Book Review: Brent Green’s ‘Noble Chaos: A Novel’ Offers Rare Opportunity to Relive the Collegiate Experience of the Turbulent Sixties and Seventies
Let me begin my review with this disclaimer: Brent Green’s Noble Chaos, is a book that powerfully resonates in my heart. It speaks deeply to me, as not only was I a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison during the early 1970s, but Madison is my hometown. Which means I was there during the 1960’s, when that campus became a hotbed of student activism, with student protests mostly focused on the highly unpopular Viet Nam war.In high school, I had a part-time department store job at a shopping mall on the other side of Madison from my hometown. Because Madison is located on an isthmus, with the campus as the center, I had to cross into the campus area to get to my job. The city buses only ran hourly in the evening, so I generally drove my mother’s car to work. I will never forget having to drive past blockaded areas and through the protest areas, which were often on fire at night. In retrospect, I’m surprised my parents allowed me to do this!For me, it’s been more than 50 years (October 1967) since opposition to the Vietnam War led some Madison students to stage a what began as a peaceful protest against the fact that the Dow Chemical Company– manufacturers of napalm, the flammable gel the US used on the battlefields — was holding on-campus student job recruitment interviews at what was then known as the Commerce Building.What began as a peaceful act of civil disobedience turned violent as city police officers with riot sticks forcibly removed students from the building where they were holding a peaceful sit-in to physically block the Dow interviews. The clash involved thousands and injured dozens. Beyond that, it hardened campus relationships, became a catalyst for a new wave of emboldened pacifists and propelled the Madison campus to the forefront of the national antiwar movement. UW-Madison students soon learned to be thankful when the Governor would call out the National Guard, because — as the students quickly discovered — the Guard were professional soldiers and nowhere near as likely to club them, kick them, or shoot them!I also believe the Dow Riot was the first protest at a major university to turn violent and the first time tear gas was used to disperse a crowd on that campus. Personally, I was in 9th grade at the time, so had pretty much been able to ignore the war and live a typical high school student life, even though I saw evidence of it nightly on the national news, and had many classmates whose older brothers had been drafted into service. “Hell no, we won’t go!” was a mantra I had heard and understood, but from a theoretical point of view. However, life in Madison changed for all of us — no matter what our age — after that first student riot.As my father had previously attended the same campus during the early fifties on an ROTC commission, I also remember how huge rifts developed in so many families. Rifts caused because our uncles and fathers who had served in World War II or Korea and who were strongly opposed to Communism could not understand why we — their nieces, nephews, sons and daughters — did not see Vietnam as a righteous war, and in fact strongly and conscientiously objected to it, desperately urging for pacifism. Some even going so far as to move to Canada.