171
A Boomer Looks Back
170
In the 25 years following the war – the period that spans the childhood,
adolescence and early adulthood of the Boomer Generation – America was
the preeminent force in the world± Our nation dominated as the most
militarily powerful, culturally influential and richest country on Earth± Te
U±S± economy was firing on all cylinders, domestically and internationally±
Te majority of boomers grew up with the presumption of economic
security, and so my generation tends to be
inherently optimistic about the future±
For most white middle-class children grow-
ing
up in the States between 1946 and 1964,
there seemed to be a never-ending stream
of new goodies that were created for our
pleasure± Wonderful, inexpensive items
made from vinyl, plastic and nylon; shiny
appliances and color television; endless new
choices of cosmetics, prescription drugs
and effortless ²V dinners for all to enjoy±
Every year brought an exciting crop of new
automobiles – bigger, sexier and faster±
And yet, there were always contradictions and uncertainties± An
undercurrent of social change and the threat of nuclear war with Russia was
running through the apparent calm prosperity of the post-WWII, pre-
Vietnam years±
Te 1960s generation was the most privileged in the history of
the world, but also the first generation of young people to witness
multiple assassinations of our nation’s leaders, the exploration of
space, rapidly changing technology and constant social upheaval±
As Charles Dickens began his 1859 novel,
A Tale of Two Cities
, “It
was the best of times, it was the worst of times ±±±±”
It’s difficult to describe the boomers’ experience without
revisiting some of the significant cultural and political events
that shaped our lives± Te 1960s gave rise to an amazing mix of dramatic
changes as Americans struggled to adapt to a rapidly evolving
new normal
±
In the next several pages – as context for some of the essays that follow – I’ve
stitched together a fast-forward summary of the 1960s, highlighting key
players and milestones that made a major impact on how we grew up and
who we became
.
n
A Trip Back
to the
’60s
A
S A BOOMER,
I grew up during the 1960s± For nearly 50 years, I’ve
worked as an entrepreneur in the business community± In those five
decades I’ve also been an active participant in our democratic process±
It’s
been my practice to pay close attention to candidates and issues – and then
cast my vote±
I have also encouraged others to vote±
In this section, I look
back at some of the public events that shaped our country as my generation
matured and took over the leadership of our government± Tere are no
academic credentials attached to my name± My thoughts on our cultural
and political environment are based on my experience, reading and
following “the news±”
I speak from my own perspective, feeling comfortable in voicing opinions
about events and personalities that have registered strongly on my personal
radar±
Writing this book was a creative expression – a sort of scrapbook of
my own life±
I have no agenda, and it’s not my goal to convince anyone to
do anything± My motive is to present ideas that may stimulate discussion
about where our country has been and where it may be headed, and perhaps
encourage others to increase their involvement in our democracy±
I’ve written these short essays from the specific viewpoint of a marketeer, a
perspective that I know well± People who market “products” must pay very
close attention to what their fellow citizens build and consume, because
how Americans spend their money reflects our values and the nature of our
society and what that society might want next± You could say that we are
what we buy – or want to buy – whether we’re speaking of consumer goods
or lifestyles± We also express our values by voting for political leaders and
the agendas they say they support±
²oday, corporate and political platforms are like commodities – they are
carefully cra³ed, “packaged” and presented to the public by marketing
professionals±
Growing Up in the ’60s
Te term “boomer” appears o³en in this section, because I’m writing
primarily about my own generation, and it’s the most common label to
describe those of us who grew up in the 1960s± My generation’s name
evolved from the
Baby Boom
– the population explosion created by parents
who had survived both the Great Depression and World War II±
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172
A Boomer Looks Back
Our nation was stunned in 1961 when
a
Russian
was the first man to travel
into space, fostering the break-neck
acceleration of our own space program.
NASA later mesmerized the world when
they landed an
American astronaut
on the moon.
The United States unsuccessfully conducted
the
Bay of Pigs
invasion of Cuba in 1961.
America remained on pins and needles
during the 1962
Cuban Missile Crisis
, and
the threat of nuclear war lingered at our doorstep.
In 1962 Rachel Carson published her book,
Silent Spring
,
about the overuse of pesticide, which fueled an underlying
mistrust of big corporations and launched the environmental
movement. The following year Betty Friedan published
Feminine Mystique
, kicking off the modern women’s
movement, as American women began to examine their roles
in society and push back against the social status quo.
In 1963, as many as
250,000 citizens marched
on Washington, D.C., to hear
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
deliver his famous I Have a
Dream speech. The event was
aired live on TV and watched
by millions of Americans.
1961
Robert F. Kennedy and John F. Kennedy
The
Swinging ‘60s
began with the introduction of
The Pill
,
making birth control widely available and triggering the start of the sexual revolution.
The Puritan/Protestant roots of our culture were rocked to the core
by the idea that sex could be recreational.
By 1960,
The Ed Sullivan Show
had become the most
watched weekly event on television. Each Sunday night,
American families sat down together to watch the variety
show that introduced our nation to the world’s best
entertainers, ranging from
opera
singers to comedians. An
array
of the biggest stars came
into our living rooms, from Jerry
Lewis to Itzhak Perlman, and it
was center stage for
music – bringing the
boomers their
first look at Elvis Presley, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones,
The Beach Boys and others. It was also the first show to introduce
dozens of black artists on a national stage, including
The
Supremes
,
Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Sammy Davis Jr. and Aretha Franklin.
America changed rapidly: When
Elvis
first rocked and shocked
the older generation, a columnist in The New York Times
commented: “Mr. Presley injected movements of the tongue
and indulged in wordless singing that were distasteful.
Overstimulating the physical impulses of teenagers was
a gross national disservice.” For better or worse, American mores
were in rapid transition. By the late 1960s, Jim Morrison sang
about psychedelic drugs in Light My Fire with the lyric: “Girl, we
couldn’t get much higher.” It was a new era, and
The Ed Sullivan Show would soon be off the air.
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A Boomer Looks Back
The casualties from the
Vietnam War
mounted throughout the decade, deeply
dividing our nation. Americans saw the
body bags of our soldiers being unloaded
each day on television, and war protests
sprang up on most major college campuses
from coast to coast.
Nearly 100,000 counterculture participants made the
pilgrimage to San Francisco during the 1967
Summer
of Love
social phenomenon. Hippies became a part of
everyday life, while LSD and other psychedelic drugs
became firmly entrenched in pop culture.
That same year, World Heavyweight Champion
Muhammad Ali
,
winner of the Gold Medal for the United States in the Olympics, refused
to be conscripted into the military. Ali cited his religious beliefs and opposition
to the war in Vietnam. He was arrested, found guilty of draft evasion and
stripped of his title. He was not allowed to box for nearly four years (during
his prime), until the Supreme Court overturned his conviction in 1971.
There was major conflict
in the Middle East.
Israel was triumphant
in the
Six Day War
with
Egypt, Jordan and Syria
in June 1967.
In 1968, anchorman
Walter Cronkite
,
considered to be
“the most trusted man in America,” gave a closing statement
on a CBS special news report that rocked the nation and
accelerated the change in America’s perception of the Vietnam
War. Cronkite stated: “It seems more certain now than ever
that the bloody experience of
Vietnam is to end in a stalemate. …
To say that we are closer to victory
today is to believe, in the face of the
evidence, the optimists who have
been wrong in the past. … The only
rational way out … will be to
negotiate, not as victors, but as an
honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend
democracy, and did the best they could.”
Muhammad Ali’s
Greatest Victory!
Court Rules for Ali
The national television networks
(ABC, NBC and CBS) became obsessed
with three assassinations, playing loop
after graphic loop of the video footage. In
1963, grief-stricken Americans watched
the Zapruder film showing
President
John F. Kennedy
being shot while
riding in his Dallas motorcade
.
April 1968 brought news of
the
Martin Luther King Jr.
assassination. Here he’s
shown with aides on a motel
balcony in Memphis,
Tennessee, just prior
to being shot.
In June 1968, the
nation viewed footage
of
Senator Robert
Kennedy
lying dead
on the floor of a hotel
in Los Angeles. He was
shot at close range
following a victory
speech after winning
a crucial Democratic
primary.
During the mid-’60s, the entire nation was stunned as we watched police
in
Southern states
brutalize innocent black citizens simply for marching;
Ku Klux Klan groups bombing black churches in Alabama;
and riots on the streets of Los Angeles and other major cities.
In South Africa,
Nelson Mandela
was sentenced to life in prison
for speaking out against apartheid, and served 27 years.
177
176
In 1969
Richard Nixon
was inaugurated as president,
elected with the pledge that he
would bring “Peace with honor”
and end the war in Vietnam.
Less than a year later, American TV screens filled
with images of terror from the grounds of
Ohio’s
Kent State University
. Four students
lay dead and nine were wounded after 13 seconds
of gunfire from the Ohio National Guard.
The ’60s symbolically ended in 1971
with the deaths of
Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison
and
Janis Joplin
.
All died at 27 years of age from living life in the fast lane.
The ’70s opened with the
Watergate
scandal, and by 1975
the oldest boomers began closing in on the dreaded age of 30.
The momentous events of the ’60s became the backdrop
for the famous
Woodstock Music Festival
in August 1969.
Approximately 400,000 boomers made the trek to a farm in New York to camp
for three days of peace and music – bearing witness to the biggest concert of their lifetime.
Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, Credence Clearwater, Joan Baez, The Band,
Santana, Crosby, Stills & Nash, and other groups turned the event into legend.
This spontaneous gathering happened long before cell phones and social media,
highlighting the collective consciousness of a new generation.
Something
was
in
the
air
The Beatles
’ music
guided the new generation
throughout the decade.
Their lyrics evolved from
“I Want To Hold Your Hand “
to “Lucy in the Sky
with Diamonds.” The Beatles
started as four homogeneous,
clean-cut young lads
from Liverpool. They ended
the decade as four separate
spirits, each with his own flair,
traveling in divergent directions.
A myriad of other musical pied
pipers, including Bob Dylan,
The Doors and the Grateful
Dead, sang from the heart about
love, drugs and politics
.
1969
1963
John Sebastian