The middle speaks out through the actions of its children.
I remember the anti-Vietnam protests of 1965, 1966 and 1967.
Those marches, sit-ins and campus disturbances were clearly demonstrative of two different American cultures, separate and unequal, blind to each other’s passions and points of view.
The first was the point of view of the group we now broadly label “the Greatest Generation” — the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen of World War II, along with their spouses.
They were, for the most part, children of the Great Depression. They viewed their service in World War II with a pride their children respected, but seemed somehow unwilling or unable to emulate, especially when it came to participating in a different war whose motives seemed murkier, and whose outcome seemed less certain, than was the case in the conflict with the Axis powers 20 years earlier.
The other universe consisted of the “Boomers,” who seemed children of privilege compared to their parents. This was the first generation weaned on TV, the first to reside in suburbs, and the first to harbor the real possibility of going to colleges and universities their parents could only have dreamt of attending.
To them, their parents’ proclamations about “your country, right or wrong,” seemed the mindless rantings of the brainwashed rather than the thoughtful musings of those who genuinely believed in their government.
For the Greatest Generation, the “domino theory” used to justify our intervention in Vietnam not only made sense, they had seen it in practice.
As a result of Pearl Harbor, Americans learned that being blind to aggression not only didn’t make the aggressor go away, but rather encouraged him to engage in further acts of aggression. To them, better to stop the communist menace in Vietnam, rather than on the shores of California.
But for their children, Vietnam wasn’t Germany, and Ho Chi Minh wasn’t Hitler.
And so there they stood: Parents against children; hard-hats against hippies; cops against kids; beer drinkers against pot smokers; and the establishment against the counterculture.
Anger and slogans defined the sides, with both unwilling and unable to accept the possibility that while the other side might be wrong, they were sincere in their conflicting positions.
And then came 1968, the Tet Offensive, and the pronouncement by the paragon of America’s middle class, Walter Cronkite of CBS News, that maybe this war was unwinnable after all.
Suddenly, the student rallies got larger and the passion on the other side diminished.
Everyone wanted out of the war, and while members of the Greatest Generation didn’t march in the streets with their kids, their silence now spoke volumes to the Johnson and Nixon administrations.
The Occupy Wall Street rallies are the Vietnam rallies of 1968, 1969 and 1970, as opposed to the rallies of 1965, 1966 and 1967. The parents may not be in the street with their kids, but they are clearly with them in spirit.
There are no “America Right or Wrong” or “America — Love It or Leave It” signs this time around.
Parents are not threatening to disown their kids but rather seem proud they are willing to demand that the criminality the bankers and brokers may have been involved with from 2003 through 2007 deserve action from the Justice Department.
Fairness demands accountability, and fairness demands action. That’s what these parents taught these kids, and now these kids are carrying those values and the anger onto the streets of New York City and the rest of America.
Thus I’d argue that Occupy Wall Street is the middle speaking out, albeit through the actions of their children.
After all, it is the middle class whose houses are at risk of foreclosure, the middle class whose income has stagnated, and the middle class whose children are graduating from college with staggering amounts of debt and pitiful prospects for work.
Occupy Wall Street may well dissipate or even fizzle out when the days grow cold and darkness comes at 4:15 p.m.
But never think this was about kids rejecting the beliefs and values of their parents, as seemed to be the case early on in the Vietnam era. Rather, this has been about kids honoring their parents.
• Michael Goldman of Marblehead, Mass., is a senior consultant with the Government Insight Group and an occasional columnist for the Salem, Mass., News.