So 1968 this isn't. To be sure, there were scuffles between Chicago police and protesters in town for the NATO summit hosted by President Barack Obama, but relatively speaking this has been a far cry from the Democratic National Convention of 44 years ago, with the Vietnam War in full swing, that gave the Windy City a national reputation for police brutality. Given the unseasonably high temperatures, the city of Chicago even provided water and cooling stations for the protesters, so Mayor Rahm Emanuel is not to be confused with Richard J. Daley.

So 1968 this isn't.


To be sure, there were scuffles between Chicago police and protesters in town for the NATO summit hosted by President Obama, but relatively speaking this has been a far cry from the Democratic National Convention of 44 years ago, with the Vietnam War in full swing, that gave the Windy City a national reputation for police brutality. Given the unseasonably high temperatures, the city of Chicago even provided water and cooling stations for the protesters, so Mayor Rahm Emanuel is not to be confused with Richard J. Daley.


If anything, some members of the crowd instigated the physical confrontations as police attempted to disperse them over the weekend, throwing sticks, bottles and paint, accompanied by the usual screaming of one insult or another. Some billy clubs came out as a result, though a more disciplined police force of sufficient manpower and greater PR savvy (in a world where everyone has a cell phone camera) seems to have learned a few things since 1968 - even since 1999, when protesters disrupted the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle and the mayor there had to declare the municipal equivalent of martial law.


About 50 people were arrested during Sunday's march to McCormick Place, where NATO leaders were meeting, not counting the five people detained in two separate police operations on far more serious allegations of planning acts of terrorism to disrupt the summit, or worse. There were a few injuries, some to police. That was the stuff you saw on the national news.


Nonetheless, all things considered, both the size and passion of the crowd registered at levels well below what was advertised. Compared to some other gatherings of the fed-up and frustrated around the globe, these demonstrations have been tame. No one is complaining about that.


Loosely organized by a group calling itself the Coalition Against NATO/G8 War and Poverty Agenda - whose name is almost as long as the list of protesters' grievances - the marches seemed to have little focus, not unlike the Occupy Wall Street gatherings of last year, which is not to be dismissive so much as just observant. Some were there in opposition to NATO - aka "the military arm of global capitalism" - others to give voice against climate change or the consumption of meat or consumption in general or economic inequality or tar sand oil extraction. Boeing, headquartered in Chicago, took its share of grief for making military aircraft and weaponry.


If there was any commonality, there did seem to be a desire to end the war in Afghanistan, to which the NATO heads of state gave every public impression they were ignoring as they reiterated their "no rush for the exits" position, which may be the understatement of more than a decade at war. It's hard to blame those who have wearied of that military intervention and its costs in blood and treasure. It's critical that NATO know when to get in, but it's just as important to know when to get out. NATO is promising that day will come in 2014 given the "irreversible transition" they've begun to a non-combat posture there. We shall see.


In any case, the greater challenge to NATO probably came from inside the room rather than outside it.


The 63-year-old alliance is showing cracks like perhaps never before, with even former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates expressing concerns about its future. The U.S. has turned its foreign policy attentions to Asia and the Middle East, while Europe grapples with a debt crisis that prevents much investment in defense, and which then falls to the U.S. Changes in leadership, as in France, have threatened NATO consensus on major matters.


One would say this: NATO has been an uncommonly successful alliance, one that remains important against other emerging powers that would gladly see American and Western influence around the world diminished. That it exists is a deterrent to aggression against its 28 member nations. As such it has helped keep the peace more than it has not.


Nothing last forever, no institution is perfect, but NATO is very much something that all involved should try to hold together, even as some shortsightedly call for its dissolution.


The Journal Star of Peoria, Ill.