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The Bleeding Hearts Dry Up 1 - The 60s Triumph

Back in the 60s, the Left declared goals and actually achieved them.

By Will Offensicht  |  November 18, 2019

The 1960s began a revolutionary era marked by decades of intense protest. Noble individuals like Dr. Martin Luther King promoted the cause of civil rights by pushing back against racist authorities such as Theophilus Eugene Connor, who served as an elected Commissioner of Public Safety for the city of Birmingham, Alabama, for more than two decades.  He became famous as "Bull" Connor when he directed the use of fire hoses and police attack dogs against peaceful civil rights activists.

His vicious actions were shown on international television.  The widespread outrage triggered social and legal changes in the southern United States and contributed to passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In a similar way, the visual impact of video from Vietnam during the "first war fought on television" catalyzed opposition to the war.  US involvement started "officially" on March 8, 1965, when 3,500 United States Marines came ashore at Da Nang as the first wave of U.S. combat troops into South Vietnam.  They were added to the 25,000 U.S. military advisers who were already in place.  The war ended officially with the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975.

Black people had suffered both economically and politically for decades without much change.  It took the visual impact of television to galvanize the passage of the Civil Rights Act.

Similarly, wars have inflicted severe casualties for many generations without much protest from the home front, but the visceral impact of blood and guts spread across television screens fomented opposition to the war.

Rebels With Causes Worth Bleeding For

There weren't many people who were willing to say out loud that the oppression of black people was justified once its true nature was shown live and in living color.  Even though the Vietnam war casualties were significantly higher than the casualties of the civil rights struggle, there were "cold warriors" who sincerely debated the merits of the war against "bleeding heart liberals" who sincerely wanted it to end regardless of potential for geopolitical fallout.

Civil rights activists had a slogan, "Better to die on my feet than live on my knees."  The peaceniks, in contrast, proclaimed "Better red than dead," implying that they would rather be conquered by the Soviet Union and be forced to live under communism than risk annihilation in a nuclear war with the Soviets.

Although passions ran high on both sides, cold warriors who valued American freedoms enough to believe they were worth the risk of life and limb were able to have generally sensible conversations with the anti-war faction.  The debate was nearly as simple and as belief-driven as the abortion debate - killing unborn "womb contents" is either murder or it is not.  Fighting to preserve American freedoms as opposed to being taken over by communists was either worth the cost in time, talent, and treasure or it was not.

Definitions matter, of course.  The pro-abortion faction has managed to convince significant numbers of people that unborn womb contents aren't persons and it is therefore OK to kill it / them.  This is not so dissimilar from the propaganda tools governments use to dehumanize opponents during wartime.

Disparaging terms such as "krauts," "gooks," or "Japs" were once used to define enemies as sub-human or even non-human so that it would be OK to kill them.  That's why pro-aborts speak of "womb contents" and why Joycelyn Elders, President Clinton's Surgeon General, said, "We really need to get over this love affair with the fetus and start worrying about children" - as if unborn children are anything else.

In the end, the anti-war faction won the day and American forces pulled out of South Vietnam in 1975.  By that time, Pacific-rim nations such as Indonesia and the Philippines which had appeared to be on the verge of accepting communism had become marginally prosperous enough to appreciate the wealth generated by capitalism.

40 years after the war ended, the North Vietnamese are finally discovering the long-delayed joys of increasing wealth and are becoming more and more integrated into the capitalistic global economy.  Their ruling elites have become totally hypocritical in justifying their clinging to power because of their fidelity to communist ideology as they ramp up capitalism, but as long as individual Vietnamese see their lives improving, they don't seem to care all that much about lack of freedom.

The recent freedom-driven riots in Hong Kong suggest that there are limits to this approach to governance - at a certain point, freedom becomes more desirable than more wealth, or even more desirable than life itself.

At the time the Vietnam war was debated, it was clear that the issues were worth strenuous activism.  The anti-war faction, which were disparaged as "bleeding hearts," were absolutely correct in pointing out that people were dying because of the war.  This made the matter important.  They were totally convinced that the war was not worth pursuing and they had a legitimate aim in seeking to preserve human lives.

The peaceniks were also correct in claiming that their policy of ending the war would be effective in achieving their goal of saving lives.  The bleeding hearts not only had a stated goal that was morally legitimate - fewer deaths - their recommended measure would, and ultimately did, achieve their stated goal, so long as you don't count people who were murdered by communist tyrants.

And if you consider their goals solely in terms of American lives, they were right: given that we did not fight a nuclear war with the USSR, ending the Vietnam War did in fact result in fewer dead American soldiers than continuing it would have done.

De-Institutionalizing Racism

The civil rights activists also achieved a major part of their legitimate moral goal: institutional and official racism has been pretty much eliminated from American society.  The economic gains which were supposed to follow haven't materialized to the expected degree, however.

The cynics among us wonder just how sincere the bleeding hearts were about the problems they identified versus the raw pursuit of political power.  Opposition to the Vietnam war unraveled the massive mandate President Johnson had won in the 1964 election and led him to decide not to run for a second term in the White House.  In contrast, pursuing civil rights has won fame and fortune for a number of black leaders who've done quite well by supposedly doing good.

Even Snopes admits that Al Sharpton has not paid taxes due to the IRS or to the State of New York.  Forbes puts the amount owed to the IRS at $4.5 million.  How much income has he had to end up owing that much in taxes?  We would love to receive a tax bill like that, as it could only mean we'd earned many more millions in the first place.

Our cynicism is increased as we note that most of the programs which the Great and the Good advocate to uplift the poor turn out instead to keep the poor trapped in poverty, generation after generation.

It's clear that ending the Vietnam war saved American lives.  Even though rights advocates refuse to admit it, it's clear that the civil rights movement has enormously improved the opportunities and liberties available to America's black and brown populations.

It's also clear that a great many of the uplift programs which advocates pursue, end up spending huge amounts of money without accomplishing anything much in terms of reducing the problems they're supposed to fight.  Indeed, arguably they generally make matters worse by reducing incentives to spend effort in self-help.

It doesn't really matter whether the "bleeding hearts" of the Vietnam era were sincere or not - the policies they advocated achieved the aim they sought.  Although we have plenty of advocates for this and that today, it appears that fewer and fewer of their policies achieve anything useful in particular, and certainly not the outcomes they claim to desire.  They burn through vast sums of taxpayer money which makes life better for the activist groups, but activism, like community organizing, doesn't seem to do much for the general population.

To be fair, it's easy to do something that makes you feel that you're helping, but doing actual good is a lot harder.  Does activists' lack of concern when outcomes of their policies harm the intended recipients, and their lack of concern that their ideas will actually benefit people, mean that their bleeding hearts have dried up?  Or are they simply cynically seeking power and money for themselves?

We'll look at some of the differences between our modern profusion of virtuously-stated goals and actual outcomes in the next article in this series.