The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It


It’s hard not to see a tremendous similarity between today’s America and the America of the mid-1960’s.  The country was and is divided – severely so.  In the 1960’s the source of this division was the War in Vietnam.  Today it is divided by many more issues.  If there is one thing that unifies these two periods in our history it is the involvement of young people in the political process.

The protests against the Vietnam War were categorized by biased reporting by the mainstream media of the time and generally characterized as the activity of “hippies” and other ne’er-do-wells when it began to evolve.   As President Lyndon B. Johnson increased the number of American soldiers in Vietnam to its greatest level of 535,000, as the war began to affect more American families with the losses of their sons, the protests swelled through the mid-1960’s to climax at the Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1968.

America brought the war home to what was then America’s “Second City.”  The protestors, generally supporters of Senator Eugene McCarthy or Senator Robert Kennedy whose brother President John F. Kennedy had escalated the number of troops in Vietnam from less than one thousand  to 16,000 came unarmed, to be battered by the Chicago Police under the direction of then Mayor Richard J. Daley.

The country realized that this was no longer about a small group of “radical misfits.”  This was not about burning draft cards or burning bras.  This was a war against Americans fought by other Americans.

Fortunately, there was no dropping of napalm, the flesh-searing chemical compound developed by Dow Chemical, which we liberally used in Vietnam, ultimately killing or  disfiguring  thousands of innocent civilians along with our intended targets, the Viet Cong.  We personalized the chaos in Chicago by applying police night sticks to the protestors who tried to voice their opinion and their rage against the war.

Beyond the hundreds of protests and rallies and sit-ins which had grown in number across the country as we continued to send more and more of our young men to their deaths in a war which could not and would not be won, the brutal response of the “authorities” at the Chicago Democratic convention was a true turning point in the minds of many in mainstream America.

It would take seven more years after the convention before our troops finally withdrew from Vietnam.  It would take four more decades before Robert S. McNamara, Secretary of Defense under President Kennedy would admit something that most of the country already knew, “Vietnam was America’s greatest mistake.”  The concept of the “domino theory” which it was believed would cause southeast Asian countries to fall victims to communism have long since been dispelled by the evidence of history.

People, wherever their location and whatever their skin color have rejected that economic system.  Even those countries which provided a nascent home for communism, the former Soviet Union and the Peoples Republic of China have moved away from the musings of Karl Marx and Mao-Zedong.  Today’s Vietnam has a vibrant and capitalist-based economy and is flourishing.

It took the events in Chicago at the convention of “The Party of the People” for many of us to realize that it was only the party for some of the people.  It was willing to include only those of the people who heeled to the party line.  It accepted only those who fit into the mold that its leadership had determined was appropriate.  It was welcoming – but only to those who met the standards that those in control of the political machinery had set forth in their agenda.

The protests against Vietnam were at first viewed as an anomaly.  As they grew in size and number and frequency, the political authorities began viewing them as an annoyance.  When they built to a crescendo that swept across the country they were viewed as a threat – a challenge to the entrenched politicos and their ability to retain control of their fiefdoms.

The protests changed American opinion and  ultimately forced those in political power to exit our shameful undertaking in Vietnam, leaving millions of Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Laotians dead.  The rosters of the deceased included over 58,000 Americans.

Toady’s America is again divided – but without the single-focus that Vietnam provided.  We are divided over economic and social issues.  We are divided because it is to the benefit of those in power to keep us divided – to divert our attention from the fact that our leaders are only leading us further and deeper and faster into the abyss of mediocrity and failure.

We are divided because we are still at the stage of denial and are willing to hope and believe that the sops that are being strewn by Washington will be effective in staunching the blood flowing from our deep wounds.  We will ultimately emerge into the step after denial and that is acceptance – acceptance of the reality of the true nature of our politicians – and their motivations – which have little to do with the welfare of this country’s citizenry.

It is fascinating  to see to whom the young men and women in this country are rallying in their support for President of the United States.  Ron Paul is the oldest of the candidates in the race.  He carries a message which is different than any of the others of either party.  He is genuine – and the young people of this country, in their short lives, have already been able to differentiate between a genuine message of hope and the hopelessly fetid sausage that is being cranked out of the meat grinder by the rest of the field.

Those of us who remember the Vietnam protests need to get off our comfortable duffs and dust off our consciences.  We have proven that it is possible to change the path which a country follows – and that though it may take some time – that change can be achieved through the cohesive efforts of millions of us unified in a common effort.  We can start a movement.  And the young may well be heading up the parade.

Sometimes it is true, “A little child shall lead them.”

Comments on: "CONTRASTS" (6)

  1. This was really beautifully written and I agree with all you said, until you got to the Ron Paul part.
    We will continue to disagree, you and I, and I will resist the urge to become combative, because there is already too much of that.
    Going back to the part of your piece about Vietnam……I was in the Navy during much of that war (1968-1972) and I was vehemently opposed to what was happening there, and was not at all quiet about it. Many arguments took place between my “superiors” and myself and history has proved me right. 58,000 dead, and for what?
    What you and I do share is a love of country, and that is good enough for me.

  2. Thank you, Mike for your comment. I appreciate your non-combatative stance – particularly as the piece dealt with that exact subject – war – and a horrible and senseless one at that. I respect your opinion and am saying this not to begin a heated debate – but I thought that my statements about Rep. Paul were accurate. I am sure he is the oldest candidate in the race. I am fairly convinced that his message is different from the other candidates – and it is for that exact reason he is thought of us a “curiosity” by many if not an outright danger. And what I meant by “genuine” is “consistent.” He has consistently stood for upholding the Constitution of the United States. But, as you and I both realize, this is all moot since he will not be on the ballot in November. I have come to the unwilling conclusion that the top office in the land is thoroughly entrenched in the political machinery of both parties and we will not soon have an opportunity to elect a statesman to that post. I am therefore primarily concentrating my efforts to those who “serve” in Congress. As you put it so well, it is out of a sense of love of country.

  3. Always something for us to ponder in your blogs. The same polarization is going on in all western countries and it is here too. People are cynical and disaffected. We will be having a state election soon here in Australia the Land of Oz and there are bitter divisions. Perhaps when western countries return to their days of prosperity and glory some of that disaffection will vanish? The world is in a transitional period and people are anxious about the future in spite of our relative prosperity.

  4. “Perhaps when western countries return to their days of prosperity and glory some of that disaffection will vanish?”

    Isn’t this the ultimate economic chicken/egg question? Can the days of economic growth return with a disaffected population – and without an enthusiastic consumer how will it come about in an American economy where the consumer represents two-thirds of GDP?

  5. Where is that passion that was on fire in the 60’s though? I feel people are frustrated, but they aren’t doing anything about it. It’s like they don’t know how. The Occupy Wallstreet was as close as it got to anyone coming together and demanding change. But that didn’t last. It’s all so….overwhelming. Guess I’m just feeling a bit hopeless today….sigh.

  6. When the anti-Vietnam War movement began there were few who were involved. They were regarded as being too “strange” to take seriously by middle-America. However, sometimes circumstances dictate change. As we began to send more and more people to fight this war, as the number of casualties and fatalaties increased, the movement grew as more people became personally involved. Suddently, Main Street America began losing their children – or they knew someone who had lost their son. People don’t generally change their opinions in a vacuum.

    Sadly, that same sort of disaster – this time economic and social – is looming just around the corner. It may not become sufficiently obvious to many of us before November 6th. But the policies and motivations of our leaders can only lead to one inevitable result – and that is not a happy one. As more of us begin to feel this, the movement will swell and those who are now apathetic will become involved – as a matter of self-protection.

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