I was in my early teens during the late 60’s, and was terribly unaware of what was going on in the country. Almost all I know about that period was what I have learned after the fact. I was vaguely aware that there was a war, but didn’t understand who or why we were fighting. I knew my oldest brother was in the Army but was in Korea, supposedly out of “harm’s way”. I remember seeing all those infamous body count numbers on the evening news. I remember being confused as to who were the good guys and who were the bad guys. I knew that the U.S. was one of the good guys, but there were three other labels on the screen with their own body counts. I didn’t quite get the distinction between North and South Vietnamese and the Viet Cong.
I didn’t really understand the huge split in the country at the time. I was vaguely aware of various student demonstrations and takeovers of this or that building. I remember the students being killed by the Guardsmen at Kent State. I knew that one of the kids from our little town in Colorado that went to school with my brothers was killed in Vietnam. I knew there was a draft, but I was still years away from that.
All in all, I was a very self-absorbed kid with little understanding of any events going on beyond my own little sphere. I was too busy just trying to survive adolescence, including my mom and dad’s divorce when I was in the third grade and my mom’s continual struggle to survive what must have been at near poverty levels. So, I suppose it isn’t too surprising that I didn’t have a clue at the time.
Still, from what I can piece together from my own memories and from my vantage point looking back at what is now a past national trauma, it seems like what is happening in this country is different than the cultural rupture that occurred in the 60’s.
I suppose the Vietnam War will always be associated with the “hippy/peacenik movement”, drugs, rock and roll, and a new sense of sexual liberation. It wasn’t just that society was split on the war, it was split along cultural lines that would have existed without the war. The war just made it easier to rip society along that pre-existing perforation. On the one side, you had Spiro Agnew and his legion of blue-haired ladies and white men with thick jowls. On the other side, you had Jimi Hendrix, the Black Panthers, Timothy Leary, and Abby Hoffman. The Establishment vs. the Counter-Culture. The war loomed large, but that was not the only thing going on.
Today, there is still a split in society. There are many of the same players on the same sides as before. But there are also some new and very influential players as well that I don’t remember being around at that time. The fundamentalist evangelical is the biggest new player. They can no doubt be seen as being a direct outgrowth from the blue-haired set as a result of the free-wheeling Counter-Culture that looked like was taking hold of the college campuses back then. But this represents a fundamental new movement in the direction tug-of-war going on in society. This faction would like to see America become some sort of fundamentalist Christian theocracy with a heavy dose of military might and unfettered capitalism. So, one could say that the division in this country’s psyche moved to the right. No one is out there advocating drug use to free one’s mind, free love, or any other such nihilistic behavior. But the extreme right seems a lot further to the right than it was before. Maybe the difference is the major pull from the center is to the right now, where back in the 60’s, it was to the left.
Where am I going with this rambling discussion with myself? I have no idea. I suppose I am trying to get some perspective on what is going on with this country today. I have no idea how we got to the point that a very large percentage of the people in this country think that torture is an acceptable practice, invading a country that wasn’t directly threatening us is not only acceptable but required, habeas corpus and other parts of the Constitution and Bill of Rights can be deleted without discussion, the press should function as a propaganda arm of the government, and science as a discipline has been reduced to something akin to astrology. How in the world did we get here?
I do know one thing. This country has been hovering on the edge of a cliff, where the bottom of that cliff is a very nasty dictatorship where the freedoms that we currently take for granted are non-existent. It seems like to me that we have backed a few steps away from that precipice in the last few months. Perhaps people are finally beginning to wake up as to what has really been going on in this country for the past six year. Maybe. I hope it isn’t just wishful thinking on my part. We will see what the landscape looks like after the November elections. I am hoping for an outright repudiation of the thuggish tactics employed by the Republican party. It’s currently looking pretty positive, but I won’t rest easy until Wednesday, November 8th.
Make sure you vote!