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Old Things That Are Tough To Explain: The Divisive 1960s

January 30, 2019

(image via wikimedia)

People today complain about how divisive politics has made the United States, and I agree that a lot of that isn’t good.  Some people say that our political discourse  is more hateful and vitriolic than ever.  I wouldn’t go that far.  I would guess the discourse before the U.S. Civil War was worse, but I wasn’t around back then.  Maybe war, starvation, extreme violence, and slavery weren’t as bad as today’s internet outrage, but I’m pretty sure the divisiveness was waaaaay worse back then.

I was alive, however, during the late 1960s.  I wasn’t aware of everything when I was a kid, but I remember stuff, and I’ve read about the stuff that I don’t remember.  And let me tell you, the 1960s were waaaay worse than today.

First of all, there were political assassinations in the 1960s.  JFK got assassinated, Martin Luther King Jr. got assassinated, Malcolm X got assassinated, Bobby Kennedy got assassinated.  There were probably more that I don’t even know about.

There haven’t been any of those high profile assassinations recently in the United States.  I hope they don’t happen because assassinations suck.  Maybe security is better at assassination prevention than in the 1960s.  If U.S. politicians start getting assassinated, though, I’ll worry.  If people then start excusing the assassinations, I’ll worry even more.  Assassinations are bad, even (especially) when my government supports them.

Anyway, back to the 1960s.  The 1960s had the Vietnam War, which was way more divisive than anything going on today.  Yeah, the U.S. is still involved in foreign entanglements, but not as many troops are involved today, so it’s easy to forget.  I’m not saying that’s good; I’m just pointing out that it makes the military actions less divisive.

Because so few troops are involved in our military actions, you don’t see many protests over them.  During the 1960s, the anti-Vietnam college campus anti-war protests were so bad that students got shot by the National Guard, and that made things even worse, of course.

The 1960s was the peak of the Cold War (depending on how you look at it).  We were constantly warned that the U.S. and Soviet Union might nuke each other out of existence.  We always heard about the nuke drills that schools did, but my school never bothered.  My family lived so close to a military base that crouching wouldn’t do any good.  We figured we’d just stand tall and watch the show before being blown up.  People argued a lot about whether we needed so many nukes, and those arguments could be just as divisive as anything today.

Race riots in major cities made the country seem unstable.  There are still racial divisions today, but it’s not quite the same.  I mean, pundits say they’re worse today, but I see people of all races and ethnicities working and mingling together all the time with no visible problems.  Yes, there are issues, but people work together on a day-to-day basis.  Back in the 1960s, people were literally divided by race, even after segregation ended.

Then you had a bunch of weed-smoking hippies growing out their hair like women and staying at home with their parents and… wait, that doesn’t sound so bad.

1960s counter-culture gives people fond memories that overshadow the divisiveness of the time.  When I was a teenager, the 1960s were glorified and the 70s were mocked.  The 1960s had cool music like The Beatles and the Rolling Stones, and the 1970s gave us disco.  Yeah, there was cool music in the 1970s, but there was also disco.  The 1960s had JFK, a cool president (who got shot), and the 1970s had Nixon (who had to resign) and Carter (a bumbler who got into a fight with a killer rabbit).

The 1960s ended with a moon landing, and that was unifying, as long as you believe it wasn’t faked.  If you think the moon landing was a hoax, then that can cause an argument too.    Anyway, the cool pop culture stuff in the 1960s make some people forget all the bad divisive stuff that actually happened.

I’m not a big fan of divisiveness.  To me, it’s the politicians (and a few other very powerful people) who are causing the bitter disagreements in the U.S.  Most of us have our beliefs but go about our daily lives trying to raise our families and be productive, and we get along with those who disagree politically.  Our friendships and communities are more important than matching each other’s political checklists.

Some of the political activists would call me the problem because they think I am doing nothing.  I think those political activists are the problem because they usually make the problems worse.

I have mixed thoughts about the 1960s.  I was born in that decade, and that’s a plus.  I don’t want my birth decade to be thought of as a divisive time.  I’m a unifying kind of guy.  Despite all the stuff going on today, I’m fairly optimistic.  I remember the Cold War, the Vietnam War, race riots, and political assassinations.  Stuff could get really bad in the near future, and there are some warning signs, but we’re not there yet.  I should know.  I was born in the divisive 1960s.

From → Pop culture

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