A Culture of War That Hates Youth

The movement to stop Israel’s murderous oppression of Palestinians is up against the entire military-industrial-congressional complex, writes Norman Solomon.

Harvard University Free Palestine Camp on May 2. (Dariusz Jemielniak, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 4.0)

By Norman Solomon

Persisting in his support for an unpopular war, the Democrat in the White House has helped spark a rebellion close to home. 

Young people — least inclined to deference, most inclined to moral outrage — are leading public opposition to the ongoing slaughter in Gaza. The campus upheaval is a clash between accepting and resisting, while elites insist on doing maintenance work for the war machine.

I wrote the above words recently, but I could have written very similar ones in the spring of 1968. (In fact, I did.) Joe Biden hasn’t sent U.S. troops to kill in Gaza, as President Lyndon Johnson did in Vietnam, but the current president has done all he can to provide massive quantities of weapons and ammunition to Israel — literally making the carnage in Gaza possible.

A familiar saying — “the more things change, the more they stay the same” — is both false and true. During the last several decades, the consolidation of corporate power and the rise of digital technology have brought about huge changes in politics and communications. Yet humans are still humans and certain crucial dynamics remain.

Militarism demands conformity — and sometimes fails to get it.

When Columbia University and many other colleges erupted in antiwar protests during the late 1960s, the moral awakening was a human connection with people suffering horrifically in Vietnam. During recent weeks, the same has been true with people in Gaza. 

Both eras saw crackdowns by college administrators and the police — as well as much negativity toward protesters in the mainstream media — all reflecting key biases in this country’s power structure.

“What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and that love without power is sentimental and anemic,” Martin Luther King, Jr., said in 1967. “Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.”

Disrupting a Culture of Death

This spring, as students have risked arrest and jeopardized their college careers under banners like “Ceasefire Now,” “Free Palestine” and “Divest from Israel,” they’ve rejected some key unwritten rules of a death culture.

From Congress to the White House, war (and the military-industrial complex that goes with it) is crucial for the political business model. Meanwhile, college trustees and alumni megadonors often have investment ties to Wall Street and Silicon Valley, where war is a multibillion-dollar enterprise.

Along the way, weapons sales to Israel and many other countries bring in gigantic profits. The new campus uprisings are a shock to the war system. Managers of that system, constantly oiling its machinery, have no column for moral revulsion on their balance sheets.

And the refusal of appreciable numbers of students to go along to get along doesn’t compute. For the economic and political establishment, it’s a control issue, potentially writ large.

President Joe Biden with members of the National Security Council meeting on Israel in the White House Situation Room on April 13. (White House/Adam Schultz)

As the killing, maiming, devastation and increasing starvation in Gaza have continued, month after month, the U.S. role has become incomprehensible — without, at least, attributing to the president and the vast majority of congressional representatives a level of immorality that had previously seemed unimaginable to most college students. 

Like many others in the United States, protesting students are now struggling with the realization that the people in control of the executive and legislative branches are directly supporting mass murder and genocide.

In late April, when overwhelming bipartisan votes in Congress approved — and President Biden eagerly signed — a bill sending $17 billion in military aid to Israel, the only way to miss the utter depravity of those atop the government was to not really look, or to remain in the thrall of a dominant death culture.

A vigil on Feb. 26 in Washington for Aaron Bushnell, the active-duty member of the U.S. Air Force who self-immolated outside the Israel embassy to avoid being complicit in genocide. (Elvert Barnes, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 2.0)

During his final years in office, with the Vietnam War going full tilt, President Lyndon Johnson was greeted with the chant: “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?”

Such a chant could be directed at Biden now. The number of Palestinian children killed so far by the U.S.-armed Israeli military is estimated to be almost 15,000, not counting the unknown number still buried in the rubble of Gaza. 

No wonder high-ranking Biden administration officials now risk being loudly denounced whenever they speak in venues open to the public.

Mirroring the Vietnam War era in another way, members of Congress continue to rubberstamp huge amounts of funding for mass killing. On April 20, only 17 percent of House Democrats and only nine percent of House Republicans voted against the new military aid package for Israel.

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Higher learning is supposed to connect the theoretical with the actual, striving to understand our world as it truly is. However, a death culture — promoting college tranquility as well as mass murder in Gaza — thrives on disconnects. All the platitudes and pretenses of academia can divert attention from where U.S. weapons actually go and what they do.

Sadly, precepts readily cited as vital ideals prove all too easy to kick to the curb lest they squeeze big toes uncomfortably. So, when students take the humanities seriously enough to set up a protest encampment on campus and then billionaire donors demand that a college president put a stop to such disruption, a police raid is likely to follow.

World of Doublethink & Tone Deafness

George Orwell’s explanation of “doublethink” in his famed novel 1984 is a good fit when it comes to the purported logic of so many commentators deploring the student protesters as they demand an end to complicity in the slaughter still underway in Gaza: 

“To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it.”

Laying claim to morality, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has, for instance, been busy firing media salvos at the student protesters. That organization’s CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt, is on record flatly declaring that “anti-Zionism is antisemitism” — no matter how many Jews declare themselves to be “anti-Zionist.” 

Four months ago, ADL issued a report categorizing pro-Palestinian rallies with “anti-Zionist chants and slogans” as antisemitic events. In late April, ADL used the “antisemitic” label to condemn protests by students at Columbia and elsewhere.

“We have a major, major, major generational problem,” Greenblatt warned in a leaked ADL strategy phone call last November. He added:

“The issue in the United States’ support for Israel is not left and right; it is young and old… We really have a TikTok problem, a Gen-Z problem… The real game is the next generation.”

Along with thinly veiled condescension toward students, a frequent approach is to treat the mass killing of Palestinians as of minimal importance. And so, when New York Times columnist Ross Douthat wrote in late April about students protesting at Columbia, he merely described the Israeli government’s actions as “failings.”

Perhaps if a government was bombing and killing Douthat’s loved ones, he would have used a different word.

A similar mentality, as I well remember, infused media coverage of the Vietnam War. For mainline news outlets, what was happening to Vietnamese people ranked far below so many other concerns, often to the point of invisibility.

As media accounts gradually began bemoaning the “quagmire” of that war, the focus was on how the U.S. government’s leadership had gotten itself so stuck. 

Mounted policemen during protest march against the war in Vietnam in San Francisco, April 15, 1967. (BeenAroundAWhile, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Acknowledging that the American war effort amounted to a massive crime against humanity was rare. Then, as now, the moral bankruptcies of the political and media establishments fueled each other.

As a barometer of the prevailing political climate among elites, the editorial stances of daily newspapers indicate priorities in times of war.

In early 1968, The Boston Globe conducted a survey of 39 major U.S. newspapers and found that not a single one had editorialized in favor of an American withdrawal from Vietnam. By then, tens of millions of Americans were in favor of such a pullout.

This spring, when The New York Times editorial board finally called for making U.S. arms shipments to Israel conditional — six months after the carnage began in Gaza — the editorial was tepid and displayed a deep ethnocentric bias.

It declared that “the Hamas attack of October 7 was an atrocity,” but no word coming anywhere near “atrocity” was applied to the Israeli attacks occurring ever since.

The Times editorial lamented that “Mr. Netanyahu and the hard-liners in his government” had broken a “bond of trust” between the United States and Israel, adding that the Israeli prime minister

“has been deaf to repeated demands from Mr. Biden and his national security team to do more to protect civilians in Gaza from being harmed by [American] armaments.”

The Times editorial board was remarkably prone to understatement, as if someone overseeing the mass killing of civilians every day for six months was merely not doing enough “to protect civilians.”

Learning by Doing

University of Minnesota Police Department outside Coffman Memorial Union where pro-Palestine protesters had been gathering, April 23, 2024. (Chad Davis, Flickr, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.0)

The thousands of student protesters encountering the edicts of college administrations and the violence of the police have gotten a real education in the true priorities of American power structures.

Of course, the authorities (on and off campuses) have wanted a return to the usual peaceful campus atmosphere. As military strategist Carl von Clausewitz long ago commented with irony, “A conqueror is always a lover of peace.”

Supporters of Israel are fed up with the campus protests. The Washington Post recently featured an essay by Paul Berman that deplored what has become of his alma mater, Columbia. After a brief mention of Israel’s killing of Gazan civilians and the imposition of famine, Berman declared that “ultimately the central issue in the war is Hamas and its goal… the eradication of the Israeli state.”

The central issue. Consider it a way of saying that, while unfortunate, the ongoing slaughter of tens of thousands of children and other Palestinian civilians doesn’t matter nearly as much as the fear that nuclear-armed Israel, with one of the most powerful air forces in the world, is in danger of “eradication.”

Pieces similar to Douthat’s and Berman’s have proliferated in the media. But they don’t come to grips with what Sen. Bernie Sanders recently made clear in a public message to the Israeli prime minister: 

“Mr. Netanyahu, antisemitism is a vile and disgusting form of bigotry that has done unspeakable harm to millions. Do not insult the intelligence of the American people by attempting to distract us from the immoral and illegal war policies of your extremist and racist government.”

College protesters have shown that they will not be distracted. They continue to insist — not flawlessly, but wonderfully — that all people’s lives matter. For decades, and since October in a particularly deadly fashion, the U.S.-Israel alliance has proceeded to treat Palestinian lives as expendable.

And that is exactly what the protests are opposing.

Of course, protests can flicker and die out. Hundreds of U.S. campuses shut down in the spring of 1970 amid protests against the Vietnam War and the American invasion of Cambodia, only to become largely quiescent by the fall term. But for countless individuals, the sparks lit a fire for social justice that would never be quenched.

One of them, Michael Albert, a cofounder of the groundbreaking Z Magazine, has continued with activist work since the mid-1960s. “A lot of people are comparing now to 1968,” he wrote in April.

“That year was tumultuous. We were inspired. We were hot. But here comes this year and it is moving faster, no less. That year the left that I and so many others lived and breathed was mighty. We were courageous, but we also had too little understanding of how to win. Don’t emulate us. Transcend us.”

He then added:

“The emerging mass uprisings must persist and diversify and broaden in focus and reach. And hey, on your campuses, again do better than us. Fight to divest but also fight to structurally change them so their decision makers — which should be you — never again invest in genocide, war, and indeed suppression and oppression of any kind. Tomorrow is the first day of a long, long potentially incredibly liberating future. But one day is but one day. Persist.”

Persistence will be truly essential. The gears of pro-Israel forces are fully meshed with the U.S. war machinery. The movement to stop Israel’s murderous oppression of Palestinians is up against the entire military-industrial-congressional complex.

The United States spends more on its military than the next 10 countries combined (and most of them are allies), while maintaining 750 military bases overseas, vastly more than all of its official adversaries put together.

The U.S. continues to lead the nuclear arms race toward oblivion. And the economic costs are stunning. The Institute for Policy Studies reported last year that 62 percent of the federal discretionary budget went to “militarized programs” of one sort or another.

In 1967, Martin Luther King, Jr., described this country’s spending for war as a “demonic, destructive suction tube,” siphoning tremendous resources away from human needs.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

With transcendent wisdom, this spring’s student uprising has rejected conformity as a lethal anesthetic while the horrors continue in Gaza. Leaders of the most powerful American institutions want to continue as usual, as if official participation in genocide were no particular cause for alarm.

Instead, young people have dared to lead the way, insisting that such a culture of death is repugnant and completely unacceptable.

Norman Solomon is co-founder of RootsAction.org and executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include War Made Easy, Made Love, Got War, and most recently War Made Invisible: How America Hides the Human Toll of Its Military Machine (The New Press). He lives in the San Francisco area.

This article is from TomDispatch.com.

Views expressed in this article may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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26 comments for “A Culture of War That Hates Youth

  1. Steve Hill
    May 12, 2024 at 07:32

    The more things change, the more they stay the same. It will be interesting to see how long protestors continue (it took years for the U.S to get out of Vietnam) and in what numbers when the police, FBI, surveillance state, etc., come down on them hard, like they did in the 60’s. After Mr. Biden gets re-elected, (and he will,) it’s going to get real.

  2. Kathleen
    May 11, 2024 at 10:20

    I salute the courage of these student protestors and this article about them. I have one minor quibble: the students are the leaders against genocide, but they are not really the only people opposed: I am 82 years old, marched against Vietnam, and now try to influence peace with letters to the editor.

    • Joy
      May 12, 2024 at 08:09

      Me too, Kathleen, although I am a couple of years your younger. For many of us, the flame of liberty and justice still glows strong. I looked carefully at the photo of the protest in San Franciso, as I would have been there. The establishment has never been able to count on my complacency, my acquiescence, my silence, or my vote.

  3. wildthange
    May 10, 2024 at 20:56

    The Cold War and the anti-war movement of the 60’s has been rebuild with the reactionary Reagan era into the new permanent war society for full spectrum dominance and war profits. The military industrial complex of all world military are in cahoots and profits from this strategic logic are soaring as a runaway process of human civilization. It is now a threat to all of civilization and draining our resources.
    That includes weapons testing and demonstrations on defenseless third world countries that has been going on for thousands of years.
    It is also a kind weaponized religious warfare of monotheistic permissiveness aided by our self created gods for profits.
    That includes provoking war and profiting from the Ukraine for future venture capitalism once the destruction is over and the refugees are gone.
    Likely a religion was created and weaponized for the Roman occupation of the lands now on fire again. The NATO consortium is an merging of Roman and Viking western war powers and technology on steroids. The genocides of the ages are following in ancient footsteps.
    The male dominance strategic use of social frustration and sexual repression of society weaponized for generational war based on lies and defamation of nations and characters and fueled by hatreds is the existential threat to human civilization in this era.This was all seen in the 60’s in reaction to the Cold War and nuclear insanity born of massive profits in war technology.

    • Joy
      May 12, 2024 at 08:11

      Definitely, the patriarchal death cult has grown by leaps and bounds over the intervening years. I too, hope this new generation does better. Our species’ survival requires it.

  4. May 10, 2024 at 19:52

    Something that all progressives who even imagine voting for Biden need to consider. And for African Americans to consider as well.

  5. Peter Loeb
    May 10, 2024 at 11:14


    One cannot escape the impact of money on US (and others’) policies. For example, Joe Biden received over
    4 million dollars from AIPAC, both democratic Minority Leader Hakim Jeffries and Speaker Mike Johnson
    have received AIPAC money in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

    Analysis of Israel’s manipulation of the US has been well documented by James Bamford in “A Pretext for War”
    on the decision to go to war in Iraq and in Bamford’s recent “Spy/Fail”. One mustn’t forget the stealing of
    material from NUMEC as well as the refusal to acknowledge Israeli nuclear tests by Barak Obama. See especially
    chapters on “The Blue Network” and “The Blast”.

  6. Dienne
    May 10, 2024 at 10:47

    Great piece! I’d only caution you not to use the “official” death counts. The 15,000 dead children number has been roughly frozen for months and Israel has steadily maintained if not increased its rate of kill, so the number has to be much higher by now. Ralph Nader estimated as many as 200,000, at least 2/3rds of which are women and children.

  7. Richard Burrill
    May 10, 2024 at 10:26

    A great article! Americans must learn that what is happening in Gaza now did not begin on October 7, 2023. If began in 1948 with the ethnic cleansing of thousands of Palestinians who were native to the land that was stolen from them by the creation of Israel. To learn even more about the Middle East before 1948, we must go back to at least World War I to understand what the imperial, colonial powers of the UK, France, and the support of the United States did to dominate and create countries in the Middle East in order to acquire oil and other natural resources there.

  8. Vera Gottlieb
    May 10, 2024 at 10:03

    Hates youth but doesn’t mind recruiting it for the army. All the war mongers should be out in front instead of, like cowards, remaining in the rear.

  9. susan
    May 10, 2024 at 09:04

    What a great piece Mr. Solomon! Like Michael Albert said to today’s students: ” Fight to divest but also fight to structurally change your campuses so their decision makers — which should be you — never again invest in genocide, war, and indeed suppression and oppression of any kind.” “Don’t emulate us. Transcend us.”

  10. May 10, 2024 at 07:50

    If Israel was worried about antisemitism before, they really have something to worry about now as many people across the globe have come to equate Zionism with genocide. I don’t think Israel will be able to undo the damage they have done to their international reputation, and the BDS movement will only grow. Israel wants the Palestinian’s land, and will continue to expropriate it unless they are stopped by the US. Joe Biden is not going to stop it, even if he mumbles occasionally about stopping weapons shipments.

    • Vera Gottlieb
      May 10, 2024 at 10:07

      Relying on anything that America ‘promises’….careful – America is only interested in profiting itself. Were it not for Biden trying to save his sorry ass at 2024 elections, he could not care less what genocide the Zionists are carrying out.

  11. Patrick Powers
    May 10, 2024 at 06:03

    “When Columbia University and many other colleges erupted in antiwar protests during the late 1960s, the moral awakening was a human connection with people suffering horrifically in Vietnam.”

    Maybe. Maybe they just didn’t want to get drafted.

    Ralph Nader said his biggest mistake was working to get rid of the draft.

    • Dienne
      May 10, 2024 at 10:48

      Then how do you explain the current student uprising? They are not in fear of a draft.

      • Rafael
        May 10, 2024 at 14:54

        Good question. And ditto the 1967 antiwar uprising in France, which for a short time brought down the government.

      • Anaisanesse
        May 11, 2024 at 18:07

        That is surely the point. Unlike their “representatives” , they have moral integrity.

      • Elena Alvarado Marcos
        May 11, 2024 at 20:53

        Q. How do you explain the current student uprising? They are not in fear of a draft.

        A. The Gaza slaughter is only one reason for their protest. It is merely the focal point; the tip of an iceberg. For young protesters, many factors are in play. The fate of Western civilization is at stake. Will we continue to accept genocide as “good,” and peace as “evil”?

        The ADL’s Jonathan Greenblatt has admitted that the divide is no longer between left and right, but between young and old. He says, “The real game is the next generation.”

        As inflation and the housing crisis crush young people, they see endless billions sent to Israel and Ukraine. They see migrants get housed before citizens, while receiving more and more benefits at taxpayer expense. They see lousy jobs, downward mobility, rising debt, and increasing hopelessness. They see corporate media outlets as liars. They see establishment politicians of all parties as corrupt, with an attitude of “Screw you; I’ve got mine.”

        Young people protested for similar reasons in 2011 with “Occupy Wall Street.” After Obama crushed them, the young were kept distracted and divided by wokery (BLM, DEI, LGBTQ issues) and by woke phantoms (e.g. “white privilege,” “homo-phobia,” “toxic masculinity,” etc). The young were also sidelined by Covid mania, with its eviction moratoriums and free money. But when the mania subsided, financial hardships returned worse than ever. Wokery can no longer conceal these hardships.

        Now with the Gaza genocide, young people have something specific to focus on. The more they attacked, the clearer their true enemies become, and the more they will resist.

        What the death cult cannot understand is that the protesters don’t care about the mounting threats against them. The protesters are told that they have been marked for life, and they will never be hired for any job – but they know that they are right, and that their enemies will increasingly die off. The protesters do not want to live in an insane world where genocide is “good” and protesting genocide is “evil.”

        But to repeat, the genocide is only the tip of the iceberg. That’s why the youth uprising will not die down.

      • Susan Siens
        May 12, 2024 at 16:50

        But I agree with Patrick Lawrence that bringing back conscription might be a good idea as then we are not dependent on the likes of Rep. Mast who volunteered (he says Palestinian babies are terrorists, this from a man who took part in the invasion of Afghanistan). I highly recommend the film “Sir No Sir,” especially if you can rent the DVD which has lots of excellent extras. It explains quite clearly why we have a “volunteer” army; soldiers were talking of unionizing and they were opposed to the war.

        I was around and took part in the antiwar movement. Believe me, many of the people involved were scared of the draft and did not possess the first notion of what the hell the U.S. was doing in Vietnam. Just look at the warmongering records of some of these people to see how they were not particularly antiwar at all. All those creeps who cheered on the invasion of Iraq!

    • John Z
      May 10, 2024 at 11:43

      OK. Just why would anyone want to get drafted or sign on to go murder millions of people all over the world? People we do not even know? Doing away with the draft did make it very convenient for the military to hide the true cost of its endeavors by making enlistment one of the few paths out of poverty for those with no other prospects of escaping the labyrinthian trap of their poverty. After all in this culture of death, no one cares about the poor and otherwise disenfranchised people. They are effectively invisible and their voices are not heard by those who occupy the seats of power and authority. Sounds of silence, indeed. Simon and Garfunkel were so right on in their day.

    • Selina Sweet
      May 10, 2024 at 12:21

      Without the draft, middle class America can take or dispatch with the deadly realities of our military. They can swallow whole the domestic propaganda. They don’t when that cargo plane lands and the coffin holding their beloved kid rolls out onto the tarmac. Skin in the game makes all the difference to consciousness. And democracy.

    • Michael G
      May 10, 2024 at 13:25

      Why did Aaron Bushnell kill himself?

    • Alan Ross
      May 10, 2024 at 14:12

      Not wanting to get drafted into fighting a war against a small nation that we were butchering is still an objection to human suffering. If the war had been against say the UK trying to regain its parasitic empire including its former colonies in America young American men would be lining up to serve.

    • Alan Ross
      May 10, 2024 at 14:13

      I am referring to Vietnam as the small nation.

    • hetro
      May 10, 2024 at 15:49

      Try to resist over-simplification like this, with its accompanying distortion. That time was outstanding in its resistance to the Establishment System oppressing us since. It included the Civil Rights Movement, a Women’s Movement, Resistance to War, and was accompanied by an astonishing revolution in music, sympathetic to these causes. Additionally, college students did not fear the draft, as deferments were in place for enrollment in education.

    • Joy
      May 12, 2024 at 08:17

      There may well be people who didn’t want to be drafted into killing people in a far off land. Who can blame them? But, in the time I was living in Los Angeles, and San Francisco, and protesting against the war in Vietnam, that was not an issue for any of the people I knew. There were, surprise! women protesters, such a myself, who were not subject to the draft. There were men of principle and compassion, with deferments, who were in the streets. I knew a couple of people concerned enough about the draft to move to Canada.
      So, no doubt there were some, but the rest of us – just gave a damn!

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