40 years after Woodstock, a more harmonious society

From  USAToday

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Historians often look at 1968 as the apex of that strange era known as the ’60s. But running through the many 40-year anniversaries this summer, it is hard not to conclude that 1969 reveals more about where the nation was then and how far it has come.

The moon landing, Sen. Edward Kennedy’s accident at Chappaquiddick, and the bizarre murders engineered by Charles Manson all happened within a few dizzying weeks of each other in July and August 40 years ago. And this weekend marks the anniversary of the ultimate ’60s happening — the Woodstock music festival in rural Bethel, N.Y.

Woodstock, like the moon landing, was supposedly going to usher in a new era that never came. Today, we aren’t living in space colonies. Nor have we arrived at some utopian society dedicated to peace, love and free music.

Woodstock, like the moon landing, was supposedly going to usher in a new era that never came. Today, we aren’t living in space colonies. Nor have we arrived at some utopian society dedicated to peace, love and free music.

 

Axx-Moon-14 What has changed since then is almost all for the better. In 1969 the fissures over the Vietnam War, racial tensions, and social and sexual mores were incomprehensibly vast. The fabric of American society, already strained by the assassinations the previous year of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., seemed to be coming apart at the seams.

The most radical of protesters were full of anger not just at politicians but also at law enforcement officers and soldiers. Many demonstrators showed little respect for private property or free enterprise. Some preached outright anarchy or violent overthrow of the government.

On the other side, the harshest critics of the protest movement were sometimes so agitated by lawlessness, drug usage and assaults on traditional values that they were willing to short-circuit the Constitution.

In Washington, the newly elected president, Richard Nixon, conflated opposition to his policies in Vietnam with a grave peril to the nation’s security. In short order, Nixon was already subverting the Constitution in ways that would bring his presidency down five years later. He urged tax audits of his political adversaries and began a series of illegal wiretaps. Those subject to the president’s surveillance included politicians, journalists and even top officials in his own administration.

Today, in contrast, even the raucous health care debate is a far cry from the violent anti-war protests of the Vietnam era, which included the gunning down of four protesters by national guardsmen at Kent State University in 1970. Advocates on both sides of the Iraq war have shown nothing but admiration for the men and women in uniform who have served there.

Progress in race relations has been stunning, as evidenced by the current residents of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Equally remarkable is how the generation gap of four decades ago has narrowed from a chasm to a gully. A Pew Research Center poll out this week found that only 10% of parents of older children said they frequently have sharp conflicts with their kids; nearly twice as many reported major disagreements with their own parents when they were growing up.

One of the factors the Pew researchers identified as a reason for mellower relations between Baby Boomers and their children: a mutual affinity for rock ‘n’ roll.

The Age of Aquarius? Not yet. But closer.

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