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1968/2024 Vietnam/Gaza


Historical analogies are always tricky, because analogical reasoning is always tricky. The two difficulties here are on the one hand exaggerating the extent of parallels between similar events, or on the other hand dismissing such parallels because there are differences between such events. (One style of argument that irritates me in particular is pointing out that A isn’t really like B because A and B are different. That’s what an analogy is by definition).

The point of this thread is to explore the analogy between student protests against the United States government prosecution of the Vietnam War in 1968, and those against the Israeli government prosecution of the invasion of Gaza in 2024. The most obvious analogy is that a Democratic president who has carried out an extremely successful progressive political agenda at home may see his re-election hopes dashed by a foreign policy disaster, in no small part because of the political knock-on effects of university protests, and in particular the public perception of those protests, and the way university officials deal with them.

I’m writing this in the context of the situation at Columbia, where classes this week have gone remote, in the wake of the uproar over student protests, and the university’s handling of them. (Relatedly, at least 40 student protesters were arrested at Yale this morning).

Now obviously there are all sorts of major differences between the Vietnam university protests/Gaza university protests situations, but there are also some striking similarities worth considering. A good starting point for considering those could be this (gift link) cogent essay by Nicholas Kristof, critiquing Joe Biden’s handling of the USA’s role in the Gaza invasion to this point.

I’ll mention one major difference that could be easily overlooked, which is that in 1968 less than 10% of the adult population had a four-year college degree, while that percentage has nearly quadrupled in the 56 years since. In other words, the social meaning of being a college student has shifted drastically in the post-WWII era, when college education has gone from a generally elite experience to a middle class rite of passage (this shift was underway in the late 1960s but was still in its early stages. One remnant of that earlier time is the obsession in the right wing and centrist media with elite colleges and universities, that functionally speaking somewhat replicate and preserve the pre-1960s cultural meaning of the concept of college).

It would be a historical tragedy of the first order if Joe Biden’s in my view anachronistic loyalty to the old Zionist vision is a or perhaps even the factor at the margin that leads to the re-election of Donald Trump. But this is clearly a possibility.

. . .

A couple of followup comments:

(1) Obviously the Vietnam war itself was a vastly more important and salient issue to the electorate as a whole in 1968 than the invasion of Gaza is in 2024. In that sense there’s no real analogy.

(2) The analogy that interests me is specifically in regard to student protests. These are significant, I think, because any negative effect on the Biden vote in the 18-29 year old cohort matters a lot, given Biden’s pre–existing edge among younger voters. It’s also significant because of the Muslim/Arab vote in Michigan, and Michigan is one of a half dozen states that will decide the election. The “genocide Joe” meme among the left, and the crypto-fascist fake left, is a real thing, and it really hurts at the margin, which is where this election is being contested.

(3) In that light, look for massive ratfucking efforts at the Democratic convention in Chicago, since obviously those would be tailor-made for enabling lazy analogies in the right wing and centrist media.

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