I watched a documentary tonight, “The Day the Sixties Died” on PBS. I am somewhat surprised at the emotion I felt when I watched it. I am a child of the sixties; I lived it, I was there. I felt like I was back there in that time, watching it all on TV again when the National Guard killed four students at Kent State in Ohio.
I remembered so many of my friends getting their letters from the draft board, and being called to fight in a war that they did not support. So many died in that war, 58,000+ of my generation. They were compelled to fight the “enemy”, in this case, communism. That “enemy” we were told, would gradually creep its way all over the planet if we did not stop them there on their own soil in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos. The called it the “domino theory”.
I guess my feeling was that these fat cats in Washington were calling on my generation to fight their war, yet we did not at that point even have the right to vote. The voting age at that time was 21. We were part of a “sub culture”, a group of young people who did not understand the need for war and inequality, and we fought for peace. There was the usual back lash of Americans who questioned our patriotism, the righteous proclamations of “God Bless America”, and the hatred for anyone who they identified as a “hippie”. For one brief moment in time we were unified in a common cause. By we, I mean my generation. I think the United States came close to all out revolution at that time. Closer than any time since the Civil War.
I would be 18 years old in June, and graduated high school in that year. There had been a US presence in Vietnam since 1954, when I was 2 years old. The war escalated in 1961 until finally ending in 1973. 11 MILLION North Vietnamese, 58,200 Americans, 250,00 South Vietnamese and another 5,000 miscellaneous troops from other countries would loose their lives in this conflict. South Vietnam fell to North Vietnam in 1975. Despite that, Communism did not spread all over South East Asia and the rest of the world as we were told.
The Sixties symbolized many things: massive protests for peace, civil rights for Blacks and women, assassinations, riots, war and hippies. The Day the Sixties died was May 4, 1970. This was not the literal start of a new decade, but this was the day the movement died. The day that hope died. This was the day that the National Guard shot and killed four students at Kent State. The day when the American Establishment turned on its own people.
I sit here now as a 62 year old woman watching the news this evening as I write. There is a new face off between police, the National Guard and the people going on in Baltimore, Maryland. I’m not about to get into the politics of this fight or who is right and who is wrong. I’m just noticing that once again America is at war against itself, because it cannot even uphold its own principles of equality and justice domestically Internationally we have been involved in another ceaseless war since 2003, against another nebulous enemy whose face constantly changes and who we cannot seem to eradicate. I remember watching the congressional hearings on whether to start this war and thinking to myself: it’s not possible, we cannot have another Vietnam, yet we did. And the American public bought into the fear and intimidation and supported this war, even though it’s since been revealed that perhaps the public was duped by the government, into chasing down phantom “weapons of mass destruction” and unseen “enemies”.
Hatred and bigotry seem rampant in this country. We still hate those who are different. Black people and women still have issues, but the latest group in the forefront of the hatred are gay people. Maybe I’m dense, but I don’t see any difference from what’s going on today to any other time in our human history when we singled out one group of people to hate and discriminate against. For most of recorded history, it was women, and still to this day. It’s also been pagans, protestants, Black people, Jewish people, communists, Muslims, witches…..it goes on and on. We can’t seem to stop; it appears that hating some one or some group makes some of us feel superior, right.
The human race seems to suffer from a lack of empathy and an epidemic of narcissism. The majority of people seem to be unable to put themselves in anyone else’s shoes and see how it feels to be hated and bullied. They stand in their own self righteousness and seek to rule the world and force everyone into their own sense of what’s right and what’s wrong. Yet as a species, we are more diverse than any other species on the planet. Look at a Crow….they are all black, all have the same feathers, walk on two legs and have wings. But yet here stands the human being in an infinite amount of diversity, with their supposed large, developed brains, killing one another for reasons that may seem quite ridiculous to our descendants a couple of hundred years from now.
Thinking back to Kent State, 45 years ago next Monday, I have to think that a little bit of me and a little bit of America died that day. For me, the illusion that there might be a different world based on peace, respect and compassion, died a violent death on that day. I suppose deep down inside I’m still that hippie girl, hoping for some illusive utopia that can’t possibly exist on this planet, and it makes me very sad. I hurt for the people who are singled out for hatred and bullying, the innocent victims of war, euphemistically referred to as “collateral damage”, feel the pain of all the suffering and sadness in this world, and mourn for the loss of a world in which we could all live in peace.
I also lost some of belief in our system of government. That system of government suffered a huge blow when the militia of the government fired on its own citizens. Today, we are seeing a very gradual and insidious transfer of power to the police. I find it ironic that we used to refer to police as “officers of the peace.”
I leave you with the words of Thomas Jefferson:
Experience has shown that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.