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Penny Lewis: Hard Hats, Hippies, and the Real Antiwar Movement

Penny Lewis is an assistant professor of labor studies at the Joseph P. Murphy Institute for Work Education and Labor Studies in the School of Professional Studies at the City University of New York. This essay is adapted from her new book Hardhats, Hippies, and Hawks: The Vietnam Antiwar Movement as Myth and Memory, published by Cornell University Press.

Decades after its conclusion, the U.S. war in Vietnam remains an unsettled part of our collective memory. Members of the military, veterans, scholars, journalists, and artists continue to revisit and reinterpret the war, assessing its historical significance while seeking meaning for wars fought today. Despite the efforts of our political elites to put the ghosts of Vietnam to rest, the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have prolonged these discussions. Books and articles with titles like "Is Afghanistan Another Vietnam?" abound. The economic and political imperatives that drive U.S. foreign policy, the appropriate use of force, the domestic costs of war, the treatment and trauma of veterans, whether today's wars are "winnable" or "worth it"—appropriate or not, those are some of the many points of comparison and concern.

Yet to some observers, the antiwar movement that quickly emerged (and faded) after 9/11 was a different beast from that of the Vietnam era. "The first thing you notice about the antiwar movement is that it isn't your father's," quipped New York magazine in 2005. "It's no longer the good workers of America against the crazy liberal elitists."

To the extent that our memory of Vietnam remains ambiguous, it underscores the nagging uncertainty that the United States was left with after that war. But amid this incomplete accounting, some dominant myths emerged that continue to hold sway. An important one is a narrative about the antiwar movement, which informs our contemporary understandings of class politics as well as of the social sources of support for protest against war in the United States....

Read entire article at Chronicle of Higher Ed.