Blog / 2011 / A Conversation with a Disappointed Man

October 5, 2011

We didn’t know each other very well, but we were talking about the state of the world. The other party in this exchange was a man of a certain age—someone who’d been active in the peace movement in the 1960s. He was lamenting the apathy that young people today show towards war and other injustices. He saw humans as basically bad, and I saw him as basically a great big bummer.

I did, however, learn one interesting thing from the conversation—not from the man but from talking with him. I learned that it’s his fault.

His generation had the draft. Every young person coming up at that time knew that she-he would be profoundly and personally impacted by our government’s dealings with other governments. By threatening their lives and the lives of their nearest and dearest, the draft insured that young people would be invested in the big picture. And this man’s generation took that away from all future generations.

I’m not mad at him or his generation for getting rid of this easy (and scary) way of inspiring social engagement. I’m mad at him and people like him for fundamentally altering the fabric of this country and then looking down on my generation for not being more like them.

Vietnamese-American Uncle Sam
Gwenn Seemel
Chú Xam (Vietnamese-American, Nam)
2008
acrylic on canvas and eyelet
36 x 24 inches
(Part of Apple Pie, a socially engaged series about the American identity.)

Then again, when I take a step back and when I consider the more recent events on Wall Street, I see that it’s about more than having the draft or not having it. It’s about the complexities of modern life.

Maybe I’m oversimplifying a time I didn’t live through, but it seems to me that the world looked a whole lot more straightforward to the average person in the 60s. By that I mean that most people didn’t have access to the kinds and quantities of information that we have access to today with our technologies.

In fact, when you look at it in that light, Occupy Wall Street is that much more impressive. Not only have the protestors managed to rally together even though their lives aren’t being held hostage by the draft, but the very technology that too often numbs, distracts, and scatters us has been used to get the word out when mainstream media was, for some impossibly undemocratic reason, refusing to cover the protest.

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