It’s not 1970 again, but we’d better watch out


A popular aphorism, often attributed to Mark Twain, states that “history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”

Readers of a certain age will, as I do, recall the upheavals of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Recent events set me musing about the similarities and differences between today’s “student protests” and those of yesteryear.

Thankfully, the protests that we see now haven’t (yet) devolved into the horrific bombings and other such crimes as were experienced in the days of the Weather Underground and other such groups. The Weather Underground itself claimed “credit” for as many as 25 terrorist bombings in the US. Other such groups existed around the world at that time, such as the Red Brigades of Germany the Japanese Red Army and others in the United States and abroad.

The 1970’s, when there were many airline hijackings, ended the time when you could walk right up to the gate of your plane without going through any security check at all. If this seems strange to younger readers, just check out an older romantic comedy with the foolish lover chasing the sobbing girl onto the plane!

Notably, the 1970’s was when the various Palestinian terrorist groups, such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (“PFLP”) and the Palestine Liberation Organization (the “PLO”) and others became particularly active. 

Back in the period we are looking at, most of the turmoil was centered on an increasingly unpopular Vietnam war, and often were led by university students unhappy with American policy.

Politically motivated violence resulted in the killings of Martin Luther King Jr. by a white supremacist and Senator Robert F Kennedy by a Palestinian unhappy with Kennedy’s support of Israel.

Students staged “takeovers” of many college offices and buildings, and demonstrations became increasingly violent. Today’s unrest centers around the Israeli fight against Hamas terrorists.

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Violence has not yet reached 1970’s levels but watch out! In the 1970’s student groups were soon infiltrated by radical elements that, in turn, radicalized some of the students. We are getting numerous news reports today that a significant proportion of the so-called student demonstrators are, in fact, paid, professional agitators who coach and train the students. This is where the comparisons of the two eras become frightening.

Some colleges cancelled live classes and have gone over to remote instruction. Others cancelled graduation ceremonies. This takes me back to my own college days when, after the shooting of students by National Guardsmen at Kent State University in 1970, part of the semester was cancelled, and all students received a “pass” instead of a grade.

I don’t suggest that we are necessarily heading towards a repeat of the bad old days of the ’60s and ’70s; there are important differences in the causes of the trouble and other factors.

•According to surveys, the Israel Hamas war is not a significant political concern to most people on either side of the political divide.

•No American soldiers are involved or likely to be involved in the fighting.

•The country at large does not seem to support the takeovers of the schools.

However, the similarities are certainly worrisome, and one of the scariest phrases in the English language is “this time, it’s different.”

We need to be vigilant and make sure that the chaos doesn’t spread. We need to be careful that the latent antisemitic poison that appears to be the true motive of some of the instigators of our current troubles does not spread.

I remain optimistic that the turmoil we are currently witnessing will eventually calm down, that better heads will prevail and there will be compromise and reconciliations made that will allow us to get back to a better sense of normalcy.

Our country has faced many crises throughout our history. Somehow, we managed to survive through difficult times like these and I believe will continue to do so from that will undoubtedly challenge us in the future.

Nassau County Legislature President Officer Howard Kopel is an eight-term legislator from the Five Towns. This column originally appeared in the LI Herald.