During the past few weeks, CNN has been showing a series called "The Sixties." If you ask many Americans today what images stand out to them about the 1960s, they'll cite flower children and psychedelic pictures.
But tonight, I watched the show about 1968, which many consider the most tumultuous year in American history. I was 14 years old throughout most of 1968...an age in which many young people begin to achieve a level of consciousness of events outside of their own sphere of influence. I was no different.
1968 is the year when CNN postures that the Vietnam war began to be viewed by most Americans as "unwinnable." It was also the year in which I held signs and canvassed door-to-door for Senator Eugene McCarthy's presidential campaign.
I had grown up in a post-WWII America in which I was taught to revere the fact that we had always been on the "right" side of war, and we had always won. That was what was so dismaying about Vietnam...we shouldn't have been there, it was wrong, and it was unwinnable.
1968 was the year when we watched Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy felled by bullets. If JFK's assassination had signaled our end of innocence, then the loss of Martin and Bobby cemented that legacy.
Had I been older, I might have attended the protests outside of the Democratic convention in Chicago--protests that devolved into police violence unlike any of us had ever seen before. But I watched it all on TV...that marvelous medium that had awoken us all from our collective, 50s slumber.
1968 also gave us President Nixon. Those of you who have known me for long know that I've always thought of Nixon as our worst president, not so much because of his presidential actions, but because he caused so much irreparable harm to American politics and to the office. I believe that today's lack of respect for the presidency, be it for Clinton, Bush, or Obama, is a direct result of Nixon's sordid political behavior.
So as I warily watched the CNN show about that year, I was thankful that I had lived through it, and indeed come of age around that time. But I was sad that we had lost so much of our potential future and could only wonder, "what if..."
Looking back, the 1960s was no more about flower children than the 1970s was about disco. Those are just images the media perpetuate--the same media that now bring us shows about those decades. And as this particular show broke for an interim commercial break, I was jolted back to today's reality with the words, "The Sixties is sponsored by Koch Industries."