AS 1969 PROVED, THERE IS CON­TIN­UED RE­SILIENCE IN QUIET AMER­ICA

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Insight - BY VICTOR DAVIS HAN­SON Victor Davis Han­son is a clas­si­cist and his­to­rian at the Hoover In­sti­tu­tion, Stan­ford Univer­sity. Email: au­[email protected] His col­umn is dis­trib­uted by Tri­bune Con­tent Agency.

Fifty years ago, the United States was fac­ing crises and un­rest on mul­ti­ple fronts. Some pre­dicted that in­ter­nal chaos and rev­o­lu­tion would un­ravel the na­tion.

The 1969 Viet­nam War protests on the UC Berke­ley cam­pus turned so vi­o­lent that Na­tional Guard he­li­copters in­dis­crim­i­nately sprayed tear gas on stu­dent demon­stra­tors. Later that year, hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple filled the streets of ma­jor cities as part of the “Mora­to­rium to the End the War in Viet­nam.” In Wash­ing­ton, D.C., about a halfmil­lion pro­test­ers marched to the White House.

Na­tive Amer­i­can demon­stra­tors took over the for­mer fed­eral prison on Al­ca­traz Is­land in San Fran­cisco Bay and stayed there for 19 months, declar­ing it their own sov­er­eign space.

In Novem­ber 1969, the Amer­i­can pub­lic was ex­posed to grotesque pho­tos of the My Lai Mas­sacre, which had oc­curred the year be­fore. The na­tion was stunned that Amer­i­can troops in Viet­nam had shot in­no­cent women and chil­dren. My Lai heated up the al­ready hot na­tional de­bate over whether the Viet­nam War was ei­ther moral or winnable.

Mean­while, the trial of the so-called Chicago Seven, in­volv­ing the sup­posed or­ga­niz­ers of the ri­ots at the 1968 Demo­cratic Na­tional Con­ven­tion in Chicago, roiled the na­tion. The court­room drama in­volv­ing rad­i­cal de­fen­dants such as Tom Hay­den, Ab­bie Hoff­man and Jerry Ru­bin de­scended into a na­tional cir­cus, as the bat­tle be­tween left­ists and the es­tab­lish­ment went from the streets to the court­room.

It was also the year of the Wood­stock mu­sic fes­ti­val. More than 400,000 thrill-seek­ers showed up on a small farm in the Catskill Moun­tains in Au­gust 1969 to cel­e­brate three days of “peace and mu­sic.” Footage of free love and free drugs at Wood­stock shocked half the coun­try, but res­onated with the other half, which viewed the fes­ti­val as much-needed lib­er­a­tion for an up­tight na­tion.

Newly inau­gu­rated Pres­i­dent Richard Nixon char­ac­ter­ized the na­tional di­vide as the “silent ma­jor­ity” of tra­di­tional Amer­i­cans fight­ing back against rad­i­cal changes in cul­ture and pol­i­tics.

Un­der the strain of con­stant protests, the cul­tural and moral fab­ric of the coun­try seemed to be tear­ing apart. Al­ter­na­tive life­style choices some­times led to vi­o­lence or death.

When a West Coast ver­sion of Wood­stock was tried a few months later at the Al­ta­mont Race­way Park near Tracy, the con­cert ended up an orgy of mur­der, drug over­doses, ran­dom vi­o­lence and de­struc­tion of prop­erty.

In July of 1969, lib­eral icon Teddy Kennedy ran his car off a bridge on Chap­paquid­dick Is­land, Mas­sachusetts, and his young pas­sen­ger, Mary Jo Kopechne, was left to drown. Sen. Kennedy did not re­port the ac­ci­dent to au­thor­i­ties un­til 10 hours later.

The next month, mem­bers of hip­pie psy­chopath Charles Man­son’s “fam­ily” butchered seven in­no­cents in Los An­ge­les, among them ac­tress Sharon Tate. The Man­son fam­ily ap­par­ently had hoped that the sen­sa­tion­al­ized mur­ders would ig­nite some sort of racial civil war, thereby un­rav­el­ing the United States.

Yet a wounded United States did not just sur­vive 1969, but reached new heights of sci­en­tific, tech­no­log­i­cal and cul­tural achieve­ment.

For the first time in his­tory, a na­tional econ­omy pro­duced more than $1 tril­lion worth of goods and ser­vices in a sin­gle year, as Amer­i­can nom­i­nal GDP for 1969 ex­ceeded that level.

Amer­ica also put the first hu­mans on the moon in 1969 — and did it twice the same year, with the Apollo 11 and Apollo 12 lu­nar mis­sions.

Boe­ing’s 747 jumbo jet made its first suc­cess­ful test flight in 1969. The 400-pas­sen­ger air­liner was so well de­signed and ahead of its time that it con­tin­ues in ser­vice to­day, a half-cen­tury af­ter its roll­out. It took some 35 years for a Euro­pean com­pany to in­tro­duce a com­peti­tor to the 747, the Air­bus A380. Yet the lat­ter jet has been some­thing of a white ele­phant. Many air­lines have stopped us­ing the A380, and Air­bus has an­nounced that it will stop pro­duc­ing the jets in 2021.

Amer­i­can com­puter sci­en­tists first used a pre­cur­sor to the in­ter­net in 1969, when com­put­ers at UCLA and Stan­ford man­aged to share an elec­tronic net­work, known as ARPANET (Ad­vanced Re­search Projects Agency Net­work).

Fifty years later, what are the lessons of the chaotic year 1969 for our sim­i­larly schiz­o­phrenic age of po­lar­iza­tion, civil dis­unity, and un­prece­dented wealth and sci­en­tific ad­vance­ment?

Amer­ica is such a huge and di­verse coun­try, and so abun­dantly en­dowed with nat­u­ral and hu­man re­sources that it is ca­pa­ble of achiev­ing un­prece­dented sci­en­tific, eco­nomic and tech­no­log­i­cal break­throughs even as its so­cial fab­ric is tear­ing apart.

Or, put an­other way, while the me­dia high­lights crime, protests, griev­ances and civil dis­or­der, a ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans still go to work un­both­ered each day.

And in a rare so­ci­ety with a free mar­ket, con­sti­tu­tional gov­ern­ment and in­di­vid­ual free­dom, peo­ple con­tinue to do amaz­ing things even amid the ut­ter chaos around them.

Macau­lay Hon­ors Col­lege – CUNY.edu

A shot from the Al­ta­mont Free Mu­sic fes­ti­val of 1969 shows Hells An­gels at­tack­ing some in the au­di­ence.

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