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I have listened to Tom Brokaw's audio book 'Boom' a couple of times. It
is an interesting recap of major events of the 1960's in the context of
his personal perspective as a journalist, father, husband, friend and
American citizen.
The book includes interviews with such famous faces as Arlo Guthrie,
Bruce Springsteen, Michelle Phillips, James Taylor and Rafer Johnson, the
1960 Olympic decathlon champion. Johnson tells how he gave up a promising
career as a sportscaster to work on the presidential campaign of Robert
F. Kennedy. On June 5, 1968, Johnson helped to wrestle Kennedy assassin
Sirhan Sirhan to the ground. In the struggle, Rafer grabbed the gun and
put it in his suit pocket. When he woke up the next morning, Johnson
discovered that the gun was still in his suit pocket.
Guthrie, now 60 years old, performs a rendition of his signature song
'Alice's Restaurant'. He then tells Brokaw that during the 60's the
counter culture was about alternative life styles and how drugs were an
alternative to alcohol. He says that he has changed his mind about some
of those beliefs. Brokaw asks him what he has changed his mind about.
Guthrie responds "I have developed a taste for good whiskey".
In 1969 a music festival was held in Bethel, New York on a 600 acre field
at the home of Max Yasgur. Which is why you may hear the reference to
'Yasgur's Farm' as a coded way of talking about Woodstock. This is often
thought of as the hallmark moment in the counter culture movement of the
60's. The 'hippies' had officially stamped their place in history and put
on display their social, political and personal view of the times.
You can't talk about the the 60's without discussing the Vietnam war.
Walter Cronkite was reporting from the streets of Saigon immediately
after the Tet Offensive. He assessed the war at that point as
'unwinnable'. Lyndon Johnson is reported to have said 'if I have lost
Cronkite, then I have lost middle America". Cronkite's critical
assessment had some bearing on LBJ's consideration to end the war.
On April 28, 1967, Muhammad Ali refused to be drafted in the U.S. Army.
For Ali, his opposition stemmed from more than just his belief that the
war was immoral. He believed that since blacks did not experience
equality at home, for them to serve in the war was a perversion of
Initially, Ali was granted conscientious objector status, but later
charged with draft evasion. He was fined ten thousand dollars, sentenced
to five years in prison, and his heavyweight title and license to box was
taken away. Four years later, his conviction was overturned by the U.S.
Supreme court because of procedural grounds.
The civil rights movement defined the 60's. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa
Parks, and Emmit Til are people I recall from 40 years ago that frame
those years in the context of civil rights. Brokaw discusses them and
many others and how they shaped social views of race in this country.
On December 21st, 1968 Apollo 8 launched into orbit with crew members
Frank Boreman, James Lovell and William Anders. This was the first space
mission that actually orbited the moon. On Christmas eve 1968 the images
of the earth from Apollo 8 were broadcast back to earth in what is now a
famous image. Brokaw discusses the importance of this event because of
how it momentarily mended the country in a time of complete turmoil.
These were formative years in my life. I was a freshman in high school in
1972. The Vietnam war was still raging, the civil rights movement had
shifted from violent protests to political discourse, drugs were part of
the culture, man had walked on the moon and Muhammad Ali was 'the
greatest'. There isn't another generation in American history that lived
through so many significant events in such a short amount of time. For
anyone interested in a review of that time period I would highly
recommend the audio book by Brokaw.
Nick Luvera

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