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Repeating History? US College Campuses Revive Vietnam-Era Anti-War Demonstration

Daniel Kim Views  

During a rally against the Gaza Strip war held in San Francisco, California, on the 29th (local time), a Palestinian flag is seen hanging in a tent set up on the lawn. AP-Yonhap News

Analysts suggest that the anti-Gaza war protests spreading across U.S. universities bear a resemblance to the anti-Vietnam war protests of the 1960s. With the upcoming November presidential election, the political sphere is keeping a close eye on the impact of these protests.

The Guardian, The Telegraph, and other media suggested on the 29th of last month (local time) that the pro-Palestinian protests share several similarities with the anti-Vietnam war protests. The Guardian pointed out that, like during the Vietnam War, the university protests spread to the national political sphere. The students’ protests are not confined to campuses but are gradually expanding into debates over U.S. foreign policy, leading to division and confrontation within the opposition and ruling parties.

The epicenter of the protests also shares similarities with the Vietnam War. Just as in the Vietnam War in 1968, the forefront of the anti-war movement was Columbia University, a prestigious university in the eastern United States. At Columbia University, students supporting Palestine stormed into a tent protest on campus on the 18th. This led to a chain reaction of protests spreading like wildfire across American universities when President Minouche Shafik attempted to disperse the crowd with the police force.

In 1968, when the Vietnam War was at its peak, students at Columbia University occupied the campus and staged anti-war protests. The police responded with a severe crackdown, leading to the arrest of hundreds. More than 50 years later, these protests are also facing backlash from citizens due to the police’s harsh response, leading to clashes in various places and the arrest of numerous students.

Another common factor is that the incumbent president, the ruling party’s candidate, considers the protests a significant risk ahead of the presidential elections. The Telegraph drew similarities between President Joe Biden and former President Lyndon Johnson. Johnson was the one who first deployed U.S. troops to Vietnam in March 1965. The Telegraph pointed out that although Biden has not deployed ground troops, he is excessively involved in the Gaza Strip war due to his over-attachment to Israel.

Especially with the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate ceremony ahead, the escalation of conflicts in cities regarded as strongholds of the progressive wing is also cited as a common point between the Vietnam War and the Gaza Strip war. The Democratic Party suffered a defeat in the presidential elections after the media reported on the brutal suppression of students at the University of Chicago by the police during the anti-war protests in 1968. The place where the Democratic Party’s convention was held at that time is Chicago, which is also the venue for the Democratic Party’s 2024 convention ahead of the November presidential elections. The Democratic Party will officially select its presidential candidate in Chicago this August.

It is unusual for the Democratic Party to hold a convention in Chicago, considered a home ground rather than a major city in a swing state. During the convention held in Chicago in 1968, anti-war and civil rights activists gathered, and a bloody incident occurred, leaving a dishonorable record of the most violent convention in history. Amid this, fears are growing that the 1968 Chicago convention could be repeated as anti-war groups are reportedly planning large-scale protests at this year’s Chicago convention.

However, Vox, an American internet newspaper, pointed out differences between the time of the Vietnam War and the present. First, it evaluated that the suppression of this protest was attempted more quickly than during the Vietnam War. The Texas Department of Public Safety swiftly deployed police forces to forcibly disperse students at the University of Texas at Austin campus despite there being no evidence of violent protests. In contrast, thousands of students from hundreds of universities participated in the protests of the 1960s, but the scale of these protests has not yet reached that level.

Vox also mentioned that while the protesters at that time were aggressive, burning buildings and confronting the police, the recent protest trends have not yet reached that level, and there are also opposing voices. David Farber, a professor of history at the University of Kansas who has studied American activism, said, “Unlike the 1960s, students can now say ‘I don’t feel safe’ when they don’t like what’s happening around them.”

Daniel Kim
content@viewusglobal.com

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