THE BLOG
10/19/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

What a Long, Strange, Thoroughly Obnoxious Trip It's Been 2: Battle Lines

Oh the sheer volume of e-mail I've been getting over the past 48 hours from outraged Boomers and Woodstock-philes. I thought those guys were supposed to be all about peace and love.

I'm not going to bother addressing every single complaint I've received or every issue taken with the piece I posted two days ago. I won't get into how the nonsense I write is, above all, designed to entertain, provoke and make people laugh -- and how even semi-regular readers should be able to spot when I'm being deadly serious and when I'm purposely amplifying my opinion on a subject just to see who I can poke with a stick.

But I will expound on one quick point hinted at in the middle of all that "disgusting, megalomaniacal venom" (as one reader so poetically put it) published here and at my own site on Tuesday. I'll do this because a lot of people latched onto what was essentially a throw-away line and used it to really hammer me -- and I feel like it might be a good idea to clarify exactly what I was getting at.

The line in question was this one:

"...It can easily be argued that the real reason for the Vietnam protests in the first place was that none of the hippies wanted to get stuck going to war -- 'cause, wow, bummer man."

First of all, at its core this was mostly me being a glib smart-ass. Of course it was an oversimplified generalization of what was happening on the streets of America during the Vietnam war -- and I freely admit that it bordered on being in bad taste. (Once again, what do you expect from a guy who lists himself as a "Guitar Hero" in his bio?) But there actually was and is a point worth making about the Vietnam protests as organized and carried out by the Woodstock generation I was so gleefully lambasting -- the people young enough at the time to risk being drafted and sent overseas.

Let me explain it by way of a personal belief of mine (it's one I've also heard Bill Maher espouse): You don't get to call yourself courageous when your actions are essentially being undertaken to save your own ass. Specifically, if you were of draft age in the late 60s and were protesting the Vietnam war, there's a pretty good chance that the impetus for all your outrage at the injustice being perpetrated on the other side of the world -- and make no mistake, Vietnam was absolutely an immoral, unjust, thoroughly unnecessary war -- wasn't so much your conscience as it was the desire not to wind up in a body bag. Yes, of course you didn't want to see innocents die, be they American or Vietnamese, and you certainly understood that 'Nam was a political miasma above all else. But would any of this really have spurred you to action the way the potential threat of losing your own life could? You would've been angry and indignant, yes, but to the point where you were willing to face down a phalanx of riot cops, burn a government document or surreptitiously kite off to Canada? Would you really have taken such drastic measures had you not been so personally affected by what was going on in Vietnam?

Let me answer for myself (and the Woodstock crowd will no doubt claim that this is the chicken-shit nature of my generation, running and hiding while theirs would just as soon have stood up and fought for what was right): If I thought I was gonna be drafted to go get blown up in the jungle somewhere, I might very well be out in the street raising holy hell, calling every political figure currently in power a war criminal. I protested Iraq, but I admit that I rallied with nowhere near the ferocity that I would have had my own rear end been on the line. The threat of imminent death to yourself or those closest to you whom you love -- your friends, brothers, boyfriends, etc. -- tends to really put things in perspective.

Incidentally, do me the favor of not lecturing me on how many of those who protested Vietnam were in college and therefore theoretically may have been subject to exemption. Regardless, the knowledge that all it would take was one slip-up on your part -- or an escalation on the part of the government -- to suddenly land your ass on a bus to Parris Island must've felt like the proverbial Damocletian sword hanging over your head 24/7. Once again, would I be marching in the street and/or doing drugs by the handful if I thought that's what the future might hold for me or someone close to me? Probably.

If the end justifies the means, then regardless of the reason, the Vietnam war protests were an unquestionable good. My issue as stated two days ago was never really about that anyway; it was about how that brand of protest -- the crazy street fair as effective activism -- has been held up as the standard to which all protests since the 60s must, ironically, conform. It goes back to my central argument in the piece -- that those who lived through the 1960s believe that their way of doing things was and still is the right way because, well, it worked back then. The fact is, that kind of activism doesn't really work anymore -- mostly because the political power structure in this country doesn't fear the individual anymore. It fears numbers. It fears group-think.

Regardless of what the "right way" to protest these days may be, why weren't the protests against the war in Iraq larger and smarter than they actually were (when God knows they should've been)? Because hundreds of thousands of young people -- the ones right up the street from you, maybe even you yourself -- weren't in danger of being forced to go to war.

Which leads to one final question, and it's a tough one: Given what we can now witness firsthand, live on TV and the internet, about the horrors of war -- will this country ever see another conflict that mobilizes an entire generation of American kids to march willingly into battle, without protest?

You do a lot of thinking about just what's worth dying for when it's you who's being told -- not asked, told -- to put your life on the line.