Photo courtesy of PBS
“Hey, hey LBJ, how many kids you killed today?” was a line from a popular song written by Bill Fredericks and sung by a group of school children in US, soon after Lyndon Johnson decided to increase US troops in Vietnam from 59,900 in 1965 to 448,800 in 1967. In fact, during the course of the Vietnam War there were an estimated 5,000 anti-Vietnam songs many of them won adulation within student communities, peace activists and anti-war protesters, and drew crowds to anti-Vietnam rallies which were telecasted all over the world. One may call the Vietnam War as the first television war in history.
The scale of outrage expressed against that war, especially by a new generation of college and university students and staff was something exceptional in history and was never witnessed before. Almost daily sit-ins, boycott of classes and lectures, anti-war seminars and conferences held regularly in university campuses, organized disruptions to spoil official events and what more, young school kids confronting politicians and community leaders who supported US imperialism by remaining silent, became the order of the day and virtually paralyzed university teaching and administration. Anti-war awareness within the university and college communities was phenomenal.
As daily television pictures brought home the scale of destruction and ferocity of US carpet bombing in North Vietnam and Cambodia, which killed not only humans but also pulverized and poisoned natural foliage, water and air, the intensity and sharpness of these protests reached new heights. Officialdom condemned these protests as hooliganism but could not stop them. And when parents saw regular pictures of body bags of their dead sons and daughters (many of whom were involuntarily recruited to the US army) arriving at US airports their anger against the US administration became rebellious. It was this element of inter-generational effective opposition at home which ultimately turned the tide and led US Government to withdraw its forces from Vietnam, end the war and accept defeat ignominiously. The US withdrawal from Vietnam was, above all, a victory to a politically awakened new generation of university and college students. It was the best social return for public and private investment in education.
One of the lessons those demonstrations taught to future war mongers was the need to take control of the media and educational establishments. Because these two are the instruments that primarily influence the thoughts and actions of the young and through them their elderly parents. Thus, on the post-October 7 the US-Israeli war in Gaza, although not comparable in scale to Vietnam, the corporate and official media have taken control of what to tell and how to tell the daily happenings in Gaza. They are certainly not telling the whole truth, but engaged in sanitizing the horrors that Israel has unleashed while demonizing what the freedom fighters are inflicting against the aggressors. There has been constant misinformation about this war and planned weeding out of reporters who dared to be critical of Israel’s actions. It is strange that the corporate media, especially in the West, has neither shown any sympathy towards Israel’s victims nor any condemnation of Israel’s massacre and target killing of dozens of news reporters and their families in Gaza.
So far, the death toll from Israeli bombing has exceeded 25,000 and has made Gaza unliveable and a graveyard for children. But the media continues to harp on Hamas’ rocket attacks and secret tunnels and support Israel’s blitzkrieg to annihilate and the “terrorists” without pressing for an immediate ceasefire. What made Hamas to fire those rockets on October 7 and who created the Hamas in the first place are never discussed. In Australia for example an ABC reporter Antoinette Latouf of Lebanese origins has been sacked because she tried to be critical of Israel. Even Al Jazeera is very selective in choosing its interviewees for fear of US-Israeli wrath. For example, Marwan Bishara a critical observer of events in Gaza, was regularly interviewed during the early weeks of the war but does not appear any more. Al Jazeera is obviously afraid that its regional stations may be attacked as the US did during the war against Saddam Hussain’s Iraq.
Likewise, because of Zionist pressures, universities and colleges in the US and other Western countries are closely monitoring their academic staff and students from expressing anti-Zionist views, which the mistakenly with “anti-Semitism”. In fact, Zionists have taken Harvard University to the court for violating Jewish students’ civil rights and allowing “anti-Semitism cancer” to grow on campus. Even university libraries seem to be blocking cites of radical journals like Counterpunch from being downloaded and read.
Within the educational establishments in the West there seem to be a general disinterestedness among student communities regarding developments in Gaza. Even if there is it is not to the extent of how it was during the time of the Vietnam War. The main reason for this is the technological revolution in university education. The rapid switch over to online teaching in universities there is no need for undergrads to attend face-to-face lectures and therefore the daily presence of students at university campuses has declined dramatically. Empty lecture halls and tutorial rooms with vacant car parks tell this sad story. Since university campuses have lost their attraction for student community life, they are no more the epicentre of collective action to create social awareness regarding critical issues affecting the wider world. This is sadly the missing dimension in the current outrage against Israel’s genocide in Gaza. True, there were scattered pro-Palestine demonstrations organized by variety of groups including university and college students in several city centres from the US to the UK and to Europe, Australia and New Zealand. But they did not have the same bite, reach and impact as previous anti-war demonstrations spearheaded by universities and colleges.
There is also an economic reason to this lackadaisical attitude. The post-cold war neo-liberal order by starving universities and colleges of public funds has made cost of higher education unaffordable to low and middle-income families. In Australia first year enrolment to universities is reported to have fallen for 2024. At the same time, a rapidly growing robotic technology and artificial intelligence has made the employment market to shrink and highly competitive. As a result, there is increasing pressure on college students and undergraduates to complete their studies quickly and enter the job market early. All this have impacted student community life in university campuses which in turn has crippled political activities in campuses.
Up to now Gaza and Ukraine have not received the same degree of attention as Vietnam did in the universities and colleges during 1960s and 1970s. Will this change with the threatened escalation of one of them by dragging Iran, Yemen and Lebanon into it and the US and the UK already engaged in counter action against Yemen?