May 4, 1970 is a day that will forever be remembered as the day that the United States government fired upon unruly, protesting students and killed 4 of them. They were protesting the United States’ decision to bomb Cambodia as part of the war in Vietnam. They were also protesting the existence of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program that was present at Kent State. They saw it as a symbol of injustice on their campus – their friends, neighbors, and classmates (because of either dropping out and losing their college deferment of the draft, or graduating and being eligible for the draft), nearly all against the war, were being picked up and shipped off to a war that they wanted no part of in the first place. A constant reminder in the back of their head that, “Hey! Your degree in mathematics will be great in mapping coordinates and paths out in the jungles of Vietnam once you graduate! Uncle Sam needs you!”
These kids had legitimate, justifiable gripes against their government. A month before Kent State, only 43% of people aged 30 or below supported the war. It’s interesting to see how it was initially the young demographic that supported the war with most fervor – perhaps, as there had not been a major war since 1953, where current-students would have been too young to really see the effects of war, that they had blind faith in the virtuousness of the government. Perhaps they thought they bought into the Domino Theory, that the fall of one nation to Communism would inevitably lead to the fall of neighboring states to Communism as well. Given the ideals of free speech and communication that were preached and practiced at universities, students could reasonably flock to defeat evil Communist forces that restricted these basic human rights. Though it occurred shortly after the Vietnam War, Pol Pot’s genocide in Cambodia was notorious for targeting the intellectuals, wanting to kill off the educated and brainwash the poor and uneducated to Communist ideals. So it makes sense that one would initially support a campaign to liberate an oppressed peoples and work towards liberating them both physically and intellectually. But, as history shows, Vietnam was an unimaginable quagmire that proved to be too difficult to figure out, costing hundreds of thousands of lives in the process, and ultimately resulting in the United States retreating with its tail tucked between its legs in defeat.
In remembering this date and what happened at Kent State, it’s important to see what has changed on college campuses from then to the present day. No one would argue against the statement that the students at Kent State and throughout the country in 1970 were protesting for a reason – they were protesting for their lives, for their physical well-being. They had come to see what a terrible idea that the Vietnam War was, and that they were still susceptible to being forced to fight in a war that was not in their interests. Whether their methods of protesting were right, that can be argued and debated. Across the country, ROTC offices were ransacked and burned, the students destroying the symbol of their potential impending doom. Groups such as the Students for a Democratic Society would occupy buildings on their campuses, stage teach-ins, and generally disrupt their schools.
What can be seen across campuses today is a much different scene. With the abolition of the draft in 1973, there is no longer an imminent-threat reality to the life of a student. They no longer faced the prospect of having a four-year safe haven, hoping and praying every day that the war will end before they graduated. With that, they could turn they agendas towards social issues. The 1980s were generally a time where there wasn’t much to protest – the economy was trying to recover from the stagflation of the 1970s, and the ushering in of the Reagan and Bush years meant that as a whole, social conservatism was prominent again. There wasn’t much for the activist left to get mobilized about. Sure, there were divestment movements from oppressive regimes such as South Africa as seen at Penn State, but in general, there was a period of general calmness as a whole for activism. The 90s saw students protesting industrial complexes – both the military and prison complexes specifically. This was sparked due to the infamous Clinton crime bill, which introduced harsher penalties to crimes to combat rising crime rates, and also brought about many minimum sentences for drug charges, again to combat crime and gang violence. The conflicts in the Balkans also brought out activists, some arguing that the timing of the Kosovo bombings was used as a coverup to the Monica Lewinsky scandal and that there was more bloodshed because of NATO (and therefore U.S.) intervention.
Regardless, there was a reemergence of student activism in the 90s that has continued to this day. It doesn’t take a genius to guess what military endeavor that the U.S. embarked on in 2003 brought out student activists in large numbers. But as the War on Terror approaches its 15th anniversary, there is war fatigue. The United States has essentially withdrawn from Iraq, it intervened in Libya, and Syria is looking like another civil war quagmire. There is just too much apathy and not enough coverage to warrant outrage from the left on these issues as there was for the Vietnam War. Which brings me to my point – the students in the ’60s and ’70s were demonstrably fighting for something that affected them. People they knew and loved were getting conscripted to fight and die in an unpopular war. It today’s all-volunteer military, that isn’t the case. They’ve had to take up social issues as their cause du jour. But while the students in the Vietnam Era were protesting for their rights and previously were supportive of a war to restore rights to the oppressed in other countries, modern activists do just the opposite.
The left doesn’t have as much to argue for these days. Women have equal rights. Gays got the right to marry. The Democratic and Republican front-runners for the 2016 election both have pro-transgender stances. We are transitioning into what may be the most equal and accepting era in American history. But with these achievements come drawbacks. What we now see on college campuses is the promulgation of the desire for the quashing of free speech. What used to be held as a bastion of liberal ideals has now become “free speech for all that agree with me.” And even then, that notion isn’t always true. Liberal comedians such as Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock now do not do shows at colleges because of this regressive politically correct culture prevalent on college campuses.
Here’s what Chris Rock had to say in an interview with New York Magazine:
What do you make of the attempt to bar Bill Maher from speaking at Berkeley for his riff on Muslims?3
Well, I love Bill, but I stopped playing colleges, and the reason is because they’re way too conservative.
In their political views?
Not in their political views — not like they’re voting Republican — but in their social views and their willingness not to offend anybody. Kids raised on a culture of “We’re not going to keep score in the game because we don’t want anybody to lose.” Or just ignoring race to a fault. You can’t say “the black kid over there.” No, it’s “the guy with the red shoes.” You can’t even be offensive on your way to being inoffensive.
The left has become so fixated on only allowing acceptable speech that they’ve abandoned a core tenet of what made the protests of the previous generations so effective. The key to eliminating what one could perceive as hate speech isn’t through forceful censorship, but illumination. Rather than stand on the merits of their own thoughts, ideas, and speech, confident that their side is the correct one, the left has transformed into radically trying to oppose any speech and viewpoints that differ from their own.
What does it say when comedians can no longer do their material at a college campus because the students will act too offended at a joke or two? Comedians have a special place in society, as they were traditionally these weathervanes of society who got to operate in an open space not generally open to the public. At their core, comedians are social commentators who get to poke and prod at the morals and actions of society, suggesting and critiquing under the guise of comedy.
Take George Carlin’s bit on fat people from Life is Worth Losing in 2005:
while the bit is actually a critique on American culture and overconsumption and gluttony, his jokes would now be labeled as fatphobic. But it would beg the question as to how Carlin could poke at this aspect of our culture without addressing the people involved with the problem. But now making a joke about fat people in the summertime means to the left that George Carlin hates fat people and promotes body negativity. The left does not realize that he is addressing the problem, but as a comedian it needs to be done through comedy. Just because you make a joke about a fat person doesn’t mean that someone hates people, sometimes it’s just funny.
We laugh at Bartolo Colon when he swings a bat, not to make fun of his fat, but because it’s funny.
Now when leftists are presented with opposing viewpoints, they actively try to censor them. In the case of Bill Maher, he got into a fight with Ben Affleck over Islam.
Bill Maher’s point, which mirrors mine, is that liberals need to step up for liberal principles. Liberals believe in free speech, freedom of religion, etc., but are very slow to speak out against intolerance when it involves Islam, for the simple fear of being labeled a bigot.
Where is the left, the student activists, the feminists, and the rest on the issue of homosexuals being sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iran, Afghanistan, Mauritania, Sudan, and northern Nigeria? Where is the left on women’s rights in Islamic countries such as Saudi Arabia where they cannot even drive a car? Where is the left on apostasy – Muslims leaving Islam, where it is punished by death in countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar? It’s absolutely mind boggling to me that the people who supposedly stand up for human rights and equality are mum on this issue because they don’t want to be accused of being racist or bigoted. But to critique and criticize is the basis of a strong and healthy democracy. And this isn’t confined to a specific region, either. 52% of British Muslims believe that homosexuality should be illegal. Debate on the polling methods all you want, but there certainly a clear anti-homosexuality agenda in some, not all, Muslim countries or populations.
I bring this up not to instantly out myself as a bigot (I’m not), but to bring light to the hypocrisy of liberals when it comes to their censure of speech that they don’t like. Bill Maher is an outspoken athiest and liberal, and yet UC Berkeley one of the most liberal colleges in the United States, tried to stop Bill Maher from being their commencement speaker in 2014 after his anti-Islam speech from his show aired. You want to know how you defeat “hate speech” such as Maher’s? You tune out. You don’t watch his show. You don’t go to his commencement address. You bring him in and have a civil debate and discussion as to why his viewpoint is wrong. You don’t go and try to get him banned from campus for something that perceive as hurtful. You know what actually hurts? Getting thrown off a roof by ISIS for being gay. But Bill Maher points out how the left ignores these atrocities occuring, and how a surprising number of Muslims within those countries support these oppressive laws, and he’s labeled a bigot.
He’s not talking about your Muslim neighbor down the street who has a good middle-class job, goes to the Mosque, and tries to keep his diet Halal. He’s talking and criticizing the obvious anti-progressive laws in these either Islamic countries (where they self-identify as being an Islamic nation, such as Saudia Arabia where Islam is the only allowed religion), or Muslim-run countries like Egypt. These countries commit human rights abuses on levels that make issues such as North Carolina’s “HB 2” anti-transgender bill seem trivial in comparison, and yet the left will get riled about that and not the other.
We see this censor of speech occur time and time again, all because the left doesn’t agree with the speech at all. At a recent lecture at UMass Amherst, conservative journalist Milo Yiannopolous, feminist Christina Hoff Sommers, and conservative comedian Steven Crowder were giving a speech on political correctness, and throughout the event, the attendees would shout down any opinion they didn’t agree with. If these places are supposed to be such bastions of open thought and discussion, it sure wasn’t present there.
And all because two of the speakers were conservatives. Hell, one was a first-wave hippy feminist and they were even booing her.
My point being that the left has lost its way. The students in the ’70s were fighting and protesting for rights and freedoms, today’s students fight to not hear speech that they don’t agree with. So on a day like today, remember the ideas and freedoms that those 4 students were fighting for when they got shot by their own government. The left needs to welcoming to opposing viewpoints, not wanting to silence them. You silence them by proving your stance is superior, not by blocking the alternative from being presented at all.Follow @ShaneRider31