- Hardhats, Hippies and Hawks: The Vietnam Antiwar Movement as Myth and Memory by Penny Lewis
New York: ILR Press, 2013; 272 pages. $22.95 (paperback), ISBN 978-0801478567
In Hardhats, Hippies and Hawks, Penny Lewis presents a countermemory of Vietnam protest that challenges the dominant narrative regarding class and antiwar activism, a narrative that associates antiwar activism with a liberal middle class and characterizes working-class citizens as largely supportive of Vietnam war efforts. Lewis is motivated by her union experience organizing against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and she argues that an inaccurate, yet lasting, cultural image of an elite antiwar movement is relevant today as it threatens to cultivate class division and obscures solidarity on the basis of shared political ideals and goals.
Her first chapter is a lively one that uses popular culture film and television to support what she defines as the popular memory of the Vietnam era. In this chapter, she spends some time challenging the negative portrayals of antiwar activism and media coverage that failed to communicate the political basis for protest. Moving forward through the first half of the book, she collects an array of historical data—Gallup polls, [End Page 171] surveys, news magazines, and historical archives—in an attempt to dislodge what she deems a persistent, negative memory. Lewis’s account is particularly constructive for the way it moves beyond the university and its predominantly white, middle-class insurgents so often the central focus of Vietnam protest studies. Although Lewis acknowledges the middle-class modes of social activism that characterized the early antiwar movement particularly among students, liberals, and radicals, she argues that even in core organizations from student groups to planning committees there existed more class diversity and attention to class cultures than is often reported. Although she moves sometimes too easily between antiwar sentiment and antiwar activism, she successfully aligns working-class citizens within a larger antiwar movement, pointing specifically to civil rights activists and minority communities, as well as active soldiers and veterans. In doing so, she highlights the misguided notion that prioritization of other social goals among factions of working-class people, such as civil rights, might have undermined peace movements and antiwar sentiments among working-class people.
Lewis’s account might be distinctive for her efforts to avoid an “organization-centered” approach to the antiwar movement. She argues that the rise and eventual downfall of such political organizations as Students for a Democratic Society and the larger New Left, do not coincide with the rise and peak of antiwar sentiment. She finds, in fact, that antiwar activists grew in numbers and were stronger in 1970 than in 1968 or 1969. These numbers may be attributed in part to returning veterans who criticized the war efforts. Although her discussion of military resistance may seem at first out of place, Lewis offers valuable insight related to the overall effectiveness of internal opposition, crediting dissenting servicemen with important changes to military organization and operation that went into place after the war.
Less concerned with evaluating the overall effectiveness of what she terms the antiwar movement, or the extent to which members worked together across class lines, Lewis offers substantial data and analysis to demonstrate antiwar attitudes among blue-collar workers. Lewis falls short, perhaps, in the second half of the book, where she ambitiously hopes to unveil the practical application of this knowledge in relation to social movements and activist thinking today. Her historical reframing [End Page 172] allows readers to envision the potential of cross-class social movements, but she offers little projected vision of what those collaborations might look like or what types of movements may benefit. Although the conclusion leaves something to be desired because Lewis dedicates only a few paragraphs to the “implications for antiwar work in our era,” this is an important study that redirects assumptions regarding class-based politics and inspires a unified vision of protests for peace.