As boomers, we’ve known a country divided

When Seattle baby boomer Ron Gompertz writes for BoomerCafé about memories, they are neither trivial nor idle. They are memories of major impact and upheaval in our lives. Today, the author of Life’s Big Zoo writes about what he calls, “A Country Divided. History Repeats, Again.”

A country divided, the chasm between left and right wider than ever. Headlines about violent protests. Allegations of police brutality. Controversial foreign wars. A generation of alienated youth. An epidemic of drugs. Fear of nuclear attack. A law and order candidate with a secret plan to end a war. Whispers that he colluded with a foreign government to win the election.

A massive protest at the Washington Monument in D.C. against U.S. involvement in the war in Vietnam.

Sound familiar?

It should. But not because of what we’re going through now.

The year was 1968. On our way to the heavens we took a detour through hell.

Recent concerns about Bush or Clinton family dynasties are nothing new. The likelihood of a Kennedy dynasty ended with RFK’s assassination just hours after he beat the sitting vice president in the California primary. The White House would remain out of boomers’ hands until Bill Clinton won in 1992.

In that year of 1968, the emerging hope for peaceful change in the Soviet orbit was trampled by Warsaw Pact tanks flattening the frail flowers of Prague Spring. Then and a few times afterward, the Cold War threatened to heat up and boil over. Ukraine wasn’t in the headlines yet, but its recent occupation was clearly foreshadowed by a restless Russia.

Prague, 1968

I was a bit too young to participate in the roller coaster sixties, which might be why I remember them. I love much about those times — the music, the politics, the youth movement — but realize that my nostalgia is rose-colored in middle class hues.

For all the similarities though, differences abound. Back then, our wars were broadcast nightly and fought by conscripts. The draft wasn’t truly democratic, but it touched more of us than today’s volunteer services which fight in the shadows off-screen.

Ron Gompertz

The Environmental Protection Agency was created by Nixon in 1970. Title IX assuring equality in education and programs benefiting from federal assistance became law in 1972.

Today our air is cleaner. Access to healthcare has been expanded. Income tax and homicide rates are both lower. We’re still fighting abroad, but fewer are dying. Entrepreneurs are taking us back into space and some of us will live to see humanity set foot on Mars.

In 1968, if you’d told me that marijuana would some day be legal, I’d have asked what you were smoking.

If it seems like our national politics boil down to an ongoing battle between the fifties and the sixties — boomers at war with themselves — keep in mind that our great experiment in democracy has always been one of overcoming national schizophrenia. Our states have rarely been united but our good-heartedness usually prevails.

Winston Churchill, the great defender of democracy, summed it up well: “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing — after they’ve tried everything else.”

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9 Comments

  1. Thought provoking piece, Ron. Similarities and differences between two turbulent times… I agree that in many ways the world is in a better place today than back in the day. I’m just not as confident that good-heartedness will still prevail. Hope you’re right.

  2. I remember these days well and am not enjoying the current deja vu moments, but will remain positive and hopeful for better days to come for all us “aging hippies”! The only thing we can do is spread the light when darkness prevails.

      1. “God damn, well I declare, have you seen the like?
        Their walls are built of cannonballs
        Their motto is “don’t tread on me””
        -“Uncle John’s Band” — Hunter/Garcia
        Am reminded of these lyrics, penned in the Late 1960s, every time I see the yellow flag with the coiled snake
        In 1970, marching with approx. 300,000 of my best friends from downtown San Francisco to Golden Gate Park to
        Protest the War in VietNam and the bombing of Cambodia, I felt that I was part of something that could actually
        Influence a change, peacefully and non-violently while exercising my rights to Free Speech.
        Nowadays, I do not see this occurring. I see violent suppression of others rights to Free Speech even where Mario Savio
        initially began the Free Speech Movement.

          1. Thanking you.
            Good point and a sad reminder of Kent State and that moment of violent and final suppression
            for those four souls

  3. “The year was 1968. On our way to the heavens we took a detour through hell.” Poetic! Excellent piece, as always, Ron. Tying the current dirge that is this country to the war between the fifties and sixties makes perfect sense. As far as optimism (and hope), I err to the same side. Besides, cynicism and pessimism sound like a fingerprinted and skipping LP that never will regain its original sonic quality. We will do the right thing. We will finally unite. They did it on Star Trek.

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