The “military-industrial complex” is finally poised to wipe out the Sixties. Almost half of America stayed “straight” while the rest of the world grooved to a new beat in the sixties. Change was in the air.
We wanted peace, not war. Our guys were in Vietnam, fighting a war that was not our business although it was sold as a war against the spread of Communism. Since an all-out war on Russia was too risky we fought them in Vietnam, a tiny nation. It was an awful war, as all wars are, but even more difficult because of the terrain and the temperatures and a style of guerilla, hit-and-run warfare we were not prepared for. We responded with Agent Orange and napalm and learned that chemical warfare should be considered unacceptable forever after.
America, for once, found a voice of dissent. We wanted out of this war. But we were divided. Some Americans were hawks even in the Sixties who felt that America, when provoked must respond with military force. There were probably even cynics who believed that war always helped boost the American economy. For some people everything is about money. Many Americans supported the war because they are Americans, they are patriotic, and they had sons, daughters, husbands, fathers in Vietnam fighting this bizarre and deadly war.
We were experiencing a fairly new hostility to the very institutions at the foundations of the American economy. It was just hitting home that our democracy was not quite as democratic as we would like nor were our opportunities quite as equal as we would like. Some Americans began to suspect that the powerful people were stacking the deck in their favor and that our money was going to people who were already powerful and rich. The rich and powerful wanted a national government that was in the control of those who believed that we needed a strong military (possibly putting us in line to be permanently at war), and those who felt that if our laws favored industry the American economy would also be the strongest economy in the world. These folks believed that a strong military-industrial complex would keep America dominant on the world stage.
The other half of America railed against the “establishment” and wrote about change, talked about change, and demonstrated for change. This half of America even tried to live in the changed America they hoped was emerging. The straighter half of America grew long sideburns, wore bell bottoms and went off the work every day. They did not even understand what the “change” chants were all about. They felt that the counterculture was unreal, nonsensical, and possibly treasonous.
These were the days when pressure from people both black and white led to the Civil Rights Act signed in 1965. Passing a law never cures a society’s ills like magic. You can make people act in certain ways, but you cannot make them feel certain things. But this law represented the kind of humanitarian changes that resulted from the idealistic and, some believed, airy-fairy view that was currency in the counterculture. Learning to accept the diverse nature of America’s people was very much a part of “hippie” philosophy. In cities we saw more racial mixing than occurred in earlier decades. Concern about poorer Americans became an issue that should not only be addressed by churches, but also by the American government.
And we had the pill, the birth control pill which gave women the freedom to control their own futures. They could enjoy physical intimacy without having to accept that this would almost inevitably produce an offspring, either planned or unplanned. Women were already a fixture in the workplace, but now you could choose to pursue a serious career, like a man could. Women talked and talked in consciousness raising groups all over America. It gave women a heady sense that they were not just appendages of men. They were half of the human race and they were not feeling at all submissive. Why were they given brains that worked so well if they were not intended to share in their culture and contribute to their culture?
There were always establishment forces who hated these movements that began in the Sixties. Richard Nixon embodied that snide, entrenched opposition to all things “new age”. The side wars between John Lennon and Richard Nixon are perfect representations of how ridiculous and petty his resistance and his fear often seemed. Although John Lennon lived the “revolution” he had too many personal problems to be a real threat. He was essentially an artist, someone who could inspire a counterculture war, but not lead it.
The “establishment” hated the counterculture. Many of the laws, policies, and programs that Republicans hate most have roots in the Sixties. The Great Society may not have arisen fully formed in the Sixties but you can see counterculture concerns all over it. The Great Society gave rise to “big government”. Even environmentalism tended to split along the lines established in the Sixties.
The same decade also gave America a culture split between the Hawks and the Doves. Imperialism, colonialism, American interference in foreign government, regime change were all “old” philosophies of arrogant nations according to the members of the counterculture. These strategies for control of others were now considered wrong and unsuited to the ideals of a democratic nation. But not by everyone. The Republicans did not soften their foreign policy stances. They felt that if America did not remain number one in every arena then America would no longer exist as a nation. We would give up dreams of empire and become just another less-than-spectacular nation among many.
Conservatives have always been wary of social programs. No social program could be passed without ways to make it onerous built in. People who needed help must always be punished for their failure to compete and survive. We do not even know how social programs would have fared if they were offered without blame and without layers and layers of bureaucracy. Can you have both accountability and simplicity or is that something that will always be a paradox?
Many of the people who fell for the things that were broadcast incessantly on Talk Radio and Fox News are the same people who never joined the counterculture. They considered it a passing fancy. They had families to support and they had to work hard to do that but they also had a carrot in front of them. It was the carrot of prosperity, of a legacy for their families, of their own little dynasty that lived and worked nearby, of a retirement of leisure and time to pursue all of the pleasures they had deferred, the carrot of safety and peace. Then the dream began to collapse, one factory at a time, one child leaving home at a time, one pension at a time, one housing bubble at a time.
Is the counterculture to blame for their loss? Is this those damn hippies again? No matter. They look to the very same establishment that shafted them to lift them back up. And we all get President Trump. These “straight shooters” think they have elected a new Ronald Reagan. I believe that a President Trump will more closely resemble a Richard Nixon.
Will the Sixties really die, or will the movement just go underground training new young people in the use of the “force” so we can clean up the mean mess when the fever finally burns out? We might have to bide our time for a bit and see what shakes out but we will stay in touch.