Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1, From Port Huron to Kent State and Jackson State

Introduction

On May 4, 1970 four students were killed and nine others wounded at Kent State University (KSU) in Ohio. These shots ricocheted around the academic world,  closing  728 campuses and disrupting countless high schools.   The 67 bullets fired in 13 seconds at 12:24 p.m. ripped and rended the lives of those present on a grassy slope called Blanket Hill as well as their families and loved ones.

How did we get from a dry proclamation of discontent to student blood pouring on the ground?  The simple answer is Vietnam, but as with many things, truths are more complicated.  Civil rights, the women’s movement, environmental awareness, and later, even gay rights all came into play as did the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, among other, mostly African-American leaders. Buildings were blown up and innocent lives lost. The maelstrom that was the mid-to-late 1960s and early 1970s still continues to confound and the student protest movement was at its center. 

The anti-war movement reached its zenith under President Richard M. Nixon aka “Tricky Dick.” Arguably the most despised president (at least by liberals and peace lovers) in recent history in a league with George W. Bush (more kindly and gently referred to as “Dubya”) he attempted to placate the public through a program in late 1960s called Vietnamization, a policy that eerily echos Dubya’s in Iraq.  Ostensibly, the goal was to transfer the responsibility of the war to the South Vietnamese government, eventually eliminating the need for American troops.  This would take time of course, although just how much was a sticking point with the public. Tricky Dick counted on what he called the Silent Majority – the small margin that actually voted him into office – to back him up.

Along with the development of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), this chapter will contain discussions of and interviews with those whose lives were touched by Kent State and Jackson State, as well as the Weather Underground.  A less event-ridden but in many ways more typical campus, Colorado State University, will also be explored.

SDS: Sowing Discontented Students                           

Founded in 1960, the SDS was liberal youth’s response to several pressing issues of the decade before, among them the nuclear bomb, the Cold War, materialistic complacency, and perhaps most importantly, segregation. In February of 1960, four black students in Greensboro NC staged what later became known as a sit-in at an all-white Woolworth’s lunch counter.  The resultant uproar among the nation’s black and liberal white populations proved to be the boilerplate for subsequent actions throughout the South and served as a mobilizing force for SDS and other civil rights organizations.

Focusing on civil rights and the poor, the SDS ,with  less than 1000 members, initially had the impact of a wet firecracker.  Then in 1965, they began to oppose the war in Vietnam, which put them on the radar of both politics and the media.   Their organized march on Washington in April of that year drew an astounding 25,000 participants, a record for that time.   The escalating unpopularity of the war and ensuing reaction of the public are discussed in Chapter X.

A few months later the SDS met in Ann Arbor to reformulate the Port Huron Statement (the so-called “compromised second draft”).  They dropped the ban on Communist membership and voted to ally themselves with any and all organizations opposed to the war.  This incurred the displeasure of some academics and journalists, who felt that, by castigating the U.S. and failing to criticize the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong,  SDS now indirectly supported Communism.  The gathering in Ann Arbor also saw the beginnings of the fissures that would eventually split the organization; conflicts of interest groups concerned with working in the inner city, activating nonradical college students, and a more elitist cadre that wanted to focus on intellectual issues.

1964-65 also turned out be fruitful in terms of the germination of the protest movement.  A 1964 demonstration at the Yale campus marked the beginning of similar actions at University of California at Berkeley, University of Wisconsin at Madison, University of Michigan, Boston University, San Francisco State, Columbia,  Northwestern University and several predominately African-American institutions as well as flare-ups at dozens of other colleges.  The bulk of these incidents took place from 1967-70, increasing in intensity with each subsequent school year.

Campus awareness seemed to occur simultaneously.  In 1964 civil rights and the anti-war crusade came together at the Free Speech Movement (FSM) at Berkeley.  The FSM was begun by participants in Mississippi’s “Freedom Summer,” basically an effort by well-to-do white kids and the primarily black Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)  to expand African-American voter registration and establish schools and community centers in the deep South. At Berkeley, the FSM had several confrontations with academic and military establishments, particularly as the U.S. stepped up bombings in North Vietnam.

In March of 1965, the University of Michigan instigated teach-ins with the purpose of educating students about the moral and political ramifications of Vietnam.  According to a research paper written by Amber Clapp of Drake University, “ The campus was alive with debate... Hierarchical relations between faculty and students received a stiff jolt; students locked horns with professors whose classes they had hardly spoken in. Prowar participants were asked to explain their positions; some began questioning their allegiances.”  Teach-ins quickly spread to other campuses and brought faculty members into the anti-war fold.

The SDS’s rapidly multiplying chapters had spread to colleges and even some high schools.   Its main thrust included opposition to the draft, the collusion of the universities with the Selective Service and the defense industry, and the abolishment of student ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) programs.  By the late 1960s, the organization had become disillusioned with rationally convincing the government to end the war. It ramped up its resistance, expanding beyond the campuses and instigating public draft card burnings and organizing GI coffeehouses, among other activities.

In 1966-67, students at the University of Wisconsin protested the presence of campus recruiters for Dow Chemical, which supplied napalm used in Vietnam. These demonstrations were echoed elsewhere,  usually taking place whenever any war or military-related interest set foot on college grounds.  At Wisconsin, another frequent target was the Army Mathematics Research Center (AMRC).  Located in the Sterling Hall physics building and funded by the military, it had been the subject of controversy since its opening in the late 1950s.

During Vietnam, the University of Wisconsin student newspaper, The Daily Cardinal, obtained information that the AMRC was pursing research related to counterinsurgency operations in Vietnam. There were also rumors that professors and graduate students were conducting weapons studies to be used to kill civilians in Southeast Asia. Much later, in August of 1970, Karleton Armstrong and three other men stole a van, filled it with ammonium nitrate and fuel oil mixture, and parked it next to Sterling Hall.  The subsequent explosion turned that building into a crater, damaged 26 other structures, and killed physics graduate student Robert Fassnacht, a married father of three. At that time, it was considered the single most destructive act of sabotage in United States history and was eclipsed only by the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995.

Chapter 5, Vietnam and Iraq

Interviews

JAMES ABRAHAM

Now in his 80s, retired general James Abraham divides his time between Columbus and Florida. Married with two children and four grandchildren, he has written several books and gives speeches about international affairs and military subjects to schools and other civic groups. He also serves on several boards that regulate governmental affairs and helps low-income families with their tax returns.  During the shootings at Kent State, he was Assistant Adjutant General of the Army in Ohio and helped oversee the National Guard during the worst of the riots. 

I was 21 when I hit the beach in Normandy and was promoted to general during the Vietnam War. In between I got a degree in electrical and industrial engineering and worked in civilian life for a few years.  But I went back into the military in 1953 and did all kinds of jobs, from division officer to intelligence to providing training against nuclear, biological and chemical warfare.

I was not opposed to Vietnam per se but rather to the way the war was conducted and controlled by the State Department.  We threw away 58,000 American lives...Our troops couldn’t do what they were trained to do and engage in full combat.  Like it or not, war is unpleasant.  You can’t do it nicely.

There’s no similarity between Iraq and Vietnam.  The world is different and Iraq is a completely different situation.  The Arab world needs a society that subscribes to freedom, liberty and democracy.  They need an example.  And after 9/11, we could not wait, we needed to strike at the source; first the Taliban in Afghanistan and then Saddam Hussein in Iraq. And weapons of mass destruction are not an issue, because Saddam would have become more bold....

Today’s younger generation is practically illiterate when it comes to history and geography.  Ask them about countries in Central America, and few can even name them.  Few understand that Iraq is 10 times the size of Vietnam, with a completely different terrain.  Regarding their politics I don’t see them as looking beyond supporting Democrats or Republicans and using their own judgement. They lean on crutches like calculators and computers to make decisions, and don’t use their minds enough.

ARLO GUTHRIE

Born in 1947, musician Arlo Guthrie continues to draw audiences worldwide and be politically active.  His most well-known ballad, “Alice’s Restaurant,” was made into a movie and he continues to tour.  Along with having over 25 albums, he plays several instruments.   Along with the rest of his family, he founded the Guthrie Center, an interfaith church in Great Barrington, Massachusetts where the movie was filmed.  Today its focus is to bring together people for spiritual, cultural, and educational purposes.  He has four children and seven grandchildren.

I grew up in a time when the family was expected to contribute something of themselves and work for the welfare of the world.  The very first time I was involved in an action was in elementary school.  It was towards the end of the McCarthy era, when people like Pete Seeger were blacklisted.  We went to hear Pete in concert and there were protesters outside, John Birch society people, passing out leaflets.  We asked them if he was really a Communist and they said yes, he’s bad, so we grabbed all the leaflets we could so they’d have nothing to hand out.  We threw them away, which was a big deal for a little kid.

During Vietnam, it took ten years for people to take to the streets. With Iraq it was only a couple of weeks.  For the first time, people were really out there as decisions were being made. To me, this seems an incredible and amazing evolution.           

I remember when the Vietnam veterans came back and joined us in the [protesting].  They were the ones who helped end the war.  They also put an end to the pretext that if we don’t stop the Communists in Southeast Asia, they’re going to be in New Jersey.   People supported the war until they realized that the pretext was unfounded and a lie to begin with.  That’s what needs to happen with Iraq...That and find a way to get around the wackos who are in a position of leadership and who foment disasters in the Middle East, South America, and Africa.  These are the guys responsible for the world’s problems.  They’re hidden behind the scenes and need to be brought out into the open.

Vietnam started a myriad of things. [For example] “Alice’s Restaurant” was a commentary on the absurdities of our policies regarding the draft.  That someone could not be drafted because he was a litter bug.  Or that he could kill and be killed but he couldn’t have beer. Such things have no logic or reason.  Many of the same kinds of issues continue today.  Standing up for what you believe in, trying to make ideals a practical reality are part of what it means to be an American.  It’s important to keep on with this.

KARI GUNTER-SEYMOUR

A graphic artist at Ohio University, Kari Gunter-Seymour falls firmly into the Baby Boomer category.  But unlike many of her cohorts – at least as of this writing – her son Dylan is stationed in Iraq.  To help her deal with the stress and worry, she created an exhibit: “War Games: A Mother’s Perspective” which was displayed throughout Ohio. Consisting of three rooms with things like Iraqi scrabble, armored LEGOs, and a dartboard with Osama bin Laden it pokes at George W. Bush and WMDs, all the while encouraging visitors to support the troops by sending letters and care packages and to register to vote.  Gunter-Seymour has had invitations from around the country to mount the display. (Parts of this interview are excerpted from the Columbus Dispatch.)

Dylan entered the service in 2002.  He spent 13 weeks in basic training, then was in Korea for a year and a half.  So he was well-prepared.

But then his best buddy died – Shawn was in a convoy of Bradleys that had stopped to hand out candy to kids and [rebels] blew everyone away – and then another [friend]  lost a leg.  And Dylan himself has had some close calls.   But he’s made a commitment and feels he would be letting down his fellow soldiers if he came home.

I basically raised him as a single mother.  So that made it even harder when he left.  I kept thinking that it was all a game, which gave me the idea for a chess board of Iraq, with soldiers as pawns.  The rest of the exhibition went from there.  I used soundtracks like “Fortunate Son” “Dirty Laundry,” “Big Shot, ” even “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” so it’s pretty self-explanatory.  A few people have been upset, but for the most part, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. 

I protested Vietnam and can’t believe that we’re making this mistake all over again.  The arrogance of...some officials...has sent us down a terribly wrong path.  However, there is a difference; I think that people are much more supportive of our troops, which is the way it should be.

If my son were in Afghanistan, I’d have a whole different view.  We’re supposed to be going after Osama bin Laden...Iraq has oil, but Iraq has nothing to do with 9/11.

Dylan tells me that on the whole, the Iraqi people are very nice. [Yet] every day somebody dies, whether it’s one of theirs or one of ours.

Chapter 6, Friends and Peers

 The Aging of Aquarius

As Baby Boomers have aged, a sense of mortality seems to have become a common and underlying thread.  Once regarded as boring, things that seemed the purview of the older generation -- retirement funds,  investments, mortgages, and health issues -- have achieved great importance.  Children whose care and feeding occupied nearly every waking hour have gone on to their own lives, leaving some to look anew at marriage partners and decide to trade for a younger or a different model.  Other couples have rediscovered each other and forged a fresh start, moving to a strange city, switching careers, or just hanging around, doing whatever hobby or volunteer project captures their interest.  Still others have renewed their commitment to work and feel a surge of energy and empowerment in accomplishing their dreams.  Another, less fortunate, group finds itself caring for ailing parents or young grandchildren whom their own kids cannot support.  And because of the unstable stock market and wobbly economy, even more have seen their savings drain away and must work indefinitely to maintain their lifestyle.

This is a generation that likes to regard itself as unique and beyond categorization.  But based on dozens of interviews, it’s become obvious that, just as in high school, many offspring of the ‘60s and 70s fall into certain classifications. So with apologies to Greeks, jocks, and geeks, follows is an informal taxonomy. However, the groups are hardly mutually exclusive and people can switch from one to another as situations arise.

*The Mamas and the Papas.   This seems to be the most prevalent category. Generally long-married couples, they focus primarily on family -- children, grandchildren, and parents.   The growing trend of young adults who still live at home are often found in this stable environment.  The Mamas and the Papas are most like their parents:  steady, dependable, and seemingly unchanging. 

They can come from any political persuasion, from Far Left to ultraconservative.  Ron Miller and Mary Ann Tabasko Miller, profiled later in this chapter, have been married since 1971; Libertarian and political gadfly Eugene DelGaudio (Chapter 4) has six children nearly 15 years apart, who have been helping with his various causes since they were toddlers.  Expatriates Steven and Simone Spring (Chapter 3) have made the same Toronto suburb their home since the late 1960s and raised two “hippie daughters” (their words) one of whom plans to become a doctor helping Native Americans and another who works in the outdoors and is a mechanic.

Rather than rebelling, their kids often adopt the parental worldview because their elders are so rational and forgiving.  Even straying to a different path is acceptable, provided it’s legal of course. There’s an underlying theme of basic selflessness here:  living in the same house for decades, the Mamas and Papas make sure their children are well-educated, drive safe cars, and leave bedrooms untouched should Junior decide to return for a respite from the hard, cruel world.

They often put themselves last, generally in terms of their own physical appearance and in the acquisition of material things.  So they may not have a lot financially.  But they appear content and express few regrets.

*Better Dead Than With a Grey Head.  California and certain parts of Florida seem to be magnets for this group.  Just walk down any street in certain areas of Los Angeles, Miami, and Orange County and try to figure out the demographic.  Nary a wrinkle, sag, or sweatshirt bearing the logo “Somebunny Loves You” can be found.  Both men and women have vibrantly colored locks and are fit and seemingly cellulite-free.  Only the eyes and perhaps the texture of the skin may provide clues as to their real age.  They may or may not have had kids, but chances are they may look close to the same age as the adult children (or even younger, depending on how heavily they invest in themselves).

The opposite end of this spectrum would include organizations like the Red Hat Society and the Crones, who claim to revel in their advancing years. With grey hair, dowdy clothes, and an out-of-shape figure, actress Tyne Daly might be a poster grandma for the latter, even though she’s only in her mid-to-late fifties (accounts vary), relatively young in the Boomer universe.  Men are generally much less vocal, but who hasn’t encountered a fellow whose pants show a little more of the rear than one wants to see or – note to Clint Eastwood -- should really put on a shirt over that sagging, wrinkled belly?   And what about the older gentlemen who discreetly “lets one” in public by lifting his left hip when he thinks no one is looking?  Age is no excuse.

The race against antiquity will only intensify. Over-50s make up over a fourth of our population, some “78 million souls born between 1946 and 1964,” states Chain Store Age Executive.  “By 2020, the 55-to-64 age segment will have grown by 34%; those 65 and older, by 23%.  By comparison, those under 25 will have increased by just 3%; 25-to-34, by 13%.”  Ironically, by that time there will be zero growth in 45-to-64 and the 35-to-44-year-olds will actually decline by 9 %.

According to Insight on the News,  “Experts predict that boomers will resist heartburn, liver spots, and high blood pressure just as they did other injustices in life” and forsees  “soaring [sales] for products and services that promise to delay the aging process.” This translates literally into tons of “revitalizing” creams and vitamins, natural and unnatural products claiming to restore youth, with Botox and Viagra being examples of the latter, a huge windfall to plastic surgeons and dermatologists everywhere.

Books such as REALAGE:  ARE YOU AS YOUNG AS YOU CAN BE? by Michael F. Roizen offer lists of 125 factors (smoking, overeating, lack of exercise, and so forth) that will add or subtract months or years from one’s actual age.  Others tout the secrets to successfully reaching the centenarian mark:  THE LONGEVITY STRATEGY by David Mahoney and Richard Restak, and LIVING TO 100:  LESSONS IN LIVING TO YOUR MAXIMUM POTENTIAL AT ANY AGE by Thomas T. Perls and Margery Hutter Silver, Harvard Medical School researchers and aging experts, among others.  Hallmark and other greeting card companies have or are developing a line for this no longer elite demographic.  However, if they want to appeal to the “Better Dead Than With a Grey Head” folks, they’d better come up with a “you may be a 100 but you look 70” concept with a sexy-looking septuagenarian on the cover.

*Sleek and Self-Satisfied.   In his book, Roizen defines people who live younger as those who “floss regularly, own a dog, socialize, have an active sex life (particularly when married), wear seat belts (particularly in a large car) and earn more than $150,000 a year,” continues the Insight on the News report.  “The maximum lifetime deduction by this reckoning is 26 years.”  Thus, they can survive over a quarter of a century longer than their less privileged counterparts.

It is into this category that many of the Sleek and Self-Satisfied fall.  Rarely active in any social welfare or controversial arena, they have concentrated on earning money and taking care of themselves. If they do become involved in a charity or event, it’s for a personal agenda, to impress the boss or meet the “right” people.  They may have marched against the war in Vietnam – protests were always a great way to network and get to know members of the opposite sex --  but may not admit to having even inhaled, depending upon whom they’re talking to.  Few if any were interviewed for this book. (They like to be seen, but generally not in print, unless it’s the society page).

One might loosely define them as having been active within the campus establishment, in the top Greek sororities and fraternities or as homecoming kings and beauty queens. But that is an oversimplification, because many of those people were sincerely committed to various causes and remain deeply involved due to strong personal convictions.   

Unlike the other groups, their offspring often either resist the parental lifestyle by outrageous and embarrassing actions or become sleek and self-satisfied themselves and thus a major financial drain.  As parents who regarded babies as accessories, controlling what they wore and where they went to school, they must now deal with young adults who have developed a mind of their own, and rarely know how to develop meaningful communication with them.

*Questing and Questioning.  It is into this rapidly expanding demographic that many of the divorced and widowed fall.  “Many more of us are divorced now,” Margaret Carlson writes in Time magazine.  “Middle age remains less forgiving to women than to men – no woman’s movement will ever change that.  Our dads may have tuned out in their La-Z-Boy recliners, but fewer of them dumped a first family for second wives and second lives.  Women may now have the means to leave dead marriages, but few go on to collect trophy husbands or start new families.”

Perhaps Carlson should talk to some of these women, some of whom were interviewed for this book and also include this author.  Many women, especially those 50 and older are perfectly content to be alone and explore the many options, both career-wise and personally that are suddenly available to them.  No longer responsible for cooking, cleaning, and the care of others, these women use their newfound freedom to live life to the fullest and achieve their goals, opening themselves up to new experiences such as travel and taking on new projects. 

The same is true of men, but to a lesser extent.  As Carlson pointed out, males tend to remarry quickly or find someone to live with right away, regardless of the circumstances of the divorce or death.  Children, even those in their 20s and beyond, can suffer:  not only have they lost their “home base” but they must contend with an extended family of step-brothers and sisters who can be any age from their contemporaries and older to newborns.

Single and married people fall into Questing and Questioning as well.  Often, a major change – loss of a job or a beloved family member, or an illness– incites self-searching.  They may leave positions or cities where they’ve resided for decades for something totally new and different.  At the time of Myra Aronson’s death, Matthew Kiernan, who had worked in film production and as a freelance editor, was contemplating establishing an art gallery in a city other than New York, where he’d resided for over 15 years.  However, it wasn’t until after September 11 and a bout with prostate cancer, that he finally took action; the Matthew Travis Gallery in Houston opened in January 2003. “People come up to me and say how amazing it is that I’m starting a business at my age,” he observes. “But I’ve reinvented my life on more than one occasion and I sure don’t envy the guy who’s going to retire in two years and has no clue as what to do with himself.”

*Stuck in the ‘60s.  They are easy to spot;  middle-aged fellows with iron-grey ponytails  and blue jeans and ladies with flowing hair and Indian print garments.  They usually wear sandals, often Birkenstocks, no matter what the weather, and the scent at patchouli seems to follow them around.   Chapter 2 discusses these pockets of people, such as The Farm, a commune near Nashville and the Rainbow Family of Light, a loosely affiliated group of hippies around the U.S. and elsewhere who gather at various points to commune.  Holdouts such as Haight Asbury and Yellow Springs, Ohio are included as well.  One might also encounter a person stuck in the 1960s who wasn’t even born then but has become enamored of this way of life.