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Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 29, No. 4. 1966.

The Young Yankee — a look at american youth

page 12

The Young Yankee

a look at american youth

He Talks like a slob (pronounced "slab") and itches to give you a loud slap on the back—that's what a Yank seems like. And behind his open grin there lurks something mysterious and jealous-making. It is as if that grin is saying: "I am rich; I am strong: I come from the Big Time."

Then What is a little Yank like, a student Yank? He is not so easy to describe. Or perhaps one is readier to realise that he knows very little about him, aside from the occasional American he may run across at varsity, or the report of a returned American Field Scholar.

Jonathan Fox is a Harvard graduate currently in New Zealand on a Fulbright Scholarship.

In the fifties and early sixties, they called young Americans the "apathetic generation." It seemed evident, even to the most sophisticated observers, that the war-baby crop had grown up the sad but inevitable products of an over-affluent society. Since these youths had never known want, their innards lacked the stuff of vitality—so the critics said.

But the critics—themselves belonging to earlier generations—were not quite right.

It was a spokesman for the last "carefree" generation in America, the Roaring Twenties, who wrote: "Teach us to care, and not to care. Teach us to sit still."

Had there been an equal spokesman for the war-babies as they were coming of age, he might have delivered this exhortation: "Give us a cause, and a way, and our fire shall light the land."

Robbed of direct solutions to the problems they were to inherit, post war Americans grew up struggling silently with a pent-up passion.

Today, all know that the term, "apathetic" was a misnomer. In the past two years. American students have marched on Washington for Negro rights, and they have marched on the Capitol to protest the war in Vietnam.

They have marched and demonstrated by the hundreds of thousands throughout the United States.

They have inflicted upon a leading university a blow so staggering that it will take many years for the Berkeley educational machine to recapture its original momentum. And they have made their power felt in a score of additional schools across America.

Civil rights

Students have constituted an important workforce in the fight fur civil rights in the South. They have worked in slums and in the Peace Corps. In arousing nationwide attention about Vietnam, students were so successful that the scholars and intellectuals soon joined in.

Teacher spoke after student in the teach-ins, marched beside him in the demonstrations, and recaptured, on the student bandwagon, the mislaid intellectual "voice."

No, it is not apathy which marks American students. Today, a surprising number of them seem to have discovered that yearned-for cause, and beyond doubt, new convictions have ignited dormant spirits.

Curiously enough, it was not in an American university but on board a student ship that I grew to appreciate certain distinctive characteristics of today's American young people.


As a crew member on the SS Aurelia, which sailed on a run between New York and Southampton. I observed American and, European students as they crossed the Atlantic either for a vacation or a period of study abroad. In the isolated world of the sea, the Americans were in a number of ways a different breed from their European counterparts.

On the social side, the Americans looked foolish compared to the Europeans. The European folk danced, arrayed themselves with gusto for fancy dress balls, land threw themselves delightedly into all the sundry, ridiculous games traditionally played on board a ship.

The Americans, on the other hand, tended to regard such pastimes as "kid stuff," and they spurned them with disdain. They boozed a great deal. They stood about a great deal. And they concentrated a great deal on goals.

One American girl, whose goal was finding a Man, did not join in on evening festivities, but instead passed every evening sitting determinedly in a conspicuous spot in the main lounge. Another refused to go out with any American boys on shipboard because she had promised herself only to associate with native French—so intent was she on her "European summer."


In short, the Europeans seemed to know how to live in the present and they had fun, while the Americans pursued their pleasure with an intensity often so great that a good time escaped them. If they were not bound to the "shackles of expectation." the Americans were prone to ask each other, "What shall we do?" in tones of anxiety.

Political discussions, however, were a different story. The Europeans usually listened politely and made an occasional point. The American was restless and impatient and might even walk out if the discussion bored him. But when something caught his interest, he became interested whole-hog And he insisted—no matter what it took—on having his say.

Although the largest European nationality groups on the Aurelia were French and German, regularly scheduled forums on de Gaulle and European unity never once aroused heated debate or bitter argument. The Europeans seemed insistent on maintaining their cools They did not want to be disturbed.

The Americans, on the other, hand, frequently insisted on the scheduling of a follow-up discussion if an argument was not resolved. At one point, a group organised to send telegrams to President Johnson protesting military build-up in Vietnam, At once, a rival group formed to dispatch counter telegrams of support. I remember one incident, in fact, when a conversation between some Southern Americans and a boy from the North ended in violence.


In sum, what stood out about the Americans was their general seriousness. This quality crippled many when it came to having fun, but at the same time it spurred them to declaration, commitment and action concerning an issue which touched them.

If the American student is intense, then what is the young New Zealander like?

I met one New Zealander on the Aurelia, a girl from Lower Hutt on her wanderjahr before attending varsity. She was the backbone of the poster committee, a vigorous folk dancer, and a prize-winner winner in the fancy dress ball for her costume as a can-can girl (using empty Coca-Cola cans). But in the forums, she did not stand up and voice her opinion.

Some signs

Can she represent the whole? Of course not. At Victoria last year, students staged a successful march on Parliament to protest low Government bursaries. This march was perhaps a sign of a political tooth edging through rosy juvenile gums.

But this year there was no, more than a handful of students demonstrating when American Vice-President Humphrey stopped in Wellington.

What is the young New Zealander?

Are there to be no more teeth?

Are our allies soldiers or janitors?

Are our allies soldiers or janitors?