I can still remember the anxious excitement and expectant anticipation I felt as a teenager awaiting the latest albums by my favorite recording artists. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, the doors, Buffalo Springfield, Donovan, Dylan, The Who, Simon and Garfunkel, Cream, Jimi Hendrix and The Mothers of Invention - yeah, these groups always epitomized the vanguard of more than just the latest musical trends, they embodied the full gamut of teenage angst and experimentation in every imaginable avenue. The decade's constantly evolving sense of cool unfolded through hair styles, fashionable clothing, trendy lingo, art, underground comix and comedy. We grew to become linked together as if we shared one common consciousness, one common desire and one common spirit.
The battle lines were drawn at dinner tables over curfew times, at schools over dress codes, at barber shops over hair lengths, at protests over Civil Rights and Vietnam, in parks and on the streets through Love-Ins, and in every young heart beating out a rhythm of pure and innocent insistence for the right to be heard and have our voices count in the decisions the government made which, after all, concerned every aspect of our future well being - even impacting who lived and died - through the draft. Our young minds found no reason to trust anyone over the age of 30, since everyone beyond that age proved themselves to be so entrenched in maintaining the status quo as they aspired to climb corporate ladders, accrue wealth, status, position, favors and power, and inflict Billy clubs, jail cells, bombs and napalm on everyone who disagreed with their aggrandizing, imperial agenda.
The decade opened with the election of John Fitzgerald Kennedy as the youngest President in the nation's history, symbolizing what would turn out to be the theme of the entire period: the time for old men and their suffocating, stagnant programs and timetables had arrived to face certain upheaval from the high octane energy and broadly educated erudition of the emerging youth subculture. A struggle ensued between those tired and outdated old men who refused to concede that their backward facing policies had long since run their course versus the forward looking, progressive and ambitiously visionary aims promoted by the radical, young leaders of the new era. The clash of generations was epitomized by the differences one can discover in the stagnant politics of privilege versus the progressive politics of inclusion.
The first crisis in the evolutionary exchange of power and authority arose as the Kennedy Administration engaged in a ‘50s, McCarthy mentality clash with Communism in Cuba and Fidel Castro. Initially, JFK acquiesced to the CIA’s influence and accepted the old men’s paradigm and their methods of influencing international events and trends. However, the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion (the CIA-sponsored attempt to overthrow the government of Fidel Castro in April of 1961) taught Kennedy an important lesson, the planet was turning away from the Post War Era and the idea that nations could undertake unilateral military actions or clandestine, subversive operations led by espionage agencies of governments upon foreign soil.
As the Kennedy Administration learned from that disaster, they accepted Eos role and ushered a new sunrise and a new phase of the Cold War period. In the coming months, JFK’s influence would dawn across every continent and every international relationship as well as every sphere of human endeavor. Consequently, JFK laid the seeds for a new approach to international intervention and to induce positive change in the years to come.
The results of Kennedy's changes of course are borne out most clearly in three events.
The first concerns his handling of the Berlin Crisis (from June to November of 1961) and his speech in Berlin (containing the famous line, "Ich bin ein Berliner") which laid down a gauntlet to Khrushchev, declaring the freedom available under democracy far greater of a value than the Communist form of government offered to the people living under its influence. Kennedy said, “Freedom has many difficulties and democracy is not perfect, but we have never had to put a wall up to keep our people in.” The Berlin air lift brought supplies in from the West to West Berlin in defiance of the Soviet attempts to isolate West Berlin, economically, militarily and spiritually from the rest of the “Free World.” Kennedy thereby initiated his strategy of confronting Communism openly, appealing to the hearts and minds of people of the world, painting Communists and Khrushchev as being autocratic, totalitarian dictators with no heart, no soul and no empathy for the common man. In this way, he sought to make the Communists a pariah in the world community and isolate them both diplomatically and economically through diminished trade relations on the world stage.
The second event concerned the Cuban Missile Crisis in October of 1962, during which JFK's naval blockade effectively bottled up Cuba, forestalling any threat from Soviet missiles which might yet be installed on Cuba could impose against the U.S., buying time and allowing the interceding influence of Bertrand Russell (who engaged UN Secretary-General U Thant and British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan to draw Kennedy and Khrushchev into discussions) to not only engage in a more rational approach to U.S.-Soviet conflict over a Cuba containing Russian nuclear missiles and the potential for nuclear war (again forcing Khrushchev to back down and accede to US supremacy on the world's stage). Kennedy threw down a gauntlet to Khrushchev, demanding the Soviet Union either had to back down to U.S. demands that no further nuclear weapons be shipped to Cuba and that all preparations for missile launching sites and any nuclear weapons which may have been shipped to Cuba must be removed, or Khrushchev be willing to engage the U.S. in open war at a time when the U.S. possessed a huge strategic, technological, economic and military advantage (especially vis-à-vis weaponry, including an approximate 5000 to 300 advantage in nuclear warheads at the time). However, this intercession also assisted Kennedy to engage Khrushchev in a new era for U.S.-Soviet relations, a diplomatic era of dialogue ensued, replacing the macho posturing of threats and counter threats, as the two nations engaged in diplomacy on their nuclear arsenals which led to the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty signed on August 5, 1963.
The third event concerned Kennedy's realization that (even though he still believed Vietnam bore strategic importance to U.S. interests and he was still committed to the U.S. position of thwarting the advance of Communism in the region) continued U.S. troop involvement, especially during a period with South Vietnam's President Ngo Dinh Diem (who Kennedy saw as being insufficiently anti-Communist and an unreliable partner) in the position of authority over the government of South Vietnam (though Diem was the legitimate, elected President of South Vietnam), promised the potential of rising to the level of becoming another Bay of Pigs fiasco. This foresight led Kennedy to sign off on National Security Memorandum No. 263 on October 5, 1963, which expressed the intention to initiate a withdrawal of 1000 of the 16,000 American troops who were acting as advisors, training South Vietnamese troops so they could prosecute the war to an effective conclusion on their own without further U.S. entanglement. JFK did sanction the CIA to participate in a coup d'etat in Vietnam, wresting power from Diem through the coup on November 1, 1963 which was made permanent with Diem's assassination on November 2nd, which provides further evidence that Kennedy intended to ultimately remove all U.S. military personnel since, despite removing the “unreliable” head of the government with whom the U.S. was partnered and the installation of a more reliable partner through CIA actions to install a puppet government, Kennedy still intended to remove the 1000 troops. Why remove those troops if the only fear was that Diem would undermine the war effort? Obviously, JFK had additional misgivings about the entire embroilment in that war and wanted U.S. troops out!
A mere 48 days later, JFK was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.
However, Kennedy had established a clear divide in these last three maneuvers from previous policy. He did not entertain a proxy war against Communism through a proxy government in an area where U.S. global interests were minimal at best and in which the U.S. would likely end up losing far too many lives in the process. Kennedy also stopped trying to fight Communism with the cloak and dagger methods of his Cold War predecessors. No, he took the battle into the center stage of international public opinion, waging a war with words, ideas and morality. He also proved strong enough to stand up to a real threat when it presented itself through the Cuban Missile Crisis and yet remain wise enough in his strength to engage Khrushchev in diplomacy once he had the upper hand rather than bullying his adversary and forcing a war that otherwise was unnecessary.
During the same time period, Martin Luther King, Jr. urged black America to aspire to something more than white America had been willing, up to that time, to accept and to offer. Dr. King also challenged white America’s moral fiber and sense of decency as he demanded white America to accept their black countrymen as brothers and sisters, as true equal partners in the great experiment of the American democracy. Marches demanding equality crisscrossed across the states.
Bobby and Jack Kennedy embraced the kind of inclusive democracy which he preached on the world stage as being better than Communism, and forced George Wallace to eat a little Jim Crow as the University of Alabama was integrated. In so doing, the Kennedy brothers embraced Dr. King and his ideas of an America which would learn to be colorblind, offering equal opportunity to all and which stood for the democratic principles which it preached and which they advocated internationally. It wasn't long before separate schools, separate drinking fountains, separate bathrooms, separate swimming holes, and a segregated South were replaced with desegregation through integration.
In the aftermath of John Kennedy's assassination, the entire nation entered a period of mourning. The bright moment which the Kennedy Administration as Camelot seemed to offer crashed down with Lyndon Johnson’s fist on the desk in the Oval Office after he assumed the Presidency. LBJ returned American politics to the older model - old men decided what was best for everyone else without acquiring input from the electorate. Johnson stopped the withdrawal of US troops from Vietnam before it could take place, cancelling National Security Memorandum No. 263. Johnson's policy of CIA led coups extended throughout the “banana republics” in Central and South America as well as in the Middle and Near East and Africa as LBJ sought to extend the shadow of his hand, along with America's burgeoning empire, over the hemisphere and throughout the entire Third World.
However, running concurrently with the LBJ show, American airwaves were invaded by British rock groups, especially The Beatles. The national fancy for youth leadership felt a vacuum ensue after the JFK assassination. However, The Beatles charisma and charm, their humor and talent, their good looks and innovative artistry caught everyone's fancy, spontaneously and enthrallingly. They landed on American shores on February 7, 1964 and the entire country’s population of teenage girls seemed to want to rush the gates, screaming at the top of their lungs, hoping to catch a glimpse of The Beatles or rip a piece of clothing off one of them. If American adolescent females entertained fantasies which included their favorite Beatle, every American adolescent male wanted to be a Beatle, or at least be the next Beatle, and electric guitars found their way into nearly every American household.
Meanwhile, something else was happening out of sight from mainstream America which would have a great influence later in the decade. In 1960, Timothy Leary went to Mexico to taste the not yet forbidden fruit of psilocybin mushrooms. After his experience, Leary returned to Harvard a changed man. Maybe he wasn't quite yet ready to drop out, but he had been turned on as he tuned in to the experience. So, naturally, he turned on his friend and Harvard colleague Richard Alpert (later to be known as Ram Dass and Baba Ram Dass). Alpert tuned in with Leary. A psychology experiment was engaged. Leary discovered that the psychedelic experience (that term hadn't yet been coined, but soon would be) induced a mystical state of consciousness. He believed that psychedelic drugs could, under the right circumstances (mood, place, setting, and with psychologists' guidance), alter behavior in beneficial ways and in a positive manner.
Over the next few years, Leary and Alpert conducted experiments administering LSD to a host of some 300 subjects ranging among professors, graduate students, writers and philosophers. By 1962, Leary and Alpert took their experiment to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where they founded the International Foundation for Internal Freedom. By May of 1963, Leary and Alpert were fired by Harvard. However, they found sponsors in the Hitchcock family (Peggy, Billy and Tommy) who were heirs to the Mellon fortune. They assisted Leary and Alpert to acquire use of a rolling mansion in Millbrook, New York (near Poughkeepsie, New York). In this setting, Leary and Alpert continued their LSD experiments with a modest sized following of adherents interested in expanding their consciousness and experiencing mystical states of awareness.
Meanwhile, on the other coast of the country, Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters (which group included Neal Cassady who was the inspiration for the character Dean Moriarty in Jack Kerouac's novel, On the Road) also engaged in LSD experiments which they called Acid Tests. This group lived near the Bay Area of California. They began their Acid Tests in a cottage village known as Perry Lane, Stanford University’s bohemian quarter, in around 1959 and 1960. Kesey was looking for a road to Edge City. The type of individual Kesey's charisma drew were initially like those of Leary's group, professors and grad students at Stanford. However, Kesey was always looking for ways to go further in his experimentation. While Leary and Kesey both saw LSD as a bridge to a higher state of consciousness and mystical in nature, Leary approached it from a much more "sacred" point of view, whereas Kesey was wildly experimental.
Leary sought to liberate the mind and humanity’s inner nature - it's communion with spirit - on a one-to-one, communicative basis. He suggested one ought to only take LSD in environs to which the Buddha would feel comfortable if he walked in the door. Kesey sought to liberate the entire human: mind, body and soul. The criteria Kesey sought for LSD experimentation were wildly ecstatic, perhaps like those incorporated among ancient pagan revelers or the Mesoamerican shaman may have entertained. Kesey's Acid Tests were the opposite of Leary's somber, meditative events. Kesey's groups sought to strip away all hang ups and encouraged the trippers to stay “out front” at all times: embracing total honesty, never entertaining subjugation to the herd mentality of conforming to social norms or doing what would be expected to be socially acceptable, accepting one another down to every quirk, refraining from passing judgment or imposing any kind of societal control on the tripsters, while also remaining wildly colorful, brazenly loud, and vitally tuned in to one another. Each group built up its own form of group mind capable of group think, whereby individuals knew what each other was thinking, could finish each others’ sentences, and grokked what the others felt. While Leary took his group to a quiet cabin in the woods, Kesey led the Pranksters off on one long wild trip around the country in the “Furthur Bus” in the summer of 1964.
Kesey later took the Acid Tests to San Francisco. The Acid Tests were the origin of the multimedia experience. Film taken by the Pranksters on their 1964 “Furthur Trip” was shown on walls, Kesey and others among the Pranksters would “rap” off the top of their heads, while the Grateful Dead invented acid rock music, colored lights flickered, the strobe light was introduced to the dance floor, and “heads” danced, high on some combination from among marijuana, speed, barbituates, LSD-25, DMT, and IT-290.
The “Furthur” concept of the Acid Test was a trip, man. College students from San Francisco State and Berkeley eventually started to tune in and turn on. So did younger kids. They were all groovin’ to the same beat and the same idea - grokking each other, living free, opening up their minds to new experiences, and having the wildest time of their lives. It was also in 1964 that Leary and Alpert, along with Ralph Metzner, rewrote The Tibetan Book of the Dead into The Psychedelic Experience.
Meanwhile, out in straight America, Martin Luther King, Jr. became the youngest man to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 for his work to end racial segregation and discrimination, no doubt his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963 swayed many of the voters in his favor.
Back in the uptight, straight world, during the late summer and early fall of 1964, while Kesey and the Merry Pranksters were painting everything and everyone they encountered in Day Glo colors, the nation witnessed LBJ paint Barry Goldwater as an irresponsible warmonger and too dangerous a man to face off against the Soviet Union in a nuclear armed world. LBJ also conjured up a vision of an America in which everyone would pitch in to create a land of opportunity for every citizen, irrespective of color, a land in which all people aspired to affluence, and a land in which all people received an equal education, equal treatment under the law and possessed equal hope for a better future. He called his dream, The Great Society, and it was a heady aspiration, one this country has never yet actually achieved, unfortunately. Although LBJ received credit for having the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Act of 1965 enacted during his Presidency, those Acts were the fruit of the labors of John and Bobby Kennedy, and the hard sweat and bloody tears of Martin Luther King, Jr. and his followers. LBJ proved utterly incapable of painting his country colorblind.
The students of the University of California in Berkeley, California, led primarily by Mario Savio, but also including Brian Turner, Bettina Apthecker, Steve Weissman, Art Goldberg, Jackie Goldberg, and others, initiated what ultimately became known as the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, insisting that the University administration lift a ban against on-campus political activities and acknowledge the students' right to free speech and academic freedom. This issue arose out of the students’ interest in racial equality and their desire and efforts to bring attention to the cause on the University campus.
It all began on October 1st, when a former grad student, Jack Weinberg, who was sitting at a CORE table (CORE stood for Congress of Racial Equality), refused to show his identification to a campus police officer. Jack was detained in a police car, however, the car didn't move from the spot for some 32 hours. You see, the car was surrounded by students. The size of the crowd of protesting students gathered around the car was estimated to have climbed to 3000 at one point. Ultimately, a sit-in was held at Sproul Hall (the administration building) that didn't end until December 3 when the police came in and arrested some 800 students. The University brought charges against those 800, inciting another, even larger, protest which basically shut down the University until the charges were dropped. As a pre-teen, I can remember a neighbor, a college student at San Fernando Valley State, taking regular weekend trips up the coast from the serene San Fernando Valley suburbs of Los Angeles to be part of the Berkeley protests.
In that confrontation, the youth movement for independent autonomy and an equal say in how the government functioned as well as how society and culture impacted their lives, as a political force, was born. The future of the ‘60s confrontational and adversarial relationship between the youth and their elders was foreshadowed. There was no turning back now, battle lines had been drawn, and both sides were pitted in a determined power struggle. Would the elders maintain control of society and force the youth movement to respect the authority of those vested in power or would the youth movement so shake up the political and social landscape as to affect the kind of spiritual, moral and social revolution they would soon deem was necessary to save the national soul? Or, would the whole country drop acid, give up fighting and learn to live together?
By early 1965, Kesey took his trips with the Merry Pranksters out into the open. LBJ made his trip more secure, as he influenced Congress to pass the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which was based on lies and fraudulent evidence. Instead of extracting American soldiers as Kennedy apparently intended, Johnson took us into the horrors of a protracted military engagement against an enemy our troops couldn't find in a jungle we couldn't penetrate. Thus was born the holocaust known by the searing name, napalm. Berkeley answered with the formation of the Vietnam Day Committee, and thus was born the antiwar movement on college campuses.
March 7, 1965 turned into Bloody Sunday as Civil Rights supporters marched in Alabama from Selma to Montgomery, and TV camera crews caught the brutality of white police officers beating the marchers to a bloody pulp, arousing a national outrage. The Rev. Dr. King tried to obtain a permit for another march on March 9th. However, the court dragged its feet, refusing to issue a timely injunction. Consequently, Dr. King led his followers only as far as the Edmund Pettus Bridge and then led them in a prayer service. After that, the followers were dispersed so as not to violate a court order denying them the right to cross the bridge. However, on March 25, and after finally receiving injunctive relief from the courts, Dr. King led his vast following on the entire, planned march to Montgomery. On the steps of the capitol building, right there on Gov. George Biggest-Bigot-in-the-Land Wallace’s doorsteps, Dr. King delivered his speech which has come to be known as “How Long, Not Long.”
The Beatles continued to reside at the top of the Pop Charts. Album after album (three a year during 1964 and 1965, a nearly unheard of pace, only later matched by Elton John in the early ‘70s) rang out as a catalytic galvanizing force for American youth. Transistor radios carried across the vast nation’s airwaves the surreptitiously subversive music of The Byrds, Bob Dylan, and, guess what, the vastly talented and overlooked black performers from Motown and Philadelphia started to capture the public imagination, integrating even the airwaves.
Soon, with the escalation of the American military involvement in Vietnam, Johnson began to issue orders to call up more and more young men to serve through the draft. Right along with the increased draft were increases in student deferments for young white men affluent enough to attend college. Likewise, there arose more young whites who escaped the draft through Conscientious Objections to killing and violence, and even extending their objections on the basis of the war being an unjust war. The irony started to coalesce into crystal clarity. If a young man was white and affluent, he could avoid service. Consequently, the draft picked primarily from the lower classes and from young men of color. The draft proved to be another mechanism for injustice and bigotry to wield its ugly head.
Nonetheless, on March 8, 1965, 3500 U.S. Marines landed in Vietnam as America’s first combat troops to be employed there. In April, Johnson sent troops into the Dominican Republic to thwart a popular coup which Johnson claimed to be Communist led and threatened to make the Dominican Republic another Cuba. On May 5th of the year, where else but on the Berzerkeley campus at an antiwar rally, the first student draft card burnings took place. As the demonstration was aired on television, many arch-conservatives called the students anti-American commies, and worse. The protest continued as the students marched a coffin to the Berkeley draft board offices. That was followed by the largest Teach-In event to that time on May 21st, attended by some 30,000 students as antiwar leaders provided speeches and literature detailing the reasons for their opposition to the war. The following day, as the protest continued, students marched once again on the Berkeley draft board offices where more draft cards were burned, right along with LBJ in effigy.
On June 10th, the Vietcong launched and won a battle at Dong Xoai with 1500 troops. Then, on June 16th, at a Teach-In at the Pentagon, student protestors handed out some 50,000 leaflets protesting the war in Vietnam. On July 24, the first anti-aircraft technology was used by North Vietnamese forces against US aircraft, and the first American plane was shot down. Then, on July 28th, LBJ announced that the American troop presence in Vietnam would increase from 75,000 to 125,000, and that draft boards would more than double their quota of draftees from 17,000 to 35,000 per month!
Next, on August 11, 1965, in Los Angeles, the Watts riots erupted. In the heat of the summer, and with tension oozing out of the ozone, a California Highway patrolman named Lee Minikus pulled over Marquette Frye. After determining that Frye was intoxicated because he could not pass field sobriety tests, Minikus arrested Frye. However, Minikus refused to allow Frye's brother, Ronald, to drive the car home. No, this enterprising patrolman decided the vehicle had to be impounded. A crowd of onlookers gathered. Witnessing what they perceived as a violation of the family’s right to maintain possession of their vehicle, the crowd, now growing into the hundreds erupted in violence, throwing rocks and slinging epithets at the officer. He then arrested Frye’s brother and mother as well.
The thickly hanging tensions had been growing in the neighborhood for quite some time. This event proved the catalyst to spark the natural backlash of resentment due to the living conditions, the lack of opportunity, the bigotry and discrimination the black community constantly faced. The violence spilled out over the streets of Watts for the next 3 days and into American televisions and onto their dinner plates. Polarization of minds and attitudes between white bigots and the suffering black man festered long after the riots calmed amid the estimated $40 million worth of damage.
So as not to daunt the middle class thirst for diverting entertainment, The Beatles performed at the first stadium concert at Shea Stadium that August. Bob Dylan released his highly influential, but highly controversial at the time, album Highway 61 Revisited which included the song, Like a Rolling Stone. These two releases proved a pivotal point in Dylan's career as he recorded with a full band for the first time and “electrified” his prior-to-then, pure, folk sound. The musicians who would later come to be known as The Band provided additional instrumentation for the sessions. Meanwhile, Jefferson Airplane took off for their first flights at The Matrix in San Francisco. The Newport Pop Festival provided the first public performances by Dylan of his new electrified sound, to his fans’ consternation amid their heckling.
By October 15th, the student movement against the war in Vietnam was gaining momentum. The student-run National Coordinating Committee to End the War in Vietnam staged the first public burning of draft cards in defiance of the new law prohibiting draft card burning, consequently leading to the first arrests for the offence. In November, the 173rd Airborne was ambushed by over 1200 Viet Cong forces. The next day darkness dawned on several states of the northeast U.S. with the Northeast Blackout of 1965. Wildly darker days loomed in the future, as later that month the Pentagon informed Johnson that if the planned major sweep operations were to be effective in neutralizing the Viet Cong, the force level would have to be raised from 120,000 to 400,000. As a highly telling symbol of the year and LBJ’s Presidency, that December marked the first airing of the Peanuts Christmas special on television. Johnson was proving himself to be the Charlie Brown of all American Presidents, and while the cartoon character would become a wildly popular cultural icon, the tragicomic President’s popularity would continue to sink through the remainder to his term.
The high speed of events in the ‘60s just picked up from there and continued to move at a break neck pace. January loomed as a telling time with the first public Acid Test performed at the Fillmore. This introduced the general public to LSD and the Prankster madness. By now, Owsley Stanley had come on board with the Pranksters. He was the man who, as legend has it, made the best acid to be had in the land. "Can you pass the Acid Test?" That was the catch phrase that launched this movement from private party to public inoculation.
Kesey had been coming to see life as a movie. The question we all faced, he reasoned, was who runs the movie you are living? Are you playing the Cops and Robbers game? If so, then you are in the Cops’ movie and you know how that turns out. Are you playing the good student gets a degree and job game? If so, you are living in your parent’s movie. You know how that turns out. Are you playing shrinking Violet? Then you are living in society’s movie, and you know how that will turn out. But, if you really want to live your life, then you’ve got to get with Nietzsche and his concept of Will to Power. This is a movie that you can never know how it will turn out, but the thing is, if you are dreaming it/living it well enough, it will turn out the way you will it to as you proceed through life and grow in understanding and through your ability to make the movie up as you go along. That was Kesey's reason for wanting to bring the Acid Tests to the public: public liberation, get them all in on the game of life and liberate everyone to play their own game and write their own movie! Well, by this time, they had developed their multimedia extravaganza into the most mind blowing confection, and when gift wrapped in Owsley’s acid, as the lyrics of a later Beatles’ song would proclaim, “A splendid time was guaranteed for all.”
Out went the word, Can you pass the acid test? The first attempt was at a beach near Santa Cruz, in Soquel, near the end of November of 1965. Then, there was a second attempt in December at Stinson Beach, near San Francisco. This one included The Grateful Dead. But they had no strobe for effect, and without the strobe, well… the Acid Test just wasn't quite what it had been for the Pranksters on their own in private or with the Hells Angels to that point. They put the word out for the Stinson Beach event at a Stones’ concert. The crowd was better for that Test. But still, Kesey wasn't quite getting to Edge City. He hadn't quite found what he wanted to give the public for their initiation into a psychedelicized world. No, the trip had to be bigger.
Kesey and the Merry Pranksters called this, something bigger, this movie that was their movie, this great initiation into Acid Tests, the great Trips Festival of January 1966. Bill Graham was involved as the promoter. Psychedelic poster art, Day Glo faces and costumes, mixed-media swirling around, coming from all directions, the crazy Pranksters playing with everyone’s minds, rapping off anything and everything that came to mind over loudspeakers, and all funneled through Owsley’s acid. Can you pass the acid test? Wanna try? Get out there on Edge City? Totally up front. No hangups, no bummers. No forcing conformity on anyone. It was about taking each person for their truth, their upfront reality. Can you bend with it? Can you pass the acid test? Can you hear The Grateful Dead and Big Brother and the Holding Company inventing acid rock as they go? Will you find satori on the trip? Think Nirvana is around the corner? Can you pass the acid test? Anybody who knew they are God was told to go ahead, go onstage!
Well, the Trips Festival grossed $12,500 in three days. In two weeks, Bill Graham was putting on a simulation of the test every week at the Fillmore, but, without the acid. Really? You think the heads of San Francisco didn't get their hands on their own acid? Can you pass the acid test? Well, in that weekend Haight-Ashbury was born, or so claimed Tom Wolfe in his book, The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test. Acid culture came at the youth subculture from everywhere. Fresh Cream, anyone? The Beatles pointed their Revolver at the world. Lennon sang, “I know what it's like to be dead.” Everyone's hair grew an extra three to six inches that year. The band known as the doors slammed in the straights’ faces, but they opened wide to let in the heads. “Let the celebration begin!” Would you dare try to pass the acid test? Would you, “Break on Through to the Other Side?” If you were “Born to Be Wild, then there was no doubt you’d, “Get right down to the real nitty-gritty,” and take a Magic Carpet Ride.
LSD was illegalized later that year, in October of 1966. That didn't stop Owsley, or any other chemist from fabricating it and selling it. It didn't stop kids from taking it. The whole subculture was groovin’ to one beat. They were passing the acid test, man, because, like, it was so fuckin’ cool!
Meanwhile, Johnson was still playing his movie. He declared the U.S. would have to remain in Vietnam until Communism was destroyed there. Look out, that LBJ, man, he's going all the way... all the way to that morass of a bay of pigs' sty that Kennedy saw coming and wanted to avoid. But LBJ had hold of the reins on that bronco, and no matter how hard it bucked, he was determined to ride it till he broke it.
By the time of the Trips Festival, U.S. troop levels in Vietnam were up to 190,000 with no top end in sight. A military coup in Nigeria assassinated the Prime Minister and then was overturned by another military coup. The Italian Prime Minister, Aldo Moro, resigned due to a power struggle in his party. A Chadian Civil War began. A military coup in Syria replaced a Ba’athist regime. A military coup in Ghana lifted General Ankrah, who had been fired by President Kwame Nkrumah, to power while Nkrumah was out of the country. The Ba’ath Party regained power in Syria. John Lennon uttered the comment that The Beatles were more popular than Jesus. The IRA bombed and destroyed Nelson’s Pillar in Dublin. Demonstrations against the war spread like wildfire across the U.S. In South Vietnam, 20,000 Buddhists marched in protests against the military government the U.S. supported there as they fought the Communists. Who were the totalitarians, now LBJ? Didn’t you listen to what JFK said in Berlin? An anti-Nasser plot was exposed in Egypt. Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia traveled to Jamaica for the first time and met with Rastafarian leaders. And by April 29, 1966, US troops in Vietnam rose to 250,000. The next day, Anton LaVey formed the Church of Satan. Was anyone passing the acid test?
On May 15th, tens of thousands of antiwar protestors picketed the White House then rallied at the Washington Monument. The following day, Martin Luther King, Jr. issued his first formal public speech on the war in Vietnam. Oh yeah, he denounced it. The same day, two of the most influential rock albums ever recorded were released: Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde and The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. The Dick Van Dyke Show aired it final episode. Civil Rights activist, James Meredith, was shot on a march across Mississippi. The Supreme Court issued its decision in the case of Miranda v. Arizona, establishing the requirement of police officers to present arrestees with a list of their Constitutional protections before questioning them, thenceforth being known as Miranda warnings.
The Vatican abolished the list of banned books. In Argentina, a military junta deposed their president. The U.S. began bombing Hanoi and Haiphong. The National Organization of Women was founded as France formally left NATO. In July, Richard Speck brutally murdered 8 nurses in Chicago. The Congo experienced a rebellion which lasted several weeks. Cleveland suffered its first race riots with the Hough Riots. The Nigerian army rebelled against the General who had imposed his rule over the government and the army executed him. Bob Dylan was injured in a motorcycle accident near his home in Woodstock, New York, leading to a year with no Dylan sightings. In August, yet another military coup wrecked havoc in Nigeria. Later that month, Mao Zedong initiated the Cultural Revolution to purge and reorganize China’s Communist Party. On August 11th, John Lennon called a press conference to apologize for his comment about The Beatles being bigger than Jesus. The House Un-American Activity Committee decided to investigate Americans who had aided the Viet Cong while the meeting was disrupted by antiwar protestors, 50 of whom were arrested. And, to end a brief era, The Beatles performed their final concert at Candlestick Park in San Francisco on August 29th. But, another era began on its heels as Star Trek aired its first show on September 8th. In October, Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton founded the Black Panther Party. On October 16th, Grace Slick performed for the first time with Jefferson Airplane. The UN took Namibia from South Africa. And still, to paraphrase what Sonny and Cher once sang, "the beat [went] on."
Dr. King took his Civil Rights activism to Chicago in 1966 and joined with Ralph Abernathy as the two men combined their efforts. In the spring, several dual white couple/black couple tests were conducted on real estate markets revealing the since-banned practice of racial steering. In other words, the color of one's skin led the realtors to steer couples to particular neighborhoods. This was just another version of segregation. Now mind you, these couples were identical in every other respect: number of children, income, background and education. The sole difference between the couples was their race. Consequently, King and Abernathy combined their forces and planned several large marches for neighborhoods in Chicago.
Abernathy later wrote of this work that, to his surprise, they received a worse reception in Chicago than they had in the South. Their marches were met by thrown bottles and screaming throngs of white bigots. Both men were concerned that they might unwittingly become a spark, an impetus for a race riot. They even negotiated with Mayor Richard Daley to cancel a march to avoid the potential for a riot. Dr. King, who constantly received death threats throughout his many years of Civil Rights work, was actually hit by a brick at one of the Chicago marches. However, he did not let that deter him from continuing to lead marches in that city or elsewhere. When Dr. King returned to the South, he left one from among his cadre, a young seminary student who had previously joined the movement in the South, Jesse Jackson, to continue the work needing to be accomplished in Chicago.
On October 6, the U.S. made LSD illegal. Meanwhile, in California, an upstart movie actor named Ronald Reagan ran for Governor of the state primarily on a platform of putting an end to the unrest on Californian college campuses. He also intended to cut funding for schools. On November 8th, he was elected. The very next day, as lore has it, John Lennon met Yoko Ono at the Indica Gallery in New York City. Can you pass the acid test? Is anyone passing the acid test? Whose movie is it we were watching pass before our eyes? Could people make their governments act for the good of the people, or were we set for round after round of coup and junta and counter-coup and new junta and an endless war with ever rising troop levels in Vietnam?
Well, at least we continued to be entertained as the Redskins defeated the Giants 74 to 41 in the highest scoring NFL game in history. But could Leary and Kesey score a high anymore? Could they pass the acid test the way the Redskins and Giants could pass a football?
Kesey was arrested on a trumped up marijuana charge, and then a second one right behind it. So, he tried to stage a phony suicide and headed for Mexico. Meanwhile, Leary recorded himself reading his book The Psychedelic Conspiracy. He also toured college campuses presenting his own multimedia performance called “The Death of the Mind.” This was Leary's attempt to recreate an acid trip. The League of Spiritual Discovery (LSD) which Leary founded in September reached 360 members, his limit, near the end of the year, so he closed membership, retaining his elitist leanings. However, he encouraged others to start their own religions. Did Leary pass his own acid test?
Throughout the year, kids from their teens to college age flocked to San Francisco, just like the song said, “with flowers in [their] hair.” They collected on the streets of the Haight, right there at the intersection with Ashbury. Joints were smoked, pills popped and acid eaten. Free love was spreading. So were the crabs, gonorrhea and syphilis. So was unwanted pregnancy. Still, there was a sense of utopia and freedom and mysticism in the air. The seeds of the Flower Children movement were sewn, and the fruit would begin to ripen for harvest in 1967.
Does it get any more psychedelicly mind bending than to discover that in January of 1967, Dr. James Bedford became the first person to be cryonically preserved with the intent of future resuscitation? Yes, it does. The Human Be-In took place on January 14, 1967 at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. Michael Bowen was the principal organizer, and among others, he invited Timothy Leary to the event. If anything was a precursor to the Summer of Love, this was it. Approximately 30,000 Flower Children attended the event that was officially announced as “A Gathering of the Tribes for a Human Be-In.” In addition to Leary, other notables present included: Richard Alpert, Allen Ginsberg (who had a number of associations with the Merry Pranksters earlier), Gary Snyder, Dick Gregory, Jerry Rubin, Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service and of course, Owsley Stanley with massive amounts of his White Lightning LSD.
Allen Cohen, who worked with Bowen in organizing the event, later recollected the Human Be-In as a necessary melting pot for two opposing factions in the burgeoning counterculture, Berkeley’s more militant leaning radicals of the antiwar movement and the Haight’s more love oriented, peaceful protesting Flower Children or hippies as they would later come to be known. Leary uttered his now famous line, “Turn on, tune in and drop out,” at the event. Leary would later claim the phrase came to him in the shower one day after Marshall McLuhan had told him he ought to come up with a catchy phrase to promote LSD events. The Human Be-In encouraged people to question authority, and to advance Civil Rights, women's rights, consumers’ rights and to shape its own alternative media with underground newspapers and radio stations. Later, on March 26th, New York's Central Park was host to another Be-In.
Muhammad Ali, formerly known by what he called his “slave name,” Cassius Clay, was called and appeared for his scheduled induction to the U.S. Army on April 28, 1967. Now, Ali had previously stated publicly his Conscientious Objector mind set in 1966 because of his Islamic beliefs when he said “War is against the teachings of the Holy Qur'an. I'm not trying to dodge the draft. We aren't supposed to take part in no wars unless declared by Allah or The Messenger. We don't take part in Christian wars or wars of any unbelievers.” Also in 1966, he was quoted as saying, “I ain't got no quarrel with them Viet Cong... They never called me nigger.” Well, when the draft board called his name, three times, he refused to come forward. At that point an officer warned Ali that he was committing a felony punishable by a fine of $10,000 and five years in prison. When his name was called a fourth time, Ali still refused to step forward. He was stripped of his crown and decertified to fight in most states. A jury found Ali guilty of refusing induction. A court of appeals upheld the verdict. However, Ali brought his appeal to the Supreme Court. By the time it reached the Supreme Court, so much public sentiment had turned against the war that on June 28, 1971, the Supremes felt compelled to overturn the verdict.
On April 4th, not too many days before the Ali induction incident, Martin Luther King, Jr. denounced the Vietnam War at a religious service where he appeared at the New York Riverside Church. Dr. King expressed doubts about the U.S. role in Vietnam in his speech titled Beyond Vietnam. This speech was, ironically, given exactly one year prior to his assassination. Dr. King spoke strongly regarding his feelings about the U.S. role in Vietnam insisting that the U.S. was there to occupy it as a U.S. colony. He called the U.S. government, “The greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” He was right! He added that the country needed larger and broader moral changes as he stated, “A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern with the social betterment of the countries and say: ‘This is not just.’” Dr. King further expressed his concerns that the war was diverting sums of money which could be better spent on social welfare services in the War on Poverty. He pointed out the commensurate rise in spending by Congress on the war in opposition to the reduction for anti-poverty programs. “A nation that continues, year after year, to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death,” Dr. King summed up. Again, he was right!
In May, Syria began to mobilize its armaments and army against Israel. That was followed by Egypt closing the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping interests. The net effect was to blockade Israel's southern port, of Eilat. Meanwhile, the Monkees released the record, Headquarters, which would remain at the number one position until The Beatles released Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band on June 1st, forever entwining the songs from that album with the mystery, majesty and remarkable hippie interconnection known as the Flower Children in the San Francisco for that mythical Summer of Love.
However, in the Middle East there wasn't any love to spare. Moshe Dayan was appointed as Israel’s Minister of Defense. June 5th saw the beginning of the Six Day War. By June 10th, Egypt and Syria acceded to the UN mediated cease fire. The prosecution of the war to such an early conclusion by such a convincing stroke of military might left Israel with new lands among its territories: the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights. In the process of wrecking destruction on the Arabs to achieve their “great” victory, the Israeli’s “accidentally” attacked the USS Liberty, killing 34 Americans and wounding an additional 171. Imagine that symbolism, the Israeli’s attacked and killed Liberty in the course of their 6 Day War. On June 11th, Tampa, Florida suffered a race riot.
Oh, the times, they were still changin', Bob, but not for the better. Witness all the hostilities throughout the world. Violence was not only the great tumult; it also was sanctioned as the solution. What was that quote? Violence only begets more violence, wasn't it?
In a momentous decision issued on June 12th, the Supreme Court declared in the case of Loving v. Virginia, that all state laws prohibiting interracial marriages to be unconstitutional. Well, as a sign of the times, on June 16th, the Monterey Pop Festival provided the left coast with some serious entertainment. I don't have to describe it, just listen to The Animal’s song, Monterey. Eric Burden lays it all out there for you. Suffice to say, Jimi Hendrix burst on the scene at that concert and emerged from it a major musical force and hyper-psychedelicizing medium. The very next day, the Republic of China tested its first Hydrogen Bomb. I'd hazard a guess that Hendrix’s guitar bombs had more effect on history. On June 25th, The Beatles topped everything with the worldwide broadcast on the British show, Our World, of their live performance of All You Need Is Love in front of an estimated 400 million person audience. Indeed, Lennon laid it all out right there. He passed his acid test!
The city of Buffalo, New York proved they failed theirs, because two days later a race riot broke out leading to 200 arrests. The whites didn't get it. Across the country, white Americans were clinging to the idea of privilege as if that was ordained within the doctrine of Manifest Destiny. If they had love in their hearts they would have undone the contributing factors which led to race riots. Unfortunately, bigotry, discrimination and poverty were the result of white superiority, white privilege and white affluence. The white man demanded not to give up an ounce of privilege or one dollar of affluence. The consequence of that was animosity, anger, frustration and ultimately riots by the downtrodden. That is a constant thread throughout history. The downtrodden will always arise against their oppressors. The only solution is to build a world without oppressors and without oppressed!
An uprising of insurrection blew through in the Congo. Nigeria invaded Biafra for having seceded shortly before. On July 13th, race riots broke out in Newark, New Jersey. With spontaneous combustion emanating from the heat of the inner city summer, Detroit followed suit the next day. America was witnessing a civil war from within. The black man had experienced enough bigotry, enough poverty, enough discrimination and enough sucking up to the man. They’d paid their dues. The time had come for some damn payback, in the form of a humble offering of opportunity, and the gentleness of being treated with respect, as an equal, as a human being. Still, they call that summer the Summer of Love. Well, it was if you were white, young and affluent, or if you were a Flower Child living in San Francisco. For everyone else, the summer was heat and anxiety to the nth degree. A prison riot in Jay, Florida left 37 dead. Detroit exploded with yet another riot, known as the 12th Street Riot. This was known as one of the most horrendous riots of all. It claimed 43 lives and left 342 injured. It also witnessed the conflagration of some 1400 buildings. White America, do you think you were passing your acid test? Yet? Getting’ a clue at all? No, you were still out for number one and the status quo. Just to hammer home the point, the race riots spread to Washington D.C. on August 1st. The whole country seemingly witnessed a civil war spread from city to city.
While Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd released their first albums that August, China agreed to grant North Vietnam a large aid package, a truce was finally declared in the Congo, the American Nazi Party leader, George Lincoln Rockwell, was assassinated and Thurgood Marshall was confirmed as the first African American Justice to the Supreme Court. In September of 1967, South Vietnam finally held another election and Nguyen Van Thieu won. How many years passed since Diem's assassination without a legitimate government, a real democratically elected government which America’s war effort was allegedly fighting to preserve? Far too many! Whereas, Ho Chi Minh was seen as the father of his country by most of the people throughout both North and South Vietnam, including most of the South Vietnamese population, the U.S. supported a thoroughly undemocratic democracy – freedom ruled by the military. Consequently, most Vietnamese saw the Americans as just another white colonial power seeking to exert its influence over the Vietnamese people, their economy and their government. That's just how Martin Luther King. Jr. saw it, too.
On October 8th, Che Guevarra and his men were captured in Bolivia. The next day, Che was executed. Secretary of State Dean Rusk, in reply to Congressional demands that a peace initiative be discussed with North Vietnam, stated that the request was impossible to fulfill because the North refused any such overtures. America was stuck with Johnson's insane war. The musical Hair! opened off Broadway to great controversy because of a single nude scene in which the whole cast appeared briefly in the raw. With great American influence and assistance, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was officially crowned Shah of Iran, operating a puppet government which promoted America’s interests in the region, especially as a buffer against the Soviet backed Iraqi government. Tens of thousands of antiwar protestors marched on Washington D.C. and Allen Ginsberg chanted, trying to levitate the Pentagon. Levitating the Pentagon seemed more likely in 1967 than the election of a black man as Mayor of a major U.S. city. However, Carl B. Stokes was elected in November as the first African American Mayor of Cleveland, Ohio. Later in the month, Civil Rights activists found success in finally having the crime of murder extended to cover the killing of blacks – imagine, there were still areas within the U.S. in 1967 for which the killing of a black man was not punishable as murder.
From seemingly out of nowhere, on November 30th, Eugene McCarthy, a Democrat challenger from LBJ's own party and Senator from Minnesota, announced his candidacy for the Presidency, citing the Vietnam War as his major issue. Clean Gene as he was known to hippies, Flower Children and antiwar protestors, advocated ending the war and bringing the troops home. It took great courage at that time for McCarthy to buck the President, especially over the war. Everyone else who opposed the war was branded by Johnson and his cohorts as being un-American, a traitor, and offering aid to the enemy. But here was a short haired, button down, suit and tie wearing Senator who expressed that very same position, with a straight face and a true heart. Almost immediately, the entire peace movement rushed to back Clean Gene and his candidacy. Suddenly, peace prospects started looking up.
January of 1968 didn't get any better for LBJ. At a White House conference on crime, singer and actress Eartha Kitt publicly denounced the Vietnam War to the First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson. Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In premiered on NBC, lampooning LBJ and the War at every opportunity. But, then, on January 30th, the bottom began to fall out for LBJ with the beginning of North Vietnam’s coordinated Tet offensive in conjunction with the Viet Cong. The following day, the American Embassy in Saigon was attacked by Viet Cong (known formally as the National Liberation Front or NLF). On the heels of that embarrassment, a photo was taken of a Viet Cong officer being executed by the South Vietnamese National Police Chief. The photo, distributed internationally, turned public opinion both in the U.S. and abroad dramatically against the U.S. war effort and eventually won the 1969 Pulitzer Prize. The Tet offensive rubbed salt in Johnson’s wounds as, clearly, the U.S. was losing the war during that stage. Then, momentum snowballed against Johnson when the New Hampshire primary only provided LBJ with a slight victory over McCarthy, revealing just how split the nation’s voters were over the war. Emboldened by Clean Gene McCarthy’s showing in New Hampshire, Bobby Kennedy announced his candidacy for the Presidency a few days later, about the same time as the My Lai massacre occurred. By the end of the month, a tired, beaten looking, defeated Lyndon Baines Johnson appeared on national television to announce he intended to forego campaigning for re-election.
Before going on with my narrative of events, I really feel it is of great significance that I stress to the reader how divided the nation was over the Vietnam War and why. You see, the press was allowed a much greater freedom in its coverage of the war in the 1960s then it has ever been allowed by the government since. The history of war coverage and war correspondent policies has some bearing on this issue. Going back into WWII, for instance, correspondents like Ed Murrow and Walter Cronkite covered the action up close and personally from the front lines. Sure there existed rules which dictated that the correspondents were not allowed to give comfort to or aid the enemy in any way. But, really, the kind of coverage allowed was broadly free for the correspondent to choose. Consider, for instance, that there existed some 3000 war correspondents covering both theaters of action during WWII internationally and the broad majority of those correspondents were Americans (1646). Now, the coverage for WWII was, obviously, primarily accomplished by print, but Murrow and Cronkite, especially, brought the action right home to the American public through the medium of radio.
By the 1960s, television had grown out of its infancy in the ‘50s to become the dominant news outlet of the time. Even then, newspapers felt some erosion in public interest. However, it was still true in the ‘60s that the public sought the basic news coverage of the headlines on television with filmed reports, while in depth coverage and detailed reports were more likely to be garnered from the newspapers and news magazines. In the case of Vietnam, the war was a nightly, family event. Television was afforded the opportunity to branch out and provide in depth coverage which featured a visually visceral depiction of the incredible violence which was the War in Vietnam.
Unlike the Gulf War from August 1990 to February of 1991, or even the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts of today, Vietnam was a ground and air battle which was constantly waged on a daily basis with high numbers of casualties and intense fighting on both sides. Out of a total of 8,744,000 American troops who served in Vietnam during the war, the official statistics for American deaths total 58,209 with 303,685 Americans wounded in action and 1948 left unaccounted for as missing in action. The Vietnamese government’s official totals for deaths, including those suffered by the NLF, totaled 1.1 million during the conflict with the U.S. with another 600,000 wounded. The number of civilian deaths during the conflict with the U.S. in both North and South Vietnam has been officially stated to have been 2 million. These numbers fail to include the numbers of Laotian and Cambodian civilians killed by the U.S. pursuant to its illegal bombing of national territories belonging to Laos and Cambodia, neither of which nation was involved in the war. An additional 184,000 ARVN, South Vietnamese, troops were killed during the war, although some estimates put the total at 250,000.
It didn’t matter if you watched Walter Cronkite on CBS, Huntley and Brinkley on NBC, or any of the string of anchors ABC provided during the war years (Peter Jennings, Bob Young, Frank Reynolds, Howard K. Smith, and Harry Reasoner), the action was generally the same. The sickening bloodshed literally spilled out of American television sets onto American dinner tables as we watched the carnage every night of our lives from 1965 to 1972. Television camera crews were granted access to all areas of the war. Crews filmed from the helicopter “cavalry” as they dropped troops into sectors or collected the wounded and dying men from battlegrounds. Other camera crews marched right along with infantrymen on “seek and destroy” missions. Bullets occasionally whizzed right past the area being filmed. Blood often spilled out of wounded soldiers’ bodies, right in front of our eyes. We saw carpet bombing and wholesale jungle destruction by fires induced by napalm. There was, literally, no end to the bloodshed, the violence, the carnage, the destruction and the misery which television brought through television screens to be witnessed by every American citizen, no matter their age, during those anguish filled, angry and desolate years.
Young men saw the violence and knew this was what awaited them. No wonder the youth turned to drugs to anesthetize them from feeling too strong of emotions which boiled over when they were straight. No wonder the adult population seemed to live in a drunken haze, beginning with the two martini lunch and continuing through a multiple highball dinner. They had to live with themselves knowing the degree of desolation their nation wrecked on everyone involved. Teenagers argued intensely with their parents about what their duty was and where it should vest – to their country as it perpetrated the horrors we all thought lived only in nightmares until Vietnam was brought home to us in living color on the nightly news or to ourselves and our personal sense of dignity, fairness, right and wrong, and mans’ moral duty to humanity.
For instance, let me share with you a personal memory which I feel certain was lived by thousands of young men like me. In May of 1972, when Richard Nixon ordered yet another illegal bombing in Cambodia, students across the country spilled out of their classrooms in protest. I was one of 12 who broke into the ROTC building at USC, one of some 300 who occupied the building that night, one of two who surreptitiously slinked around campus spray painting peace signs and slogans on Tommy Trojan and other buildings, one of about 30 who continued the sit-in as the campus pigs came and rousted us out, I led the charge back up the stairs in defiance, I was one of 15 who waited for the LAPD and remained in the building overnight, I spoke to a McGovern rally on campus the next day and brought some 2000 students to join the protest at the ROTC building, and I was one of some 30 or 40 who remained in the building for 3 days without sleep.
When I went home and saw my father, he asked me what I had done during the protests. I told him. He looked at me with intense anger welling up in his eyes and hatred painted on his face. He balled up his right hand into a fist and struck me on the right side of my face so hard it knocked me to the ground. While I lay there, dazed, he hovered over me, telling me to get back on my feet, calling me a coward, yellow, a Communist son of a bitch and a traitor. He reeled in a dizzy spell from the intense emotions and blood rushing to his head as I stood up.
Right there and then, I told him I was proud of what I did, I took a stand for what was right and I’d do it again. I told him that I didn’t even believe in his precious Jesus as a God, but that he was a great man and one thing I learned from him was non-violence. Then, I turned my face and offered him the other cheek and said, go ahead, hit the other cheek I turn for you as Jesus commands. My father grew livid. He shook with so much hatred in him. Then, he called me a commie bastard and told me to get out of his home and that he never wanted to see my face again.
Over the next 4 years, I saw him once, when he was in the hospital to have half his bladder removed because it was cancerous. I stayed about five minutes, only having gone because my mother made me. I asked him if he was ok. He said he’d be fine. I said good, got up, and walked out. He visited me once after that, about a year later when I was at the hospital to have my appendix out. All he could say to me was, are you sure you need an operation? Maybe you just want the scar!
It took until after Jimmy Carter offered amnesty to the draft dodgers who went to Canada and pardoned all those war resisters who were imprisoned before my father and I developed a relationship. You know, he never once told me he was proud of me, and only told me once in his life he loved me, and that he said on his deathbed.
That is an example, just one experience out of millions of households torn apart by the War in Vietnam. During the war years, it is estimated approximately 100,000 war resisters as I prefer to call them left the U.S. to live abroad, primarily in Canada and Sweden, though the vast majority remained in Canada. After the amnesty and pardons Carter issued in 1977, some returned home, but most never did. How did those families deal with the estrangements of their sons? How did mothers feel who never saw their boys again? Did fathers harbor resentments? Did any of those 100,000 families ever live a normal life after that? Were any of those families ever made whole again? How many grandparents never saw their grandchildren? How many of those sons carried hatred and resentment for their country for the remainder of their lives?
What about the 58,000 families whose sons died in action? How did those mothers grieve? Who knows what those young men might have accomplished in their lifetimes if they’d had lifetimes to live? How many scientists or doctors might we have lost?
What about the other 8,700,000 who went to war, saw the horrors, and were rendered shells of human beings as a result, suffering from PTSD, reliving the jungle horrors in their nightmares, or brutalizing their families because of the violent lives they were forced to endure, drafted into perpetrating?
There is really no way for me to drive home the point of how pervasive and utterly devastating the War was in so many ways on Americans and Vietnamese. Don’t try to judge by what you see today. The U.S. government so manipulates what the media is allowed to present to Americans at home now, precisely because they know that if the truth were shown, no public could or would long support any war effort.
Sure, Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld brought you the television extravaganza called Shock and Awe. That was designed to create national pride because of America’s gruesome ability to wage war on a grand scale, from afar, impersonalized, bloodlessly depicted, more video game than reality. The other designed effect which Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld expected was to strike fear into not just the enemy, but any and every other nation in the world who dared stand up to American international policies. Let them beware the retribution of American technological might.
They thought they learned the necessary lessons from Vietnam; control the images presented to the world and manage the spectacle and theater of war in a manner which promotes national pride and engenders international fear. Well, those were not the lessons of Vietnam, as we shall see when America, once again, watches its troops return from foreign shores without any objective accomplished, losing yet another war. However, I have digressed. Let me return, now, to the world of the ‘60s.
Just as it seemed an opportunity presented itself to the country for people of conscience from all walks of life, black and white, affluent and poor, straight and hippie, to band together and lead the U.S. into a better future, on April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. On March 29th, Dr. King traveled to Memphis, Tennessee to support black sanitary public works employees who had been on strike since March 12th. The issue was discrimination. The black workers were not paid the same as white workers. On April 3rd, at the Mason Temple, Dr. King gave his famous, "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech. The flight Dr. King took to Memphis had been delayed because of a bomb threat. In reference to that threat, Dr. King closed what would be the final speech of his career with the following words to his audience in the way only Dr. King could deliver them, issuing out the full force of his charisma and personal conviction, “And then I got to Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers? Well, I don't know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter to me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to that Promised Land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
Martin Luther King, Jr. stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, outside room 306, a room he stayed in often, and at 6:01 pm, a bullet entered through his right cheek, smashing his jaw, and traveled down his spinal cord until coming to rest in his shoulder. Dr. King was not killed instantly. Jesse Jackson was present, and Jesse explained that Dr. King turned to musician Ben Branch who was there and was scheduled to perform that night at an event Dr. King would have attended. Jesse Jackson related that Dr. King said to Mr. Branch, “Ben, make sure you play ‘Take My Hand, Precious Lord’ in the meeting tonight. Play it real pretty.” Dr. King was pronounced dead at 7:05 pm at St. Joseph’s Hospital. The physician is said to have remarked that even though Dr. King was only 39 years old, he had the heart of a man sixty years on, possibly due to the stress of having given thirteen years of his life to the Civil Rights movement.
The assassination led to a wave of rioting in over 100 cities nationwide. At the funeral, a recording of Dr. King’s “Drum Major” sermon, given recently on the preceding February 4th, was played. In that sermon, Dr. King made a request that at his funeral, no mention be made of his awards. He asked simply that he be remembered for having tried “to feed the hungry,” “clothe the naked,” “be right on the war question,” and “love and serve humanity.” At least in the aftermath of King’s death, the city of Memphis settled the strike quickly and favorably for the sanitation workers. This is how the life and legacy of a great American hero ended. So, also, did it seem were dashed the hopes of so many black Americans. Reflecting the dismal turn of events, on April 6th, in a shootout between Black Panthers and Oakland police, sixteen-year-old Panther, Bobby Hutton, was shot and killed. In what may stand as one of the final testimonials to Dr. King’s passion and dedication, on April 11th, Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1968 into law. The actual final testimonial, however, was witnessed in January of 2009, when the first African American was elected and sworn in as President of the United States.
Life in America went on, even without Dr. King. A week-long protest at Columbia occurred as students took the administration building and held it from April 23 to April 30, shutting down the university. On April 29th, the musical Hair! officially opened on Broadway. Controversy continued to swirl around the production. In May, The Beatles announced the formation of Apple Corp. On May 17th, the Catonsville Nine entered the Selective Service office in Catonsville, Maryland, took dozens of Selective Service draft records and set them to fire using napalm. While Biafrans were suffering from a humanitarian disaster due to starvation, Nigerians surrounded them and captured Port Harcourt. On May 22nd, the US nuclear submarine Scorpion sank 400 miles southwest of the Azores with a crew of 99 men aboard. In early June, Andy Warhol was shot and wounded by radical feminist, Valerie Solanas.
As all these events transpired and were dutifully reported by Walter Cronkite on the Evening News to Americans at their dinner tables, Bobby Kennedy’s campaign caught fire. He rolled into California for the primary needing a victory to propel himself to the threshold of nomination at the Democratic Convention. Bobby had announced his candidacy in the same room that his brother John had chosen to announce his own candidacy 8 years earlier. The younger Kennedy offered the following words to announce that candidacy, “I do not run for the Presidency merely to oppose any man, but to propose new policies. I run because I am convinced that this country is on a perilous course and because I have such strong feelings about what must be done, and I feel that I am obliged to do all I can.” Bobby’s brash rhetoric and absorbing charisma connected with the public. In his candidacy, many in the country saw a chance for the country to get back on the right track, back on the Camelot track that John Kennedy, all those years before, had originally set us on.
Robert F. Kennedy offered the country a broad and hopeful agenda as his platform. Bobby stood for racial and economic justice, non-aggression in foreign policy, decentralization of power and social improvement. Perhaps the crucial element to his candidacy was both his own relative youth and his ability to connect with the American youth movement. He brought vibrancy, vigor, strength, vision, energy and enthusiasm to the table. RFK identified with the youth and identified them as being the future of America’s society, culture and body politic, all of which centered their focus on partnership and equality.
Bobby's campaign can be best edified by quoting from a portion of an address he gave at the University of Kansas. It follows. “If we believe that we, as Americans, are bound together by a common concern for each other, then an urgent national priority is upon us. We must begin to end the disgrace of this other America. And this is one of the great tasks of leadership for us, as individuals and citizens this year. But even if we act to erase material poverty, there is another greater task, it is to confront the poverty of satisfaction - purpose and dignity - that afflicts us all. Too much and for too long, we seemed to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our Gross National Product, now, is over $800 billion dollars a year, but that Gross National Product - if we judge the United States of America by that - that Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities. It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children. Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.”
This Bobby Kennedy, RFK as the fulfiller of the Kennedy legacy, a youthful man who symbolized everything that the future of America desired to stand for and prove itself to be, yes this knight in shining armor rode into California primed to take the gold of its primary and set himself in the driver’s seat during his expected convention battle with Hubert Humphrey. This Bobby Kennedy won that California primary on June 5, 1968. As he walked to the Ambassador Hotel podium, proud and triumphant, and prepared to share the clarity of his vision for a future he would work to provide for all of us, a gunman in the audience prepared to take his life and in so doing was stolen the greatest hopes and ideals that America sought to implement. Sirhan Sirhan stood in the crowd, armed and ready. He maneuvered into the position he needed. Soon, Kennedy appeared in his sights, and the lunatic aimed his gun at Bobby's skull. He slowly and calmly pulled the trigger which destroyed not only America's greatest hope in 1968, but a man who might have set the whole world on a path of peace, cooperation, prosperity and understanding. He offered the chance at the love which Lennon had told us was all we needed. But that love died in a pool of Kennedy blood on the Ambassador floor that June 5th night, as I sat in front of my television stunned, crying up a pool of tears at my feet, heartbroken and disillusioned.
The vacuum which opened in the wake of Kennedy’s assassination led to the complete opposite of all he represented. The Democratic Convention was held in Chicago in 1968, that old bastion of ancient politics, a remnant of Tammany Hall days, a brokered, backroom-bartered convention, determined to give us four more years of LBJ’s horrible policies and crooked schemes. Hubert Humphrey, LBJ’s Vice President, now loomed as the only choice against the onrushing locomotive which was Richard Milhous Nixon and his silent majority, his secret plan to end the war, his double-chinned doublespeak and insoluble coldness. There he was, representing the old world, the old ways, the old politics in a world crying out for something new, fresh, brilliant and hopeful. With the Kennedy assassination, there was nothing to stop the Nixon machine.
The Beatles did their best to keep the love flowing. They released their album Magical Mystery Tour and offered up the accompanying film on British TV. Their Magical Mystery was a riff on the old Kesey Acid Tests and the “Furthur Bus” tour of 1964. It provided a psychedelic view of reality, glimmering at us, beckoning to us, instilling in us a glimpse of acid reality. The airwaves were primed with the acid rock of Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding Company, the doors, and countless other acts. Even a number of teenybopper idols like Tommy James recorded long versions with acid influenced guitar solos like on the long version for Crimson and Clover. Acid influences spread to black acts as well, like on The Chambers Brothers’ Time. Clearly, acid was starting to influence the mainstream. Psychedelic art was everywhere, billboards, magazines and television. The clothing styles moved from mod to psychedelic. Paisley was everywhere, creating a paisley revolution.
With the Democratic Convention looming, protestors took to the streets of Chicago. Right there leading them were the Chicago Seven: Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman, Tom Hayden, David Dellinger, Rennie Davis, John Froines and Lee Weiner. The group originally included Bobby Seale, the Eighth member of the cabal. These young revolutionaries sought to turn the joke of a convention that the Democrats were prepared to crank out into a laughable matter. Pigasus the Immortal was brought to the city of Chicago to be nominated for President by the yippies. The youth came with a carnival atmosphere in mind. The atmosphere was Pranksterism at its most outrageous. Borrowing heavily from the themes and methods of the old Acid Tests, the yippies intended to parody every move made by the Democrats. High theater, ready for prime time, right there in the second city, was prepared to test the acid of the airwaves. Acid consciousness was set to rain all over the Democrats' parade.
Unfortunately for everyone involved, Mayor Richard Daley was primed to bust heads. The Chicago police met the protestors with Billy clubs and tear gas. Violence reigned king on the streets of Chicago just as it did through the Vietnamese countryside. TV camera crews caught a new kind of riot. This was a police riot, and open season was declared on anyone under 30 who wore long hair. Clashes between the police and protestors continued to escalate in violence to the beat of the escalation of hostilities in Vietnam. Instead of theater of the absurd, America witnessed an orgy of blood and bloody arrogance, power gone drunk, mad on its own heady intoxication. This was the picture of democracy in action presented to the world and for which we fought in Vietnam to preserve its continued presence.
Somehow, Chicago, along with the rest of straight America, saw the kids as the cause of the mayhem which wrecked its way though Chicago’s streets. The trial of the Chicago Seven occurred slightly over a year later, beginning on September 24, 1969. By October 9th, the National Guard had to be called in for crowd control as demonstrations persisted outside the courtroom. By February 18, 1970, decisions were handed down in the cases. Froines and Weiner were acquitted completely. All seven were found not guilty of conspiracy. However, the remaining five were found guilty on a charge of crossing state lines to incite a riot (ironically, a relatively new crime instituted by the anti-riot provisions in the Civil Rights Act of 1968). On November 20, 1972, the convictions were overturned by a court of appeals who found the judge prejudiced. The justice department decided not to retry the cases.
Meanwhile, as the riots persisted in Chicago, France tested and exploded its first hydrogen bomb. In Mexico, 10 days before the opening ceremonies for the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, a student demonstration ended in a blood bath massacre of students. During the Olympics, in the 200 meter medal award ceremony, black athletes Tommie Smith (who received the gold medal) and John Carlos (recipient of the bronze medal) raised their black-gloved, clenched fists into the air symbolizing the Black Power salute. As a result, the International Olympic Committee banned both athletes from Olympic participation for life, branding themselves with their own intolerant racism in the process.
Juan Velasco Alvarado assumed power in Peru as the result of a revolution. Police in Derry, Northern Ireland used baton clubs on Civil Rights demonstrators. Clearly, the U.S. was shipping the shining example of its brand of democracy all over the world. In Panama, a military coup led by two Colonels ousted the democratically elected government. Within a year, in-fighting would lead to one of those colonels ousting the other and assuming sole possession of power in Peru. By October 14th, the Department of Defense announced that 24,000 Marines would be returned to Vietnam for an involuntary second tour there. In November, Richard Nixon predictably won the election over Hubert Horatio Humphrey and American Independent Party candidate, George Corley Wallace. Then, on November 11th, the anniversary of Armistice Day by then celebrated as Veterans’ Day, LBJ announced the initiation of bombing raids on the Ho Chi Minh Trail through Laos. Those bombing raids never had much of an effect on North Vietnamese and Viet Cong supply transfers although the napalm did result in grave consequences for Laotian farmers who lived in the area.
By the end of November, The Beatles released their White Album. I remember lying in bed with a case of the Asian flu demanding my mother go out and get me that album. Honestly, in the aftermath of everything that transpired that year, the assassinations, the violence at the Democratic Convention, the election of Richard Nixon and continued dragging on of the war, I needed the White Album to mollify my degenerating spirit. I think everyone my age did. It was a dark album to be clothed in white, but many of the tracks took hold of one’s imagination and allowed one to soar on an imaginary trip or two. I think everyone involved in the counterculture as well as everyone in the world was glad to see 1968 end. We couldn't know what ‘69 would bring, but it sure couldn't be any worse than ‘68 had been.
One thing was certain as January opened and brought in the New Year, the initial album release by Led Zepplin turned out to be a landmark event. Led Zepplin I was one of those albums that people remember where they were when they first heard it and just how utterly mind blowing the experience was. Let me tell you, in my case it was utterly mind blowing. It was like putting my mind in a wind tunnel and turning on a blender to make a mind-wind shake. I’d never heard sounds like Page made on his guitar. If Clapton in his Cream days was God, as many people wrote on walls, and if Hendrix was a master voodoo child, axeman musician, creating great whirling vortices out of thin air, and mesmerizing when he set his guitar on fire in the ultimate sacrifice, and Jeff Beck was a manic maniac, taking wild chances and riffing off with electrifying fantasies, then Page had to be considered a magician, a great space magician who called up the emptiest reaches of deep space and filled them with the most amazing balls of fire and haunting siren’s wails. I had no clue what planet Pagey came from, but it was certainly out there in the nether regions, the places which spawned those other guitar maestros.
It is hard to imagine the youth of today grasping what it was like to hear albums like Sgt. Pepper or Led Zepplin I or Dark Side of the Moon or Electric Ladyland for the first time. Today, those sounds and songs have been out there for decades. In fact, multiple generations worth of work exists based on those albums, but carrying them to yet further reaches inside the mind’s echo chamber. Listening today, even for the first time, one just can’t get the sonic experience of hearing them blaze trails which had never before been trod. As a 16 year old at the start of 1969, the music from Led Zepplin was completely foreign to anything I’d ever heard before. It was a whole new acid trip, and what a great ride, too!
Put it in this perspective, in the same month, Elvis Presley began his comeback by releasing In the Ghetto and Suspicious Minds. Later that month, The Beatles gave London a final glimpse at the Fab Four when they performed live for the last time on the rooftop of Apple Records. The biggest song, maybe in history to that time, was Hey Jude. Electric Ladyland had still not been released by Hendrix. Cream had given us Wheels of Fire. The advent of Led Zepplin was a truly mind shattering event in 1969.
During the early part of the year, there seemed to be a lull in the pace of activity and the urgency of international relations. After Nixon was inaugurated, Martial Law was declared in Madrid as the University was closed and over 300 students were arrested. Soon after that, Yasser Arafat was elected as the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). In March, Golda Meir was elected as the first woman Prime Minister for Israel. Later in March, the secretive Richard Nixon ordered bombing in Cambodia to thwart Viet Cong movements, but kept the policy hush-hush. On April 9th, some 300 protestors, mostly members of the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) at Harvard University seized the administration building. Before the takeover ended, 45 were injured and 184 arrested.
Later in April, a grassroots movement by Berzerkeley community members seized an empty lot owned by the University of California in order to create a “People's Park.” The park stands as a People’s Park to the present day. A mural exists in an area of the park to commemorate the shooting of James Rector who died of shotgun wounds inflicted by a law enforcement officer on May 15th, later called Bloody Thursday. The law enforcement officers were California Highway Patrol and Berkeley police officers sent on the orders of then Gov. Ronald Reagan, who considered the Berkeley campus as a haven for “Communist sympathizers, protestors and sex deviants.” The officers destroyed the area the students had planted with trees, flowers, grass (no, it was lawn, not marijuana) and shrubs, cleared out an eight foot perimeter and installed chain link fencing even though the local merchants had been happy to see someone do something with the land which was something of an eyesore and blight on the community. Approximately 3000 students assembled at Sproul Hall for a rally which led to the students chanting, “Let’s take the park,” and “We want the park.” The officers shut off the sound system, which infuriated the demonstrators. The students marched on over to the park where they were met by the main body of officers, approximately 159 strong. The protestors opened a fire hydrant, and the officers fired tear gas at the students. Some demonstrators attempted to tear down the fence, and threw bottles, rocks and bricks at the police. A major confrontation ensued.
Reagan’s Chief of Staff (and later Attorney General) Edwin Meese III assumed government responsibility for the law enforcement response. He called in Alameda County Sheriff’s deputies, bringing the law enforcement force to 791 officers. Under Meese’s direction, the officers were allowed to use whatever methods they chose against the crowd which had swelled to approximately 6000. The police wore full riot gear. They moved right into the crowd swinging their nightsticks. Some more aggressive deputies, later dubbed Blue Meanies (taken from the characters in the Beatle’s animated movie, Yellow Submarine), fired 00 (double aught) round buckshot into the crowd. This ammunition was more powerful and more lethal than the usual birdshot used for crowd control.
Ultimately, James Rector was fatally wounded and Alan Blanchard was permanently blinded. Many people, including innocent bystanders were injured and suffered permanent injuries. Some people suffered as many as a hundred lead pellet wounds in their scalps, necks, backs, buttocks and thighs. John Willard lived for many years with intractable pain because of lead pellets lodged near his spine. At least 128 Berkeley citizens were admitted to local hospitals for head trauma, shotgun wounds, and other serious injuries inflicted by law enforcement personnel. The actual number of wounded citizens may have been much larger, as many people refused to go to the hospital fearing arrest. UCPD claimed 111 officers were injured, including one officer who was knifed in the chest.
Initially, law enforcement tried to cover up the use of the 00 buckshot in the shotguns, claiming only birdshot was used. However, physicians at the hospitals corrected that account by citing the actual ammunition used. Alameda County Sheriff, Frank Madigan, justified the use of lethal buckshot on the grounds that he didn’t have adequate personnel numbers to control the situation otherwise. Sheriff Madigan did admit later, however, that some of the officers were former Vietnam veterans who did pursue the protestors in an overly aggressive manner, commensurate with pursuit of Viet Cong. The students were now equated with the Viet Cong!
Reagan declared a state of emergency and sent in 2700 National Guard troops. Ironically, some of the Guardsmen were students called to active duty. The Berkeley City Council voted 8 to 1 against permitting their city to be occupied by the Guardsmen. Nonetheless, Reagan pursued his own agenda, determined to teach the protestors a lesson. For two weeks the street was patrolled and barricaded with barbed wire and freedom of assembly was denied as Guardsmen sent tear gas canisters into any group of more than two individuals.
On March 21, the students gathered in front of Sproul Plaza to commemorate the death of James Rector. Sproul Plaza was located nowhere in the vicinity of the park or the Guardsmen and their occupied territory. Nonetheless, the Guardsmen surrounded Sproul Plaza, donned their masks, and pointed their bayonets inward as a helicopter dropped tear gas on the student funeral commemoration. The crowd was trapped by the troopers. There was no escape. The gassing of the crowd by the police troopers caused acute respiratory distress, disorientation, temporary blindness and vomiting among students in the crowd. The gas was so thick that breezes carried it to Cowell Memorial Hospital, endangering patients, interrupting operations, and incapacitating nurses. Students at two nearby elementary schools were also adversely affected.
Guardsmen were continually posted at Berkeley’s vacant lots, and they prevented anyone from planting trees, shrubs, or flowers. Local Berkeley women taunted and teased the troops, on one occasion they came bearing marijuana laced brownies and LSD spiked lemonade. On other occasions, the women stripped to the waste and danced for the troops who vainly tried to hide their smiles from their commanders. In order to solve the discipline within the ranks problem, they Berkeley Guardsmen were replaced by troops from a very conservative section in Orange County. After that, any citizens who asked any Guard personnel questions or engaged them in debate were warned away by threats of violence. Berkeley had a Guard enforced curfew established. Hundreds were arrested, and citizens who violated the curfew risked police harassment and beatings. This was Ronald Reagan’s dream of democracy in Berkeley in 1969.
In April of 1970, Ronald Regan defended his actions with the following comment, “If it takes a bloodbath, let's get it over with. No more appeasement.” Was he really seriously alluding that the students were the modern equivalent of Hitler? Who was gassing whom? Less than a month later, on May 4, 1970, four students, including a young woman, were shot and killed and another nine were wounded at Kent State. Meanwhile, at Berkeley, no police officers, Guardsmen or Alameda Sheriff's deputies were ever reprimanded in any way for their violent actions on Bloody Thursday or later. The student body and the Berkeley community of citizens, each by hugely overwhelming majorities, voted to give People’s Park back to the students and allowed them to plant their trees, shrubs, bushes and flowers once again on park grounds.
In May, race riots erupted in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia as another successful export of America’s democracy seemed to take hold in another nation. Soon after that, civil unrest broke out in Rosario, Argentina after the death of a fifteen-year-old student. That was followed by more civil unrest and a general strike in Cordoba, Argentina. Riots in Curacao marked the onset of an Afro-Caribbean Civil Rights movement on the island.
During the times these events transpired, John Lennon and Yoko irreverently initiated their Bed-Ins for Peace at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. On June 1st, John and Yoko recorded the famous live tape for Give Peace a Chance. On June 8th, Nixon met with Thieu on Midway Island which led to Nixon’s announcement that he would withdraw 25,000 American troops from Vietnam by September. During a national convention of SDS in Chicago, of all places, the organization broke down through factionalization. This event led to the formation of the Weather Underground faction, or Weathermen as they were alternatively called (the name coming from a Bob Dylan line, “You don't have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows”), took control of the SDS and initiated a program of violent opposition to the war. It seemed the antiwar movement, born out of a desire for peace and cultivated on the premise of non-violence got perverted along the way. As Kesey could have told the Weathermen, you can’t win by playing the Establishment’s game! You have to devise your own movie, and march to the beat of a different drummer. The antiwar movement’s greatest successes came through the use of non-violent protests, spreading love and conducting Teach-Ins. One could see, even from afar, this new era in the antiwar protest movement, the Weathermen’s proclivity for violence and their stated goal of violent overthrow of the government could lead no one to any positive result. Indeed, what was that about knowing which way the wind was blowing?
The end of June saw the Stonewall riots in New York City mark the beginnings of the gay liberation movement. July 8th marked the date of Nixon’s first troop withdrawals from Vietnam as he put his plan of Vietnamization of the war into effect. Did no one see this strategy was one bend on genocide? Nixon had no intentions of losing the war or cutting and running. No, he thought he had found a way to circumvent the opposition to the war at home. If he withdrew American forces, and American casualties dwindled to near nothing, would not the protestors lose their arguments and would not citizens be willing to support the general idea of providing South Vietnam with the means to do the fighting for the U.S.? Simultaneously, he would achieve a result of having only Vietnamese fighting Vietnamese in the struggle to advance US geopolitical and economic goals in Southeast Asia. Not only would American’s lives be saved, but the entire Vietnamese population would suffer reductions from their fighting amongst themselves. What an evil, genocidal proposition Nixon sought to feed the American public!
The Apollo 11 moon landing offered another significant event that summer. The United States fulfilled the dream John Kennedy set out near the beginning of his Presidency. His dream was to land a man on the surface of the moon and bring him back safely by the end of the decade. On July 20, 1969, America's NASA program achieved exactly that feat. This represented a technological marvel as well as a great human undertaking. Neil Armstrong sent shivers up the spine of just about everyone who watched on television or listened on radio to the reports of the lunar landing when he uttered the words, "Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” I think everyone living nearby to my home let out a loud cheer. Later, during the first moonwalk, Armstrong got us all again as he remarked, “That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” I don't believe there were many dry eyes in the country at that moment. I remember sitting in front of my television set in absolute awe, enraptured by the moment and nearly in disbelief of the accomplishment. This was not Nixonian styled, old world policy which elevated the great mass of human spirit. No, this was Kennedyism at one of its greatest hours, a new technology, born of a younger world, brought humans beyond the threshold of space and to the door of a new age. Proving that it took a young man of vision to accomplish something so great, no leader since has known quite what to do with the space program.
On August 4th, Kissinger opened secret peace negotiations with his North Vietnamese counterpart, Xuan Thuy in France. Again with Nixon, everything was done in secret, out of the public's eye. It was also out of the eye of the press. Somehow, in a democracy, the President deemed his own strategies most expeditious and more valuable than any agreed upon consensus of opinion. Just what was happening to the American democracy? Nixon was subverting it. That would become obvious in the next decade with Watergate.
On August 9th, the Charles Manson "family" members: Linda Kasabian, Patricia Krenwinkle, Susan Atkins and Tex Watson committed the Tate murders in gruesome fashion and on the 10th, Leslie Van Houten and Steve "Clem" Grogan joined the party for the LaBianca murders. Somehow, amid this period of ferocious killing, protracted war, heavy bombing, gruesome murders, horrendous napalming and political subterfuge, a sociological and cultural event took place near Woodstock, New York, known as the Woodstock Music Festival. Nearly all of the biggest names in rock music were flown in to perform for some 300,000 hippie, music fans over three days. In spite of bad weather, food shortages, the occasional bum trip, and hundreds of thousands of gate crashers, the festival went off without any violence, without any deaths and without any hostility. In this, the greatest of the gathering of tribes of hippies, yippies, Flower Children, stoners, heads and acid freaks, those young people showed the world that it was possible to get along, allow everyone to be totally out front and have a remarkably enjoyable time without any significantly negative events intruding. The kids at Woodstock passed the greatest Acid Test of the decade!
Unfortunately, most of the straight world was too preoccupied with the negativity and destructiveness which gripped their reality and their movie for them to notice that another movie was playing, one that offered a lot more hope than their military, cop, rule infested reality could grasp. Still, Woodstock seemed to gather up a bit of the magic flying about because of the moon landing, and distilled a special moment of human brotherhood right here on the planet. Perhaps that moment signaled the birth of the Age of Aquarius.