• Panel Discussion Compares Politics and Society Across Decades

4/18/2008

“Revolutions Revisited: Reflections and Connections 1968/2008,” a panel held on April 10th in the C. Walsh Theatre, explored various cultural and political themes of the 1960s and today. Timed to coincide with opening night of the musical Hair, the panel focused on the Viet Nam war and its relation to the counterculture of the 1960s.

The panelists included Kevin Bowen, Director of the William Joiner Center for the Study of War and Social Consequences at the University of Massachusetts-Boston, James Carroll, an award-winning author, columnist for the Boston Globe, and Distinguished Scholar in Residence in the College of Arts & Sciences at Suffolk University, and Fred Marchant, Professor of English, director of the Creative Writing Program, and co-director of the Poetry Center at Suffolk University. Moderator Lauri Umansky is Professor of History and Associate Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences at Suffolk University.

Each panelist offered a unique perspective on the events leading up to 1968 and the events that followed. Bowen’s year of in-field Army service, where he lost four of his ten comrades in the few months they served together, left him struggling to make a connection with the “hippies on Beacon Hill” when he arrived home. Carroll, then a Paulist priest, spent his time counseling young men about the draft, all the while in opposition to his father, an Air Force general in charge of counter-intelligence.  Marchant enlisted in the Marines, thinking that he might write about the war.  His unrest with the immorality of the war led him eventually to become one of the first commissioned officers to obtain conscientious objector status in the Viet Nam era.

Umansky urged the panelists to consider interconnections between the anti-war movement and the counterculture of the 60s, asking the panel to think about “hair,” literally, and what it represented to young people in 1968. Marchant drew a direct comparison between the late 50s, when a clean-shaven, closely cropped look connoted success and conventional morality, and the late 60’s, when long hair and
facial hair indicated a certain free-thinking.  Bowen explained that having to cut his hair when he enlisted in the military in 1968  represented a type of surrender of his body and what it looked like to the government. He cited the national headlines accompanying Elvis Presley’s haircut upon the star’s enlistment in the military.  Carroll remarked on the cutting of hair as a parallel to preparing for a sacrifice at the altar, implying that young American men were being “sacrificed” to the war machine. 

The panel also addressed the similarities between the Viet Nam war and our current war in Iraq. Carroll noted that in the 1968 presidential race between Richard Nixon, Hubert Humphrey, and George Wallace, Nixon claimed to support peace, but that once elected, he pursued the war with a vengeance. He warned the audience to take the time to understand the issues in the current political race very carefully. Marchant urged the audience to think deeply about why the United States continues to participate in anti-colonial struggles, and why our government is active in the civil wars of other countries when there is still such great need within our own country. 

The audience, which filled a significant portion of the C. Walsh Theatre, seemed hushed and thoughtful throughout the panel, and were quick to offer a heartfelt ovation at the end of the presentation.  Many students and faculty remained together in groups long after the presentation, discussing the issues raised, and many stayed on for the 8:00pm presentation of Hair.

 

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