught for 47 years, College of the Holy Cross, the “Peace and Conflict Studies” and Middle Eastern Studies held a faculty panel on the attacks in October, at which two professors suggested that both sides were more or less equally at fault, while the other two (including a professedly Jewish English professor who admitted she didn’t know anything about the subject) denied that Israel had any right to exist at all. A professor and a student who protested these claims were immediately denounced by other students as “fascists.”
What transpired at Holy Cross was only the tip of the iceberg. Across the US, as the Wall Street Journal reported on November 30, “a wave of pro-Palestinian protests has swept college campuses,” sometimes issuing in outright violence. Most of the protesting students are not Muslims, but random American young people (typically with little knowledge of the Middle East, or of Jewish history) who report that “their activism is rooted in a deeply held conviction that the world is divided between the oppressed and their oppressors,” with Israel being the oppressor, and Palestinians the oppressed. As one 21-year-old female student at the University of Massachusetts put it, “Gaza is not a two-sided war,” but rather a conflict that reflects “the resistance of the oppressed [Palestinians] against their oppressor.”
To persons of a certain age, all this brings back unhappy memories. Back in the 1960s, American college students similarly took up the cause of “oppressed” inhabitants of the Third World – that is, the Vietnamese Communists – against their supposed South Vietnamese and American oppressors. Just as today’s students gullibly swallow Hamas propaganda (which inflates casualty figures and attributed a blast near a Gaza hospital to an Israeli rocket when it actually resulted from a misfired Hamas rocket), antiwar protestors in the sixties portrayed the committed Vietnamese Communist leader Ho Chi Minh as simply a patriotic “nationalist” resisting the forces of Western imperialism.
The war’s end brought out the truth, for anyone with eyes to see. Ho established a set of “re-education” camps in which hundreds of thousands who had resisted his movement were imprisoned. Hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese “boat people” braved attacks from pirates and other dangers in an effort to escape to other southeast Asian countries, with many dying along the way: reversing a 1960s slogan, their attitude was “better dead than Red.” Vietnam remains an oppressive dictatorship to this day.
But the Communists’ victory need not have occurred – had it not been for the influence of the antiwar student movement in the US As Vietnam veterans Bill Laurie and R.J. Del Vecchio report in their monograph Whitewash/Blackwash: Myths of the Vietnam War, “there are numerous grateful references to the contribution of the American antiwar movement throughout the body of NVN [North Vietnamese] works on their war museums there are even pictures of Americans credited for their help.” Given the losses that the Communists sustained, culminating in their failed 1968 Tet offensive (misrepresented by American media as a Communist victory, as documented in Peter Braestrup’s lengthy study Big Story), the leadership, as Laurie and Del Vecchio observe, might well have been compelled to withdraw from the war – had they been sure they were “facing a resolute [American] leadership.”
But Uncle Ho and his compadres knew better. As Laurie and Del Vecchio report, “during the Paris talks” on ending the war, the chief North Vietnamese negotiator Le Duc Tho told Henry Kissinger that he “didn’t really need to listen” to Kissinger, “since the antiwar movement in the US would gain for the communists what they wanted anyhow.”
As the antiwar movement, spearheaded by college students, undermined America’s will to resist a Communist victory in Vietnam, the student movement is now increasing pressure on President Joe Biden to back off from his support of Israel’s offensive in Gaza, encouraging him to push for a permanent “cease fire” that will leave Hamas free to resume its terrorist activities once it has replenished its arsenal. As Dan Henninger reports in the Journal, the campus demonstrators are a major part of the President’s “Democratic youth base,” on which he is counting to help secure his reelection.
Let us hope that the President has the good sense and the will to resist the students’ demands.