It was 1968, and the world was rapidly changing. The Vietnam War was in full swing, and the evening news allowed viewers at home to see helicopters strafing the jungle with machine-gun fire, the horror of napalm burned children crying in the road, and a growing political divide between the establishment supporters of the war, and the primarily student led opposition to it. Most college campuses became more and more left leaning, spurred on by radical protests led by long haired young men and women in tie-dyed clothes, whose parents were often at a loss to understand the changes in their children.
Despite the politics and the anti-war rallies going on all around me, I was too busy to be much involved in politics. I was the recipient of a full tuition academic scholarship which required my cumulative GPA increase from its baseline of 3.0 by 0.3 points each year to maintain the money. That meant that at the start of my fourth year, I would have to have a GPA of 3.6 or better. This was prior to grade inflation hitting colleges, and given the heavy science based course load I was carrying, I soon realized that if I didn’t finish school in three years, my chances of having a 3.6 by my last year was slim and none. I therefore made up my mind to carry 18 to 21 hours each semester, allowing me to finish by the end of my third year. Living at home, I didn’t have the distractions (or the enjoyment) of campus life, and stayed clear of the various interest groups whose activities were raging all around me. I was not a fan of the war. I also felt that at least some of the students were using the social unrest generated on campus as much for their own aggrandizement as for the causes they were espousing.
My hair was longer than it is now, but I didn’t sport the shoulder length mops of hair popular with members of SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) and our other radical groups. I wore old jeans and flannel shirts, as well as construction boots from my various jobs, which served to camouflage me on campus, and served as safe passage when bypassing various rallies, which tended to be frequent and numerous. It also led to my receiving a beating that came unexpectedly and without provocation on my part. I was walking through downtown Chicago during the time of the 1968 Democratic Convention. Unknown to me, a group of anti-war protesters had started to scuffle with the Chicago Police in front of the hotel where the Convention was being held. Never known for their restraint, especially in those days, the boys in blue responded with a free-for-all clubbing of the protesters, some of whom came running in my direction from around the corner where I was walking, being chased by big, burly cops swinging clubs. It was my bad luck to get caught in the melee, and to receive enough blows to require stitches in my scalp, not to mention headaches that lasted for almost a week. Fortunately for me, I wasn’t among the many arrested that day; otherwise my admission to my otherwise conservative medical school may have been rescinded.
The unfairness of what happened to me rankled for a while until I was able to gain better perspective on the event. Having police behave as they had back in my old country under Communism was in some way more frightening than anything else. This was not supposed to be happening to me in America! The more the rule of law gets suspended, the greater the risk of all of us losing our freedoms. When I first came to the States, I never believed that the kind of things I knew happened in Hungary could ever happen here. Sadly, I no longer feel that way. Those of us willing to turn over our freedoms to someone who promises to protect us will soon find those freedoms lost forever.