I invite you to contribute your thoughts to my next project, a project for home schoolers and their parents: a CD-ROM audio history of 20th-century America. I plan to devote 6 hours to each decade.
As you might guess, I regard the key period as 1912/13: the 1912 Presidential election (a 3-way Progressive echo, not a choice); the direct election of Senators (amendment); the income tax (amendment); and the legislative creation of the Federal Reserve System. It has been downhill since then, although not all downhill.
My first CD will be on the 1960s. Then I will move backward to the 1950s. I will move back, decade by decade. I’ll get to the 1970s after I finish with Bryan and Teddy Roosevelt.
I plan to hang my narrative hat on people and groups, since it’s easier to remember biographies than almost anything else. So, I have to select representative figures.
Here is my strategy, so far. If you spot something or someone crucial that I’ve missed, let me know.
I plan to make the following connections.
I shall begin my narrative with the death of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. (May 11, 1960). This was at the peak of influence of the two American Establishments that he funded for half a century: Protestant liberalism and bipartisan foreign policy. He also funded a third Establishment: modern art (they call it). But his son Nelson was more of a mover and shaker in this field. The Rockefeller-Eastern Establishment connection is obvious. Just follow the money.
I will contrast him with two Catholics: John XXIII and John Kennedy, both of whom broke with the Catholicism of Pius XII, who was a representative of the old tradition. I will also show that their two successors (1963-) dramatically changed the operation of their respective institutions.
In 1961, the Bay of Pigs invasion was followed by the construction of the Berlin Wall. The Cuban missile crisis followed the next year. That event was nuclear nip and tuck. Cuba got a permanent kings-x as part of the unofficial settlement, so Fidel Castro lived long enough to become the Methuselah of world Communism. He saw the USSR disappear. The Commies stabbed him in the back. Who can a dictator trust these days?
The tax-funded schools got a dose of Supreme Court religion in the prayer decision of 1962. Other decisions followed. How could I not include Madalyn Murray O’Hair? She is right up there with Betty “The Nose” Freidan. One does ignore prime targets this visible. As H. L. Mencken so aptly described liberal female political activists: “The kind of women who make you want to burn every bed in the world.” (Sadly, I shall not include this aphorism in my home school curriculum.)
Popular music was an integral part of the entire era. Popular music in the early 60s was abysmal — the reign of the Bobbys: Bobby Vinton, Bobby Vee, Bobby Rydell, and Bobby Darin (who occasionally rose to the level of barely tolerable). The Beach Boys were an exception to this musical wasteland. The Piltdown Men were not. Then came the Beatles (February 1964), Bob Dylan (the 1965 electrified version), and the Rolling Stones (ever-devoid of satisfaction, but not money, beginning in 1965). I will focus on rock music’s connection to the counter-culture, which will not take too much creativity on my part. The peak symbolically was the brief period from the flower children at Woodstock (August 1969) to the Hells Angels/Stones at Altamont (December 1969). The Beatles broke up in 1970. That event symbolically interred the 1960s, musically speaking.
As for the movies, two stand out as turning points: Inherit the Wind (1960) and Elmer Gantry (1960). These came in the wake of the spectacularly successful Ben Hur (1959). They represent the first full-scale Hollywood assault on Protestant fundamentalism. I will also highlight films that were part of the culture war that followed. Bonnie and Clyde will be on the list. So will the beach blanket movies. Annette Funicello was surely a reigning symbol of the early 1960s: the 1950s, all grown up.
TV and sports came together in the 1960s to create a cultural empire. In sports, the supreme figure was Clay/Ali: as a media figure, a religious figure, and a political figure. He could talk. Has any sports figure been a more engaging talker? And he could really fight. A few years ago, he observed that if people around the world loved each other the way that they love him, there would be more peace in this world. He was correct.
I shall mark the beginning of the youth counter culture with the Free Speech movement at UC Berkeley, which was put together on an ad hoc basis on October 1, 1964, by Bettina Aptheker — another Mencken pin-up girl — who was the daughter of American Communism’s chief ideological spokesman, Herbert Aptheker. When all is said and done, Bettina had more effect on American culture in one afternoon than her father had in a lifetime of Marxist speculation.
Race relations deteriorated within two weeks of the passage of the Civil Rights Act in July, 1964: the New York City race riot (July), followed by race riots in Rochester, Jersey City, Patterson, Elizabeth, and Chicago (Dixmore) over the next five weeks, and then the Watts riot of 1965. Ten more followed over the next five years.
The Vietnam War and its connection to the counter culture is obvious. LBJ’s Presidency did not survive its effects. What I find curious is that there seems to have been no single figure in the antiwar movement to match LBJ. Most mass movements do have a supreme media representative. The absence of such a figure testifies to the broad-based nature of the war’s opposition. There was no single transmission belt, as Lenin identified revolutionary political causation, as far as I can see.
Assassinations played a major role in undermining the public’s expectations from reformist politics: JFK, MLK, and RFK, which ended with bullets the rhetoric of Establishment liberalism’s dreams. I will close the 60s with the event that really did close the decade by ending the counter culture: Kent State (May 1970).
The appearance of Eastern religious cults and the re-emergence publicly of old-fashioned occultism began around 1965. The media could not resist two figures: Dr. Timothy Leary and his former Harvard associate, Dr. Richard Alpert (“Baba Ram Dass”). I shall not, under any circumstances, fail to mention Dr. Alpert’s father’s name for him: Rum Dum. The end of the flower children’s love affair with Eastern mysticism came in 1969: the discovery in November that Charles Manson (aka Jesus Christ and Siddartha/Buddha) had organized the Tate-LaBianca murders in August. This news created an instant collectors’ market for the Beach Boys’ single, written by Manson, “Cease to Resist.” (Original title: “Cease to Exist.”)
In economic theory and policy, Keynesianism came into its own. Kennedy cut marginal income tax rates and got an economic boom. Then LBJ’s policy of guns and butter — war and welfare — created price inflation, a gold outflow crisis, and Federal deficits. Nixon’s recession in 1970 ended the boom of the 1960s.
Technologically, the introduction of the IBM 360 in 1965 was the key event. Moore’s Law, announced by Intel’s Gordon Moore in 1965 — “Chip capacity doubles every two years” — accelerated to every 18 months (1965—2000). The only technological innovation to rival the IBM 360 in its impact on American culture was the launching of ARPAnet in 1969, which became the Internet. It was a classic government project. It was begun as a communications network to insure the survival of the U.S. government after an atomic attack. There was no atomic attack. Instead, there are uncountable websites that are day by day eroding the public’s confidence in civil governments. I can think of no other government project in my lifetime where the money was better spent . . . by mistake, of course.
The bureaucratic event of the decade was the moon landing in July 1969. It was an astounding achievement, primarily because it was a Federal spending project that actually met its deadline. Nothing like this had happened before . . . or since.
If you have other suggested connections, drop me a line.
February 2, 2006