THERE WAS a look of satisfaction on Jared Israel's face last Monday as he stood on the steps of Memorial Church listening to normally cool-liberal Harvard students walk up to the microphone and tell other normally cool-liberal Harvard students in hot-radical tones what it was like getting your head bashed in at the Pentagon.
It was, unmistakably, a triumph. Israel and other Harvard radicals were letting the system do its own thing, which happened to be self-destruction. And with 500 people sitting and standing on the grass, most of them very emotionally into it, it was obvious that something was happening. Harvard's cool-liberal political style was changing.
Harvard liberals, even left-leaning liberals, have found themselves in an excruciatingly painful position lately. The past year has brought sharp escalation of the war in Vietnam, savage Negro rioting in urban cities, and increased demands for student power on campus. As a result, there are some agonizing choices to be made, choices that have been put off for a long time, but choices that the rapid pace of events are forcing Harvard liberals to make now.
What the escalation and the riots and the demands have done is to increase radical consciousness. The word is "commitment." Commitment has never been part of the make-up of Harvard liberals, and that is what is so hard.
Harvard cool-liberalism means the good old basic beliefs in equality and civil rights. It also means what Daniel P. Moynihan calls "the politics of stability," a fundamental belief in the order. Finally, it means non-involvement, an aloofness from politics.
As a result, Harvard liberals take up afternoon causes--like PBH projects or running art sales for the benefit of Mississippi Negroes. A few work for liberal candidates like John F. Kennedy or Kevin White. But primarily, there is a breakfast-table-argument aura to it all. No one bleeds.
Our Careers and All
This lack of passion keeps you clean. Student politics is farcical. It is left to former Midwestern student council presidents. There are causes and causes. Issues come and go. You cluck your tongue or nod your head. Eisenhower was dull and stupid; Kennedy had style, you know; the Cuban invasion was bad; the Dominican Republic bit was ridiculous; join the Peace Corps; the Poverty Program should at least be given a chance. And so on and on. Many of us don't sign petitions because, well, what of our political careers and all?
But passion, which is a dirty word from the Freshman Mixer to the Class Marshal Elections, has reared its dread head. We are being forced to be passionate or, if we choose not, to be anti-intellectual or perhaps immoral or perhaps wrong.
The war and the riots have been an increasing pressure for a long time. But the student power movement is bringing things home in such a way that the issue cannot be avoided. Besides, everything is inter-connected, as Israel made quite clear at the rally last Monday: "Make no mistake, the University is not neutral in this war." The next step, as SDS leaders explained, was to go after Dow Chemical (napalm and Saran Wrap) and the Central Intelligence Agency (Cuba and NSA).
And for those who were in Washington getting their heads bashed in, it all seemed to fit. That is why Israel was smiling, looking like Oral Roberts hearing the faithful just come straight up out of the congregation to testify.
For those who were listening, listening to the war get worse and to the repression of demonstration get more brutal, the time for the choice was zooming in very fast. Sitting on the sidelines, being cool-liberal and dispassionate was becoming irrelevant. The theme that the Washington demonstrators harped on was: if you're not with us you're against us.
And how frustrating it is to try to convince them that you are with them! Words, apparently, are not good enough any more. Dave Dellinger was talking about "laying your body on the line" in Washington last weekend. You were being forced to get busted, to turn in your draft card.
The pressures were coming from the acts of the system itself. It was almost squeezing you out, forcing you to attack it, like the Pentagon troops forced the demonstrators into their commitment.