The Cold Civil War
Heading out the door, the Viper Generation takes its last bow.


Despite all the evidence of the past several decades, you still have not grasped one simple fact: that, just about a century after the last one ended, we engaged in a great civil war, one that will determine the kind of country we and our descendants shall henceforth live in for at least the next hundred years — and, one hopes, a thousand. Since there hasn’t been any shooting, so far, some call the struggle we are now involved in the “culture wars,” but I have another, better name for it: the Cold Civil War

In many ways, this new civil war is really an inter-generational struggle, the War of the Baby Boomers. America’s largest generation, the famous “pig in the python,” has affected everything it’s touched, from the schools of the 1950s (not enough of them) through the colleges of the 1960s (changed, changed utterly), through the political movements of the 1970s and ’80s (revolution and counter-revolution), and into the present, where the war is still being waged.

Your side admired strength, resolve. and purposefulness; we were stuck with weakness and indecision. You saw the world as something to be conquered; we saw the world as a hostile force needing to be appeased. You dealt with life head-on, never complaining and never explaining; we ran home and told our mommies. Think of us as Cain to your Abel, hating you from practically the moment we were born, hating you for your excellence and your unabashed pursuit thereof while we were the ugly stepchildren. Well, Cinderfella — how do you like us now?

Today, we are cock of the walk, king of the world, all our vices are made virtues, and all us sinners, saints. While you were out trying to make your way in the world, earning a living, being responsible, raising a family, paying your taxes, we infiltrated your every institution: the schools, the law, Hollywood, the culture, the government. We learned to train your own weapons upon you and, while you weren’t looking, we shot you in the back with them.

The Cold Civil War, in its early stages, was marked by repeated clashes between the visionaries among the Baby Boomer youth (my dad, the sainted “Che” Kahane, was of course one of them) and their parents, between students and the pigs, between the Free Speech Movement of Mario Savio and the other Berkeley protesters, and the university deans and presidents who at first resisted them but quickly and cravenly capitulated to hordes of unwashed goliards and — at Cornell in 1969 — to an actual armed takeover of the school’s Willard Straight Hall on, fittingly, Parents’ Weekend, by gun-toting black students. Heck, we even got our heads proudly bashed in on the streets of Chicago during the 1968 Democratic convention.

Those were heady early days, marked by the Left’s generational blitzkrieg against an unprepared and astonished Establishment. To hear my dad tell it, our side couldn’t believe how easy it was. I mean, here we were, ready to almost lay down our lives for what we believed in — and what we believed in was basically nothing, disguised as “protest.” We were the bastard idiot children of Rousseau as filtered through the nihilists of the 19th century, seething with rage against the Burroughs Soft Machine, but otherwise pretty much clueless as to what, exactly, we were protesting — except, of course, the draft: “Hell, no, we won’t go,” was our ultra-patriotic battle cry. We sure knew what that was about. And yet we rolled through our parents’ and grandparents’ generation like the Panzers through Poland.

And they capitulated so quickly and so completely — especially the academics, who made the French in 1940 look like the heroic Warsaw Ghetto fighters under Anielewicz in 1943. That was the moment when we realized that the universities, far from being instruments of the oppressor, were actually ours for the taking and a natural nesting place for the long term, pretty much in perpetuity. Even after we so clearly provoked Mayor Daley’s coppers during the convention, and later during the “Days of Rage” — “direct action” was our euphemism for violence and vandalism — the Walker Report blamed it all on the fuzz and said what happened in the streets was a “police riot.” Can you believe that? By May 1970, what had begun on the steps of Sproul Hall at UC Berkeley just six years earlier was essentially over, and we had won.