A Better March Madness

From Scott Howard-Cooper’s introduction to Kingdom on Fire,1 a memoir about the turbulent 1960s through the intersected lives of UCLA legends, Coach John Wooden, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Bill Walton, we learn of some of the zany madness underneath some earlier student protests compared to the October campus protests for Hamas.

We learn two things about student protests: (1) they are not that brand new, and (2) they may not be that smart. Howard-Cooper records this amazing tale, which needs little more commentary than to simply review it below as he presents it.

On October 21, 1967, hippies applied for permission to stage a march in Washington, D.C., to protest the Vietnam War. Among the featured speakers was Dr. Benjamin Spock (not of Star Trek), with Peter, Paul, and Mary serenading on the day that popularized “flower power,” so coined because a student inserted mums into the barrels of MP rifles. After speeches on the mall—permission for the initial phase of the protest was granted by the Park Service—heard by approximately one hundred thousand people, thousands of marchers proceeded four miles to the Pentagon for the second phase of their protest (which was also granted). The students’ purpose for that second phase was to levitate the Pentagon three hundred feet in the air. They would lift this huge structure from its footings by . . . chanting and imagining. This second phase was not granted entirely—they were only permitted by the U.S. Park Service officer to levitate the Pentagon ten feet in the air.

By math calculations as excellent as the other parts of this strategy, it had been theorized that twelve hundred chanters would be necessary to lift the 3.7 million square feet of concrete and steel off the ground, turn it orange in the sky, and make it vibrate. Following such levitation and exorcism, the student scientists thought, the US would surely have to exit Vietnam.

A far larger crowd than the needed twelve hundred chanters showed up, with press reports estimating the chant-turnout in the range of thirty-five thousand to fifty thousand. These math and physics geniuses also planned to kidnap President Lyndon Johnson and pants him in public once he arrived at the protest. Moreover, they hoped to “raise the flag of nothingness” over the Pentagon to remove the evil of the U.S. military, supposedly by sheer embarrassment.

The U.S. Marshals Service concluded of the riots and arrests from this first large protest against Vietnam: “A total of 682 people were arrested. Forty-seven people-demonstrators, soldiers, and U.S. Marshals were injured. By 7:00 o’clock Sunday morning, most of the protesters had left; only 200 remained.”2

This “Bastille Day on the Potomac,” as The Nation headlined it the next day, embodied some public spirit, but neither chanting nor singing could elevate the massive structure—it would take another thirty-four years to when terrorists crashed into the Pentagon to damage it.

One need not oppose free speech or the right to protest to double over laughing at the sheer silliness of the protest plans to suspend gravity along with numerous other laws of physics.

Tuition-paying parents might wish to consider whether it is education they are funding and enabling, or fantasy. I keep hearing the echoes of Styx’s “Too Much Time on My Hands.”

Whatever one’s opinion on the Vietnam War and whatever one’s opinion about supporting Hamas, student protests are: (1) not that brand new, and (2) they may not be that smart. They may, in fact, mirror little more than the madness of the privileged youth class, whether in the 1960s or the 2020s.

The UCLA dynasty of Wooden, Abdul-Jabbar, and Walton did not come about by fantasy, but by discipline and thousands of hours on the wooden floor, even with superior talent.

Here is to March madness of a better sort. Watch some basketball, kids.

Notes

  1. Scott Howard-Cooper, Kingdom on Fire: Kareem, Wooden, Walton, and the Turbulent Days of the UCLA Basketball Dynasty (New York: Atria Books, 2024).
  2. U.S. Marshals and the Pentagon Riot of October 21, 1967.

©David Hall. All Rights Reserved.


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Posted by David Hall | Monday, April 8, 2024 | Categorized in American History. David Hall. Bookmark the permalink.

About David Hall

Reverend David W. Hall is married to Ann, and they are parents of three grown children and grandparents of eight grandchildren. He has served as the Senior Pastor of Midway Presbyterian Church (PCA) since 2003. Previously, he served as Pastor of the Covenant Presbyterian Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee (1984–2003) and as Associate Pastor at the First Presbyterian Church in Rome, Georgia (1980–1984). He was ordained to pastoral ministry in 1980. He was educated at Covenant Theological Seminary and is the editor and author of several volumes. Meet all the Heidelberg contributors»

One comment

  1. Great article, David, indeed! I lived this from 1968- 1981, a hippie mostly until the late 79s/very early 80s, left in my demise a drunken, drugged out loser.
    Eternal fortune and destiny was to be saved, sealed, and sanctifying (and forgiven! Thank You, Lord Jesus!). Tho the area I lived in had an extremely high percentage of soldiers lost in Nam (12 known close friends & classmates🥵), I must truly admit that our motives & actions led far and away for the most part simply yet profoundly ‘getting up off the floor barely able to exit the door!’
    Yes, those times were very difficult. I lost my education (nearly double major at Purdue, yet did not care anymore), maturity, brain cells, etc, etc. Most of all, I’m so thankful our Gracious Yahweh sought me and caught me!!! 5 windshields, 4 bicycle accidents, 3 times each to skid row, Venice Beach, drunk tanks, sheer insanity…all bc we should just ‘protest!’ No!!! I (we) must serve our Forgiving and Gracious Lord and Saviour! I’m so thankful! Talk about ‘close calls!’ Almost didn’t make it, but Christ had other Plans! Protests and Uproars? No Thanks!!!

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