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Painless Pole’s Last Supper. Nothing was sacred in this 1970 comedy classic. Image: 20th Century Fox.

In the opening weeks of 1970, there was nothing funny to be found in the quagmire of Vietnam. President Richard Nixon seemed to be keeping his promise of drawing down America’s troop presence in Southeast Asia. But the U.S. bombings in Vietnam had increased and U.S. military involvement in Cambodia suggested that the war was not winding down but actually widening.

At home, the protest movement didn’t just belong to the hippies anymore. Marches against the war had grown larger, and a wider cross section of the American public was taking part. People were talking about the war on television, at the local bowling alley, at the bar, at work. It seemed everywhere you turned, you were being exposed to someone else’s opinion about the Vietnam War. …


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Mick Jagger gets his ya-yas out at Altamont. Image: Ethan Russell.

The Rolling Stones were in a good place going into December 1969. They were crisscrossing the United States on their first North American tour since 1966. Their latest album, Let It Bleed, was scheduled to drop on December 5, and their previous outing, Beggars Banquet, was a hit with fans and critics. While so many other rock bands had gotten into psychedelia and acid rock and the airy sounds of folk rock, the Stones had returned to their bluesy, crackling roots. …


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The historic success of Apollo 11 in July 1969 demonstrated what could be made possible by dedication, ingenuity, and good old fashioned American grit. The challenge President John Kennedy laid before the country in 1961 to land a man on the Moon within the decade was viewed by some as a political stunt, or just another attempt to prove how much better we were than the Soviets.

Call it what you want, but it worked. By mid-1969, the Space Race was over and America was the victor. …


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Weathermen hit the streets of Chicago to begin their Days of Rage. Image: Getty Images.

You can always count on a committed revolutionary to stay the course, even when the odds are stacked resolutely against them. Even if the established order is solid and shows no signs of cracking. Even if friends and supporters start drifting away, accusing the revolutionary of going off the deep end, of rejecting logic, of refusing a surer path toward change. In these situations, the true revolutionary doubles down, finding a way to spin their own failures as proof of their righteousness.

So it was with the self-styled revolutionary group known as the Weathermen.

In June 1969, The Weathermen, also known as the Weather Underground or the Weather Bureau, took over Students for a Democratic Society, the vanguard of the New Left. For much of the 1960s, SDS led the fight to expand free speech on college campuses, protest the Vietnam War, fight racism, and raise social consciousness on several issues. All these fronts meant a big plate for an organization run by college kids, but at the height of their popularity, SDS numbered 100,000 members. The organization had a presence on college and university campuses across the country. …


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By the time Jimi Hendrix hit the stage Monday morning to close the show, many people had already left.

The three-day Woodstock Music & Art Fair in August 1969 was a welcome moment for the Baby Boom generation.

Woodstock was one of the prouder markers of a decade that so far seemed to offer mostly frustration. In the midst of all the violence, the war, the protests, and the assassinations, 500,000 people came together and got down. They celebrated, got high, got naked, and listened to one of the greatest musical lineups any generation could muster. And nary a punch was thrown among half a million people for three days. There were no cops, except outside the grounds. And the locals did their best to help out the hippies. …


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This is the only flower we’re offering. Image: S.Sgt. Albert R. Simpson, Department of Defense.

Campus takeovers. Massive protests against the war. Sit-ins. Civil disobedience. Strikes. Even riots. In June 1969, a lot of Americans wondered openly just how much further off the rails the country could get. And some others were trying to see how far they could push it.

Try as they might, though, the New Left was having a tough time dislodging the Establishment’s grip on America. The Vietnam War still raged. The masses were still oppressed. Racism was still a problem. Much of the 1960s had been spent fighting The Man, yet The Man was still in charge.

By June 1969, the political and social activists of the New Left had reached an impasse on what direction to take. Many believed the time had come to up the ante, but what was the next move? Perhaps answers would emerge at the Students for a Democratic Society National Convention taking place in Chicago June 18 through June 22. …


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Berkeley’s finest go to war over People’s Park.

In May 1969, patience was in short supply in Berkeley, California. Students at the state university campus and city inhabitants had lost patience waiting for sluggish, corrupt, imperialist institutions to do the right thing. The state government had no more patience for student and community troublemakers who seemed to have an axe to grind with everyone over everything.

Or at least that’s how both sides saw each other. The truth lay somewhere in between, but it was an undeniable fact that there was no overlap between their positions regarding a cornucopia of issues going back years — the Vietnam War; the rising tide of homelessness, crime, and drug abuse; the lack of respect for authority; the lack of respect for civil rights. …


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Nixon meets with American soldiers in South Vietnam.

In May 1969, President Richard Nixon found himself under increasing public pressure to bring an end to the Vietnam War. He had pledge to find an honorable peace, even though few seemed quite sure what that looked like. His campaign boast of a secret plan to end the war impressed enough voters to get him elected, but five months into his presidency no such plan had become public.

In fact, things had gotten worse. In April, America passed two milestones that were nothing to brag about. On April 3, American casualties in Vietnam surpassed those in the Korean War, making Vietnam the fourth deadliest conflict in American history. …


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The Man prepares to restore order at Harvard, April 1969. Image: Harvard University.

In April 1969, the nation watched with a mix of fear and rage as two respected Ivy League universities were seized by student mobs. At Harvard, a university so old it predated America itself, students stormed the administration building and forcibly ejected the dean to protest the ROTC presence on campus. At Cornell, black students with loaded firearms broke up an otherwise peaceful parents’ weekend to protest the university’s perceived racist system.

This was not the first time students had taken over a campus by force. The nation was still reeling from the Columbia University student takeover that had taken place just twelve months earlier, and a lot had happened to make the country a much more violent place since then. The assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, hundreds of riots in cities across the country, and the televised melee at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago were all seen as evidence of a nation coming undone. …


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The judgment of history is sometimes a fluid affair. Each generation has its own interpretation of the people and events that preceded it. When those views conflict with the established historical narrative, it begs the question, why the new attitude? Sometimes, it’s simply a matter of our natural evolution as a society. Other times, though, it is due to the influence of a prevailing social or political view.

Take Richard Nixon, for example. In a long political career that spanned the Cold War, Nixon broke ground and made achievements in foreign and domestic affairs that advanced the cause of freedom and changed history. …

About

Richard Brownell

Writer. Historian. Sucker for a Good Story. Blogging at https://www.MrRicksHistory.com among other places.

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