Tag Archives: W. Roger Scott

“What Were the Sixties Like?” by W. Roger Scott, Part 2

2 May

To the World War II generation, protesting the Vietnam War was equivalent to blasphemy.  They had fought the “Good War!”  They had saved the world!  (And I do believe that.)  World War II waflowerpower_69_iwo_jimas black and white.  Few wars are like that but many of that generation believed that about Vietnam.  Thus, to them, protesting the Vietnam War was like supporting Joseph Stalin.  There was also a sometimes unspoken belief that the United States had won World War II all by itself.  (One wonders how things would have turned out if Hitler hadn’t been arrogant, dumb or both enough to invade Russia.)  If we could defeat Hitler, why can’t we defeat these Orientals in pajamas?  It must be because these protesters give them hope that we will give up.  (Of course, Vietnam was a guerrilla war, very different from World War II, as we were to learn, or should have learned, in Iraq and Afghanistan.)  Finally, the World War II generation was also the Depression generation.  They could not understand why those whom they thought had everything grew long hair and beards and protested against the country that they believed gave it to them.

Although my friend’s father went to Yale after the War, he was no WASP.  He was of Lithuanian descent, a member of a family active in Democratic politics and lived in a little apartment over a small auto dealership his wife’s father had established.  “Yale is 90% bums!” he said.  “The SDS is worse than communists!”

Northeastern Pennsylvania was not a hotbed of anti-war protest.  I wrote a letter to the school newspaper complaining about the abuse given to a small group of anti-war protesters on Public Square.  The school used a small community newspaper company to print the school newspaper.  The community newspaper inserted “(sic)” throughout the letter, although there were no typos.  “I liked your letter, but why did you put all those “(sics”)s in it?” one of my classmates asked.

My friend and I went to hear Hubert Humphrey at the airport during the 1968 presidential campaign.  As he spoke, a small group of protesters chanted against the war.  An old World War I veteran wearing a VFW cap screamed over and over at them, “You fuckin’ sons of bitches!  You fuckin’ sons of bitches!”  His entire body was shaking with rage.

I went to Kenyon College in rural Ohio.  There were only two Vietnam veterans in my class.  Such was the class divide during that war that Vietnam veterans rarely attended exclusive liberal arts colleges.  Most men who attended such institutions had deferments.  One of the veterans had been a medic; he seemed to have survived the experience okay.  The other had not; he looked like he had been through hell over there and he probably had. I can still picture him a solitary figure with a hard, angry look on his face.  To be honest he was frightening; I am sure he was terrified inside.  As I look back, I wish I could have said something to him, but at eighteen and in that era, I didn’t know how to deal with it.  It was not that he had served in a war of which I disapproved; he did not start that war.  It was more that there was a denial from both the government and the media of what war, any war, does to those who fight.  (I think the government thought that denying the cost of Vietnam would make the war more palatable.)  One of my favorite television programs of that era was Gomer Pyle USMC.  Here was a program about a marine during the height of the Vietnam war and I do not recall Vietnam ever being mentioned.  Today, whatever one’s opinion of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, at least we have an idea what war really does.

There were few protests at Kenyon, perhaps because there was no one to see them.  However, the invasion of Cambodia in May 1970, and the subsequent killing of four students at Kent State, caused outrage at Kenyon, just as it did on college campuses across the country.  Kenyon is about one hundred miles from Kent State.  Whatever one’s opinion about the protesters against the invasion of Cambodia burning an old ROTC building at Kent State, the protesters were not going to destroy the country.  To hear Ohio governor James Rhodes talk at the time, one would think they were.  At the time I blamed him for creating an atmosphere in which poorly-led National Guardsmen fired wildly at students, many who were just going to class, killing four.  I still do.

Governor Rhodes was following a trail blazed by Richard Nixon: Pour gasoline on the flames to fire up your base against a real or imagined enemy.  My Uncle Chuck was an executive with the Mobil Oil Company.  He lived for many years outside of Chicago, but he traveled all over the country on business.  I am sure he was a Republican. He was in California during Richard Nixon’s campaign for governor in 1962.  He emphatically related to us how “disgusting” Nixon’s campaign had been.  When Nixon was running for president, a little girl held up a sign that said: “Bring us together.”  Nixon spotted the sign and vowed that was what he was going to do.  Instead he did the opposite and so have politicians who have followed in his footsteps for the last fifty years.  Maybe the Millennials will do better.

In the 1960s I felt that I was living on the edge of the Apocalypse.  We were on “The Eve of Destruction” or standing at the Gates of Paradise.  Instead, as the Sixties slouched into the hangover of the 1970s, I often thought of the words of the man who has probably done more than anyone else to destroy contemporary interest in poetry, T.S. Eliot.

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

   Not with a bang but a whimper.

“What Were the Sixties Like?” by W. Roger Scott, Part I

28 Apr

W. Roger Scott was born and raised in the Wyoming Valley in northeastern Pennsylvania and is today an attorney in Los Angeles, California. He is the author of a memoir about his Polish-American mother’s family, a history of his primarily Pennsylvania Dutch father’s family (which keeps on expanding), and other short historical monographs. He is most at peace milling through dusty archives.

 

Not long ago, a girl in her early twenties asked me, “What were the Sixties like?”  I had to think about that.  How do you describe the Sixties in twenty-five words or less?  I concluded that, from my perspective, growing up in ethnic, working class Northeastern Pennsylvania, the television program All In The Family would best communicate to that girl what the Sixties were like for me.

Today, the expression “the N-Word” is used to convey a term not to be spoken.  I know what that “N” stands for and I heard that word uttered many times in the North.  I also engaged in or observed many arguments over race and politics as occurred between Mike Stivic and Archie Bunker over race and the war in Viet Nam.  (For the record, my parents never used the N-Word.) As for the South, my father had to explain to me why there were signs for “Colored Rest Room” on our first visit to Virginia when I was ten in 1961.

Vietnam War Helicopter Crash

When the war in Viet Nam escalated in 1965, I was fourteen.  I believed what our government and most of the media told us.  I remember a disc jockey on the rock and roll radio station in Scranton, WARM, stating, “If we don’t stop them in Viet Nam, we’ll be fighting them in Hawaii.”  At that time it was believed that Communism was a monolithic movement intent on taking over the world.  There was a commercial on television, showing a map of the world with a red tide enveloping country after country.  (At least it would have been red if we had a color television.)  In reality, as soon as the Viet Nam war ended, Viet Nam became involved in a war with communist China (or “Red China” as it was called in the Sixties), and communist Viet Nam overthrew Pol Pot, causing the Reagan Administration to give aid to the Khmer Rouge.

It was not reading left-wing literature that turned me against the Viet Nam War; it was the minister at the First Methodist Church of Kingston, Pennsylvania, Robert Lukens.  Reverend Lukens had long preached fervently about Civil Rights.  He was a 1960s liberal, uninfected with the cynicism that I saw develop in the 1970s.  He often quoted in his sermons The Arrogance of Power, a book written by a conservative Arkansas senator, J. William Fulbright.  Reverend Lukens often decried the morality of the killing in Viet Nam.  However, what first got me thinking was Reverend Lukens noting Senator Fulbright’s observation that Mexico was very anti-American during the Mexican Revolution, but that ardor cooled and there were now peaceful relations between our countries.  I began to believe that the Viet Cong would not always be intrinsically anti-American and would some day no more want to take over America than did Mexico in 1967.

I started to read up on Viet Nam and discovered that Ho Chi Minh wanted to be allied with the United States against the French and that our government knew he would have won the promised elections in 1956 so it caused them to be cancelled.  (I confronted a nervous young Foreign Service officer who was giving a talk in Wilkes-Barre with this latter fact.  He said it was not an election against South Vietnamese president Diem that Ho Chi Minh would have won, but an election against Vietnamese Emperor Bao Dai.)

1967 was the Summer of Love in San Francisco.  It might as well have been on another planet.  (As also was Mainland China.  China seemed more exotic and I was more curious about it when President Nixon visited it in 1971, as it had been shrouded in mystery all of my life of twenty years, than the moon.  I was more fascinated with what China was like than I was with the moon when Neil Armstrong walked on it.)  Marijuana was something I read about, except for hushed voices about the class radical, Jeff. I hear he smokes marijuana! I also remember the proud tone in Jeff’s voice when a photograph of two African-American (or Black as we would have said then) Cornell students with automatic weapons held above their heads was published in a national magazine. Pointing to one of the students, Jeff gushed, “He went to school here!”   Today, National Rifle Association members argue we should have the right to automatic weapons to protect ourselves against government tyranny.  The Black students felt the same way; although I don’t think the government tyranny they feared is the same tyranny the white NRA members now fear.