College campuses during the Vietnam War era are remembered for masses of students rallying or holding sit-ins to protest government policies, the draft, and U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia. Things are much quieter this time around. Several University professors, some of whom are experts in the history of the 1960s, say today's students are relatively passive about the war in the Persian Gulf. They attribute this to the fact that the war started only 42 days ago. But many said if the war lasts several years, as the Vietnam conflict did, campus activism may reach the same height. They added that even though widespread demonstration has not occurred yet, today's protesters are more active now than protesters in the 1960s were at a similar stage in the Vietnam War. The professors said the campus protests to date show that students today are actually much less tolerant of war than those of the '60s. "Today's student peace movement attempted to prevent the outbreak of the war . . . it's been going on for six months already," former Annenberg School Dean George Gerbner said. "The students are better organized, and although they've been fairly dormant since the active outbreak of fighting, I think they are ready to seize the initiative and take the leadership as soon as the opportunity presents itself." Gerbner said the example of Vietnam, when protests came "too little too late," has influenced student protesters today. He said the students are more aware of media censorship and more skeptical of government policies. History Professor Michael Zuckerman, who has taught a class on the 1960s, said he thinks the University's peace movement exceeds that of the early Vietnam War days. "The kind of anti-war rallies there have been on campus are bigger than anything mustered within three years of the war," Zuckerman said. He added that criticism of U.S. foreign policy "took a lot longer to generate in Vietnam." Some professors said one differnece is that troops were sent to the Gulf more suddenly and with more force than in Vietnam, in which the buildup of troops dragged on for several years. They said this, along with instantaneous media coverage, has left little ambiguity in people's minds -- students either support the war or they don't. "There is a difference in circumstances," Peace Science Professor Stephen Gale said this week." If today's students were in the Vietnam era, they'd probably react very much the way [students of the time] did." Other experts downplayed the similarity between the two situations, saying the students and the times have changed too much to recapture the activism of the '60s. "The generation that opposed the war in Vietnam were baby boomers, and that means a tremendous amount of people born in a small stretch of time who all went to college in the span of the war," Psychology Professor John Sabini said this week. "Plus, the anti-war movement was born out of the civil rights movement . . . the atmosphere of resistance to the status quo was already in the air." Some professors also said the draft of the '60s heightened students' anger at the Vietnam War, as did the high number of American casualties. "If things went on for five years and students saw 65,000 Americans dead, things would be different," Gale said.Comments powered by Disqus
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