Don’t believe what you’ve seen in the movies. Malcom X wasn’t friendly with Martin Luther King, most anti-war protesters were just looking “to get laid,” and plenty of Americans lived through the whole decade without seeing a hippie, save on TV. Jonathan Leaf, author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Sixties, answers some questions from National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez to set our record straight on that infamous decade.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: If sixties radicals “were a small minority on college campuses and were often held in disdain by their fellow students,” why have they had so much cultural influence?
JONATHAN LEAF: Because through Hollywood movies, TV shows, and books, they’ve managed to tell a tale that reflects their own narcissistic vision of themselves as central and heroic to the time. Have you ever seen a Hollywood movie celebrating sixties counter-protesters who supported the Vietnam War? Did you know that hundreds of Berkeley students protested the “Free Speech” radicals? For that matter, how many Hollywood movies have you seen about the soldiers who fought bravely to defeat the Communists in South Vietnam? After the Second World War, Hollywood made films about the heroism of decorated veterans like Audie Murphy. Where is the film about the bravery of Medal of Honor winner Milton Lee Olive III, who, by himself, fought off several hundred NVA regulars to save his platoon?LOPEZ: So who is more the representative sixties college student, numberwise?
LEAF: Self-identified conservatives were a plurality on all but a few college campuses.
LOPEZ: Your chapter on student radicals suggests it was more about sex than politics. Was it?
LEAF: Absolutely. Two former Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) leaders gave me identical three-word answers when I asked them why they joined: “To get laid.”
LOPEZ: Why am I “Not Supposed to Read” Destructive Generation? Is it on the banned-books list?
LEAF: Peter Collier and David Horowitz were sixties radicals who observed the cynicism and depravity of the New Left from the inside. They tell you what the Students for a Democratic Society and the Black Panthers were really like. Hollywood would rather Americans not know this. After all, if all knew this who would pay to see movies like Mario Van Peebles’s Panther, which celebrates Huey Newton?
LOPEZ: What’s wrong with the phrase “the anti-war movement”?
LEAF: All of the most important leaders of the “anti-war” movement — Tom Hayden, Bill Ayers, Mark Rudd, Abbie Hoffman, Katherine Boudin, et al. — were very much in favor of violence and war. It’s just that they wanted our Communist enemies to win. Their love for violence was possibly best indicated when Bernadine Dohrn announced at a national SDS convention that the group should adopt a new salute — of forked fingers — to honor the Manson murderers who ate and then stuck their forks into the belly of the dead but pregnant Sharon Tate.
LOPEZ: Why do you have to bring Barack Obama into it?
LEAF: Most Americans today didn’t live through the sixties. They need to know what it was to judge Obama and the future still to come out of it. This isn’t just because they should know who Obama’s friends — like Ayers and Dohrn — really are. Consider that during the campaign Obama said he wanted to nominate Justices like Earl Warren. As a constitutional law professor, Obama plainly knew what this meant. The American people might have voted differently had more understood that remark.
LOPEZ: Why do you attribute “the decline and fall of the American university” to the sixties? God and Man at Yale was published in the early fifties; it would seem the decline and fall was far along by the sixties.
LEAF: The worst of the tenured radicals took to academia as a way to avoid the draft. Student deferments continued for graduate education, and, realizing that mainstream America was indifferent to their utopianism and intolerant of their sloth, they found a refuge there — and haven’t left. Also, grade inflation began with attempts to keep students from losing draft deferments.