Student Protest: The Causes and Effects

A Review of Put Your Bodies upon the Wheels: Student Revolt in the 1960s
Kenneth Heineman

Author Biography

Born in Lansing, Michigan, Kenneth Heineman studied at Michigan State University and the University of Pittsburgh. He has received a Ph.D. in history. Not only did he learn about history, but Heineman also works as a professor of history at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. Heineman’s other works include A Catholic New Deal, God Is a Conservative, and Campus Wars.

Contrary to the general misconception, the 1960s protests occurred not entirely for the sake of ending the Vietnam War. In his book, Put Your Bodies upon the Wheels: Student Revolt in the 1960s, Kenneth Heineman, a professor of history at Ohio University, argued that the more pressing matter that fumed the student protests all over the nation was the result of the students’ rebellion against conservatism. In a conflict between the New Left students and the Conservative Right generation, the students protested against the school’s traditional practice “in loco parentis,” in which the school takes over the responsibility of the parents to limit the freedom of the students; and when the shooting started, the protests escalated to violent and widespread chaos.1 Though Heineman supported his argument with detailed accounts of the protests and statistics, he failed to justify his thesis due to his questionable sources. Nevertheless, Heineman proposed an interesting interpretation of the period, choosing to analyze the conflicts of the student protests based on class differences and as a continuation of the radicalism of the communist crisis.

Radicalism in schools was by no means new; however, during the period of the 1960s, school radicalism mounted to new heights, epitomizing the very meaning of radicalism. The first quarter of Heineman’s book attempted to provide a factual overview of the student protests and its influences and effects. Beginning with only a few members of nonviolent organizations such as the Student Democratic Society (SDS) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), both groups gained momentum as the Democratic Party lost control over Vietnam and urban unrest. SDS was originally a response to parental authority and the Vietnam War; however, it quickly became a matter of social protest. As the Vietnam crisis swelled and the federal government initiated the attacking of nonviolent students, SDS became more violent. SNCC was a student-created program focused on civil rights for blacks in the South. In March 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s decision to deploy combat troops in South Vietnam caused a surge of student and faculty protests. From sit-ins to teach-ins, the college campus united in opposition to President Johnson and the Vietnam War. As the war grew bloodier, the campus protests became more epidemic as students began to protest against the draft and school-involved military research. Alongside the student protests against the Vietnam War, black activists of the North took active measures against whites, contrasting with the non-aggressive black activists of the South. Soon, the problems in Vietnam brought violence in schools with the SDS splitting between armed and unarmed. Students began a flood of active violence as the situation brought “bombing, building seizures, and assaults against faculty and students” who didn’t accept the radicalism of the SDS or Black Panthers.2 New student protest groups also emerged with the Young Americans for Freedom, promoting the idea to do-your-own-thing, and Boomers, protesting against any influence against student sex life. In April of 1970, President Richard Nixon attacked Cambodia to stop the country’s assistance for Ho Chi Minh’s communist regime. The attack brought one of the most critical events in the history of student protests: federal murder of rioting students. On May 4, 1970, the Ohio National Guard opened fire upon unarmed students, killing four students and wounding nine others. The Kent State incident elevated the crisis as a strike of four million youth took place soon after the Kent State incident on the President’s decision to invade Cambodia. The deployment of soldiers and the attack on Cambodia were accompanied by the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968, which led to rioting in black neighborhoods. Thus with the rise of violence, New Left radicalism also became more widespread. Aside from protest against the war and for civil rights, student culture demanded freedom in school along with the increase in the participation of universities and colleges, raising the desire to escape parental restrictions. However, universities became responsible for regulating students in their social activities. By taking this responsibility, the universities initiated a rebellious surge over the entire campus. With the availability of condoms and other methods of birth control and ways to avoid sexually transmitted diseases, university students demanded more freedom, especially for sex. With the war raging in Vietnam and the rise in the civil rights movement, student protests of this confusing era began as responses to decisions made by the general conservative rightists. The 1960s protests and cultural changes can be seen in two different lights: the interpretation for a good 1960 and a bad 1960. Those arguing for a good era aimed at the criticism of the era to be from the incapable rights; thus, the New Left attempted to straighten what the right failed to accomplish—its goal in university cultures. However; those arguing for a bad era pointed out the confusion and violence of the period. They criticized the leftists for using the 1960s circumstances as excuses for radicalism and absolute chaos. Nevertheless, the 1960s saw a schism in culture, generation, ideals, and goals.

In the second quarter of the book, Heineman recreated the escalation of the tension and eventually the explosion of protests. The protestors caused not only turmoil and urban unrest, but also separation of the New Left from the Right. Students often antagonized the working-class whites with economic and elitist stereotypes. Even though the working-class whites were similar to students in their attitudes toward war, the students blindly opposed them as they were seen to be of higher status than the students. Religiously, the Roman Catholics had minimized participation in campus activism. The Irish Catholics were the most prominent type of Catholics in the radicalism of the New Left due to their enrollment in college, allowing them deferment from the draft. Their position in the New Left activism was also due to their anti-anti-Communist beliefs as most Irish attended universities, which employed professors who upheld radical ideals. Following communist radicalism, the New Left tried to differentiate themselves from the Old Left by opposing white workers and turning to the lower class for radicalism. However, the New and Old Lefts were similar in their criticism of the United States of being an imperialist power. The radicals often idealized foreign revolutionaries such as Ho Chi Minh and Joseph Stalin, who epitomized the Communist ideals. The New Left students often opposed the older generations as they tried to separate themselves from their parents, showing off their rebellious nature. Even with the tension against elitists, children of white-collar, working class parents were more prone to be supportive of radicalism than those of blue-collar because of their financial situation. Ultimately, more elite radicals have the resources to bail out of trouble, thus creating more opportunity and more freedom to spread their radicalism. By 1967, the creation of CALCAV, an organization of various religions in support of student protests, marked the support of some religious groups for radicalism; however, Pentecostals, fundamentalists, and more traditional Protestant clergy favored the Vietnam War. The American army showed “class divisions that separated affluent Scarsdale from blue-collar Queens,” with eighty percent of the soldiers who fought in Vietnam with blue-collar origin.3 The student protests split the nation in many ways from religion to economics to age.

Heineman explains the explosiveness of the protests in violent confrontations, which calmed to an eventual end in the third quarter of the book. For the pursuit of opposing in loco parentis, radical students at Berkeley began the Free Speech Movement on October 1, 1964. A policeman attempted to arrest Weineberg who started the movement but was detained for thirty-two hours by a mob of students. Aside from trapping the police car in the mob, students began giving lectures and speeches, using the car as a podium. Furthermore, the students began to have sex on the sidewalk and street. Weinberg proclaimed his famous statement, “don’t trust anyone over thirty,” which would be adopted by the Boomers.4 It signified the beginning of the student protest as an age issue with the new generation in opposition to the old generation. Initially, many students supported Johnson’s reluctance in attacking North Vietnam and some wanted an increase in the United States’s military action; however, Berkeley rebelled against the war as the students physically intimidated navy recruiters. The radical student group, SDS, began to call for a movement “from protest to resistance,” encouraging violent action from students.5 Radical SDS members attacked opposing students and seriously wounded several policemen. As a response to this rise in violence, the Madison police injured several SDS members and arrested more. This caused the tension to escalate as students of the University of Wisconsin vowed to destroy their campus. SUNY-Buffalo University also saw an increase in student rebellion through open drug consumption. The SDS reached into the area and created their own liberated zone of what they acknowledged to be the Free Republic of Buffalo. Aside from localized radicalism, Kent State attempted to publicize their radicalism. The students of Kent State invaded a speech by Nixon with shouts for the victory of Ho Chi Minh and some inappropriate name-calling. Nixon managed to pull a win in the next election by his desperate announcement of promising a withdrawal from the war. Yet, even then, rioting still ran rampant from coast to coast with many Columbia SDS members attempting to open a communist front in the United States through violence. This explosion of student protests was ended by the withdrawal of the troops from Vietnam and the public’s desire to end this chaotic period.

Lastly, in the final chapter, Heineman describes the effect of the 1960s: its scars and its legacies. The student protests of the 1960s left a great heritage in the United States’s history. Politically, the Democratic Party, which was originally created for the benefit of the “workers and socially conservative white Southerners,” transformed to gain the support of more wealthy elite class.6 Conversely, the Republican Party, a party of the wealthy, adopted the support of the lower class. The United States recovered from the student protest and the rise of boomers and the conflicts of the 1960s that was the period, but couldn’t leave unscathed.

Heineman attempted to provide an overview of radical student protest and social unrest, including the cause and the result of the protests. The cause of the student protests came from not the Vietnam War, but from the universities’ parental authority over an increasing amount of students. The increase occurred due to the army draft and the opportunity for deferment for university drafts. Heineman combined the rioting protests with the counter culture movement, arguing that they are both responses against the increasing participation in universities. Rejecting the traditional belief that the Vietnam War was a direct catalyst for mass chaos, Heineman proposed that it only increased the riots that were originally focused on the universities’ parental authority.

Arguing for a new thesis, Heineman makes the assumption that the student protest polarized the nation. Heineman limited the New Left for the Jews, middle-class workers, youth, and liberal religious clergy; while the rights and the Old Left included the wealthy, the conservative clergy, and the older generation. The incidents of the year 2001 prompted a harsh reminding of the problems in the United States, pitching the nation into a war, which many students criticized. Heineman took the modern criticism against war and responded with his interpretation of the period of mass riot and chaos. Heineman’s stereotypes of the polarization became the basis of his argument for his entire interpretation.

Heineman’s radical interpretation met harsh criticism for his stereotypes and his lack of valuable sources for his statistics. Introducing the rise of the radicals during the 1960s, Heineman used statistics based on “some 120 memoirs, pseudo-histories, histories, and polemics,” only a few of these offered any concrete facts.7 Other critics noted that Heineman interpreted the SDS to be initially corrupt in contrast to the traditional belief that the group gradually sank into anarchy. Also, Heineman argued that the conflicts in the 1960s of the New Left were merely “a continuation of the 1930s communist Old Left.”8 He believed that the student protests were largely due to the participation of the communist left in rejection against the imperialist right, thus leading to the extension of the communist problem. Heineman claimed to focus on the student protests; however, he combined the protests with counter culture and the civil rights movement, creating an unfocused and scrambled interpretation of the period. Although the three events occurred at the same time and are consequences of each other, Heineman utilized both the counter culture and the civil rights movement to confuse the issue of student protests, arguing for morality as well as for racism and for the rejection of traditional ideologies. Overall, Heineman created a scattered overview of the 1960s with multiple focuses based on questionable sources.

The 1960s student protest posed a watershed in United States history by completely altering the political spectrum. The Democratic Party and the Republican Party switched sides with opposite supports and focuses. Heineman also “argued for a cultural revolution”9 as the counter culture forced a more lenient authority over the students with radical reforms on the issue of sex.

From a conservative-oriented United States because of the threat of the spread of communism, the 1960s created a focus on more liberal and leftist perspectives. From civil rights to anti-anti-communism and anti-imperialism, the student protests “created a wave of effect” to bring the focus on activism.10 The 1960s left a legacy through the alteration in the political spectrums and altered the universities’ role on students’ private social behaviors.

Ultimately, Heineman interpreted the student protests of the 1960s to be “a response to the parental authority of universities” sparked by Vietnam War failure and urban unrest.11 The students weren’t looking for the end to the Vietnam War, they were looking for ways to avoid participating in it. The students were not focused on the new radicalisms, they were rejecting conservatism. The protests polarized the nation with an increase in support of the New Left and civil rights. The 1960s could be summarized to be a period of violence, chaos, sex, drugs, and radicalism with rebellious behavior against old generation conservatism.

review by Robert Chang

  1. Heineman, Kenneth. Put Your Bodies Upon the Wheels: Student Revolt in the 1960s. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, Publisher, 2001, 106.
  2. Heineman, Kenneth 57.
  3. Heineman, Kenneth 76.
  4. Heineman, Kenneth 107.
  5. Heineman, Kenneth 94.
  6. Heineman, Kenneth 225.
  7. Kors, Alan C. Sex, Drugs, Jews, and Rock ‘n’ Roll. Nov 2001. May 2006. .
  8. Put Your Bodies Upon the Wheels: Student Revolt in the 1960s. May 2001. Online. May 2006. .
  9. Put Your Bodies Upon the Wheels: Student Revolt in the 1960s. May 2001. Online. May 2006. .
  10. Kors, Alan C. Sex, Drugs, Jews, and Rock ‘n’ Roll. Nov 2001. Online. May 2006. .
  11. Heineman, Kenneth 113.

© 2006 Irvine High School

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