Despite my unswerving refusal to attend classes—even ones I enjoyed—Madison reshaped my perception of reality. And I’m not talking drugs, though they did reawaken a spiritual sense that all those yeshiva years had exorcised.
When I arrived in 1965, the University was beginning to smolder with anti-war dissent. But not for me. While I hadn’t given Vietnam much thought, I, along with all the people I knew prior to college, supported the war even as we scrambled to find ways not to fight.
I was aware of the unrest around the campus, but was absorbed in adjusting to an entirely new life. This included dealing with a roommate proud to be chosen as the token Jew in a gentile fraternity. Oy vey.
Sometime during my first semester, however, colorful posters in the dorm announced that an upcoming anti-war roadshow would be visiting my building.
Contrarian that I was, (am?) I wrote a list of “questions” designed to challenge and shred any potential argument against the war. Full of myself, I actually expected to convince the tour they were marching to the wrong tune.
The social room of Ogg East was packed. Most residents shared my pro-war views and were vehement about their opinions. Raised voices were the norm—though not from the other side of the divide. The anti-war group simply let the pro-war anger and insults roll by until eventually the room settled into an uneasy silence.
Which was when I trotted out my bulldog attack and re-raised the temperature.
Every “question” I asked was backed by cheers of agreement. Question after question, cheer after cheer. If there was a time when the anti-war folks wanted to return the jeers, this was it. Question after question, cheer after cheer, but their quiet responses suddenly shut me up.
I was an idiot. Not because the questions were stupid. Not because I was embarrassed by the dorm residents’ behavior and their refusal to even listen. Because the anti-war answers made more sense than any of my, or anyone else’s, arguments or attacks.
On that night, in that room, the world I knew shifted. The calm arguments had chiseled away my inbred trust of our government. That blind faith was replaced by an understanding not only of the war itself, but Vietnam as a logical manifestation of policies designed to fuel the military industrial complex (Eisenhower was clearly smarter than I) and the feeding of the rich and powerful.
Our foreign policies (not only Vietnam), our domestic economic inequality, peoples’ distaste for the “other” and our country’s rampant racism, sexism, and homophobia became understandable and of a piece. It all made gut sense. A world view that had been hidden inside just waiting for an invite to surface. Known and now, finally, Named.
More to come…