Boomers got to where they are today in their own unique way. From reciting the Pledge of Allegiance each morning in school, to singing My country Tis of Thee also in school, to watching Superman reruns starring George Reeves where the Man of Steel fought for ‘Truth, Justice, and the American Way’, we all had reason to believe that the U.S. and the Allies having recently won (from the perspective of the mid 1960’s) WWII, was inexorably on the side doing the right thing. Yet fear of the Red Menace was alive and well in the 1960’s and 1970’s and as any Boomer can tell you, doing drills where you had to get underneath your desk in the classroom, and signs for Fallout Shelters were unnerving to say the least.
The Korean War ended in 1953. I was a kid in the 1960’s and the TV show M*A*S*H* (an outgrowth of the protests and dissension of the 1960’s) in the 1970’s did not paint a pretty picture. The show was about doctors in a mobile hospital (that never moved) during the Korean War. But I am betting that many people like me were not sure if the U.S. won or lost. Bill Murray’s character in the 1980 movie Stripes has a line where he notes that the U.S. was 10-1-1 in wars. This was five years after the end of the Vietnam War and while I had little trouble figuring out which was the tie and which was the loss, it still was a pretty impressive record. Our parents came from the ‘Greatest generation’ and I guess the perception was that the U.S. was ‘undefeated’. Talk about a high perch to maintain!
The protests of the 1960’s are often thought of as the dawning of an awareness that not everything the U.S. did was right or ‘worked out’. Then, like today, protests were seen by many as being disrespectful to those that serve in our country’s military. It was as if questioning policy, motives or actions of the government of a free country should never occur. Of course nobody actually feels it should never occur since that’s un-American. But the misguided notion that protesting by kneeling or sitting during the playing of our national anthem disrespects our servicemen and servicewomen is creating unneeded strife in the United States. Social media has not helped here since before social media you’d never read something publicly from a ‘friend’ that would cause you to form a different and negative opinion of that person. Civility would hold when meeting in person and even if there was a difference of opinion that was not tantamount to ending the relationship or friendship. Sadly that appears not to be the case today. Social media is clearly a megaphone for people to have their voices be heard.
I want to live in a country where it’s not only acceptable, but there’s encouragement for people to have their voices heard whether I agree with those voices or not. In the Vietnam War there were ‘conscientious objectors’ – like Muhammad Ali. Many of them paid a dear price for refusing to serve being arrested and jailed. Others moved out of the country. But there were also many who despite maybe having deep reservations about America’s involvement in Southeast Asia, served their country anyway. I did receive a draft number in the late 1970’s but by that time the U.S. had exited Vietnam and it never went beyond receiving the number. I thought at the time and still do that had I been drafted I would have served my country even if I disagreed with the reasons for our being there. I am watching Ken Burns’ Vietnam on PBS and it brings back so many memories about the way I felt at the time.
People that serve AND who put their lives on the line every day be it military service, law enforcement or other services that are in place to protect the public, are to be admired and appreciated – particularly by civilians. Among the many things these brave people are protecting are the rights of all Americans to be heard in whatever form of legal expression is in place. That’s something to fight for and something that I personally champion and will continue to champion.