At a friend's Easter Sunday dinner party, I asked, "What do you think the student movement of the '60s in the U.S. accomplished?" One guest answered, "Obama's election." Unexpected but true: in this country, the opposition to the Vietnam war went hand in hand with the movement that culminated, in federal legislation, in U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson's Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965.

I raised the question because this is the 40th anniversary of "the fall of the Yasuda Auditorium" — the nine-story clock tower that rises above the University of Tokyo (Todai) — that marked the beginning of the end of Japan's often violent student movement. In January 1969, the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department mobilized 8,500 officers in riot gear to remove the students from the building they had barricaded.

The two-day process was warlike. The police used 10,000 tear gas grenades and sprayed the gas from helicopters as well. They lined up an array of water cannons as well as fire engines capable of throwing up water with far greater pressure, enough to smash through the boarded-up windows of the auditorium.