I don't know who first said this, but I quoted it in an earlier book: "If you believe the 1960s was a good decade you are probably a Democrat; if you believe it was a bad decade you are probably a Republican." It was a decade of riots, violence, death, drugs, sex, and heavy metal. It was also a decade of human rights, non-violence, idealism, and folk music.
America was in the throes of the McCarthy era, the cold war, segregation and the aftermath of Brown v. Board of Education, a post-World War II Christian nationalism, and the war in Vietnam. The conditions were ripe for a revolution from the left. The academics, the poets, the musicians, and young men facing the draft found common ground with the black and the poor.
The politics of the 1960s were the years of Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon-Camelot, assassinations, integration, war and scandal. The politics of the early 2000s will be remember as the years of Bush and Obama-9/11, two wars, a financial crash, hope and change, and divided government.
In any period of history, revolution is a paradox. The anti-war movement of the Vietnam era also became an anti-military movement because of the draft. Our anger was at the uniform, not at the person wearing. Our anger was at the napalm, the helicopter gun-ships, and the carpet-bombing, not at our brothers, sons, cousins and classmates. Our anger was at the presidents and the government who sent them to kill and die.
We believed you did not have to be black to march for civil rights. College students; preachers and radical ideologues; and an activist court mounted the ramparts of revolt. Our anger was not at white people, or the South, or honored traditions. It was at the illogical and inhumane practice of unequal rights.
It was also a decade of mandated religion. In the 1950s our affinity for the Constitution, the country, the military, democracy, free-enterprise and our fear of godless Communism gave us impetus to add religion to our coinage, our patriotic symbols and recitation of allegiance.
In the 1960s we decided that children in public school should not be subjected to compel speech or mandated prayer. We affirmed the same First Amendment that guaranteed all persons the free exercise of prayer, bible reading, and religious speech also protected children in public schools from mandated sectarian activity at any level of government. A new generation asked for separate allegiance to our secular documents and our religious documents, with appropriate homage to each.
Our wars of invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan did not incite the public outcry of the Vietnam War. While these were also wars of choice based on unfounded information and unclear objectives they did not take us to the brink of revolution. With an all-volunteer military and the absence of the draft many internalize their ideological anger and find refuge in selective non-participation.
The current movements for marriage equality and reproductive rights divide us ideologically. Angry rhetoric and random acts of violence challenge conflicting values. Human sexuality has distracted an apathetic government and puritanical fundamentalism from their constitutional and biblical moorings.
We just celebrated Memorial Day and prepare for July 4. We speak with unanimity of freedom of speech, the press, religion and assembly. Yet even now, among the most dedicated in the ranks of the religious, the libertarian, the conservative, the tea party, and the patriot, we hear the few who speak of taking up arms and overthrowing a government not of their choosing.