The anti-Vietnam War movement has crucial lessons to teach the students protesting Israel’s war in Gaza today. I should know: I took an active part in the Vietnam-era protest movement. Many of those involved back then weren’t interested in building mass domestic support for ending the war. They fantasized that they were part of a global revolutionary movement—when, in fact, they were really engaged in a centuries-old and very American project of bearing witness to moral wrongdoing. They aspired, like the early Puritans, to be visible saints. Many Americans, however, came to see them as the devil incarnate.

And I’m afraid today’s antiwar campus encampments are replicating the same mistakes.

I share the protesters’ opposition to the way Israel is conducting its war and to the American government’s unconditional support for the Jewish state. While there can be no justification for Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack, Israel’s response has been wildly disproportionate. The Netanyahu government’s war aims fail to acknowledge the historical circumstances—an occupation of the West Bank stretching into its seventh decade and turning only more brutal and humiliating; and a 17-year blockade of the Gaza Strip—that have fueled the rise of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Instead of reckoning with these realities, the war aims seem to point to a re-occupation of the enclave.

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