Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Once more on the hippies against the Vietnam War

Via Edward Sebesta's Web site (his blog is called Anti-Neo-Confederate, I came across this interview with historian James Loewen: A conversation with historian and author James Loewen. Sort of. by Carrie McLaren Stay Free! Issue #18 (May 2001).

Loewen makes an interesting and important point about popular opposition to the Vietnam War, one that's accurate but doesn't fit at all into the Republican "culture war" viewpoint:

Well, education – particularly when it comes to any sort of social study – is very much a mixed blessing in America. Probably the best way to explain this is to give you an example. I once did an exercise where I asked people about what kind of adults, by education level, supported the war in Vietnam. By an overwhelming margin – almost 10 to 1 – audiences responded that college-educated people were more likely to be for withdrawing the troops, were more "dovish". When they explained their reasoning, they usually wrote that educated people are more informed and critical and therefore better able to figure out that the war wasn’t in our best interests. Well, the truth was very different. Educated people disproportionately supported the war in Vietnam, were more "hawkish." Today, most people agree the Vietnam war was a mistake. So, if we follow conventional wisdom, it turns out that the more educated a person was, the more likely s/he was wrong about the war.

Now, when I asked my audience why educated Americans supported the war, they couldn’t figure it out. One thing I heard is that since working-class young men had to go to war, naturally they and their families opposed it. But research shows that when people expect to go to war – whatever educational level they are – they tend to support that war. Because of cognitive dissonance, people come to believe in what they have to do. So I pointed out that there are two social processes, both tied to school, that could help explain why educated people supported the war. One, educated Americans tend to be more successful and affluent, and thus have more allegiance to society. They have a strong incentive for believing that American is fair because it means they earned their success. Two, education is socialization, and socializing teaches people how to conform to the needs of society. The more schooling, the more socialization.
Actually, in the context, I would question his comment about people going to war supporting the war. That's probably true in an immediate sense. But in the context of the Vietnam War, the war itself certainly became unpopular among many soldiers. Veterans were prominent participants and organizers in the antiwar movement.

But his main point is certainly accurate. Opposition to the Vietnam War was greater among less educated people, and among the less affluent, two groups which certainly overlap.


No comments: