Friday, April 28, 2023

Contentious Times? Consider the late 1960s: My Broad + Liberty Piece On A Look Back At Another Contentious Time In American History

Broad + Liberty ran my piece on a look back another contentious time in American history. 

You can read the piece via the below link or the below text:

Paul Davis: Contentious times? Consider the late 1960s (

I recently had a discussion with a friend who lamented the times we live in and how we are so polarized. He told me that he was worried about the future of the country.

I recall a similar conversation I had a few years back with a newspaper editor. An avowed Trump-hater, he told me that this was the most contentious time in American history.

More contentious than the Civil War? I replied to the editor, who happened to have a history degree. Or more contentious than the War of Independence, in which one third of the people supported the Revolutionary War, one third supported the British crown, and one third was indifferent?

And more contentious than the late 1960s? 

I recall vividly the late 1960s as I was then a teenager. I recall the anti-war and the civil rights protests. I also recall the riots that rocked Philadelphia and other cities in America after Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968. 

I was a student at South Philadelphia High School, called Southern, at the time. After King’s assassinations I walked to school and landed smack in the middle of the fights between black and white students. The fights in and around Southern went on for hours until the police managed to separate the two groups.

Say what you will about Frank Rizzo, but the then-Police Commissioner  ensured that Philadelphia was one of the few cities that didn’t burn. Philly cops under Rizzo went out in force that night and prevented the city from being destroyed like other American cities.

In addition to violent race relations in the late 1960s, the Vietnam War divided the country. The “silent majority,” coined by Richard Nixon, were for America’s involvement in Vietnam, although many disagreed with President Johnson’s leadership and war policies. Many Americans, including me, believed that we should go all out and defeat the North Vietnamese Communists.        

The anti-war protestors were anything but silent. Made up of mostly draft-age young men, the anti-war protestors called for the withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam and the end of the draft. Some anti-war protests turned violent with protestors taking over college buildings and clashing with police and national guardsmen. The anti-war violent protests were covered prominently by the press and the TV news in an age before the Internet.  

The Vietnam War also divided families and family dinners often erupted into contentious debates over the war. Fathers, many of whom were World War II veterans, disapproved of the opinions and actions of their anti-war sons and daughters. Elected officials and political pundits were also divided on the war and public debate was often heated.            

Due to the protests and opposition to the Vietnam War, President Johnson declared that he would not seek another term as president. The 1968 Democratic political convention in Chicago selected Vice President Hubert Humphrey as their presidential candidate. Outside of the Chicago convention center, radical and anti-war protests erupted into violent clashes between the protestors and the Chicago police. Republican Richard Nixon became the Republican candidate. 

In 1964, author Robin Moore published “The Green Berets,” which was about the early years of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. Moore, who trained with the Green Berets before venturing to Vietnam, accompanied Green Berets as they fought the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese and trained the South Vietnamese.

The book was popular and sold well in 1964, but by the time John Wayne optioned the book and made the film “The Green Berets” in 1968, the mood had changed. The pro-military and pro-Vietnam War film was slammed by nearly all of the film critics and television commentators (but the film made money at the box office).

Richard Nixon became president, and he was demonized by the press and commentators far worse than President Trump. Yet he was overwhelmingly reelected in 1972 by the silent majority. 

Nixon ended the draft, which broke the back of the anti-war protests, although the war dragged on. It appeared that many of the protestors were not anti-war — they were against their personal participation in the war.  

So, those who think that we are now on the eve of destruction (the title of a song from the 1960s), should recall or research the late 1960s. 

The student radical group the Weathermen set off bombs, and the Black Liberation Army ambushed and murdered police officers. It was an era of violence and tumultuous events. In addition to the racial strife, and anti-war and radical violent protests, there was drugs, crime, the counterculture movement, and political assassinations.

We survived the late 1960s, and our great Republic will survive these contentious times as well.

Paul Davis, who enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served on an aircraft carrier during the Vietnam War, is a Philadelphia writer who covers crime.   

No comments:

Post a Comment