Term Paper: Standard Joke About America

Pages: 10 (3939 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 6  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Black Studies  ·  Buy This Paper


[. . .] Teach-ins offered day- and night-long forums of opinion and ?information about American policy in Southeast Asia. Opposition ?grew to campus recruiting by war-related industries, defense-related ?and -funded research, and campus Reserve Officer Training Corps ?(ROTC). Student protests against these institutions and representatives erupted on countless campuses. Off-campus, students demonstrated in front of the White House and the Pentagon, attempted ?to prevent government officials from speaking around the country, ?campaigned for candidates running against the war, and sought in ?numerous ways to convince others of the immorality and wrongheadness, to say nothing of the incredible destruction and probable failure, ?of American involvement. (Bloom and Breines 203)

The continuation of the draft into the later 1960s occasioned greater protest against continued U.S. involvement. Additionally, the fact that the draft was viewed as disproportionately affecting poor African-Americans helped to increase radicalization of the African-American community, and to a certain degree was responsible for the growth of "black power" organizations in the 1960s such as the Nation of Islam of Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X, or the Black Panthers of Bobby Seale, Huey P. Newton, and Eldridge Cleaver. Finally, as Bloom and Breines note, there was a substantial overlap in the anti-war community and the Civil Rights community: "Students were not alone in protesting the war. Civil rights activists, ?initially SNCC and later Martin Luther King, Jr., joined" (203). It is also worth recalling that the Rev. King was assassinated in the midst of a speaking tour about the Vietnam war, not about the Civil Rights movement per se. To some extent, the greater radicalization in Civil Rights as the 1960s progressed would inspire a greater radicalization in the anti-war left as well.

In consequence, the anti-war movement to a certain degree led to a total disconnection between the culture of young persons and the older generations. Mario Savio in Berkeley's Free Speech Movement would warn students "don't trust anyone over 30," the reason presumably being because that age is required for election to the U.S. Senate or Presidency, the very persons who had permitted "escalation" in Vietnam. The Vietnam war seemed perfectly logical to the people whose policy it represented; but to the teenagers who were drafted and sent to Southeast Asia to fight a guerilla campaign on unfamiliar territory, it seemed like sheer absurdism. Tim O'Brien's famous Vietnam fiction, The Things They Carried, nicely captures the disconnect in his story entitled "How to Tell a True War Story":

What happened was, we crossed a muddy river and marched west into the mountains, and on the third day we took a break along a trail junction in deep jungle. Right away, Lemon and Rat Kiley started goofing. They didn't understand about the spookiness. They were kids; they just didn't know. A nature hike, they thought, not even a war, so they went off into the shade of some giant trees -- quadruple canopy, no sunlight at all -- and they were giggling and calling each other yellow mother and playing a silly game they'd invented. The game involved smoke grenades, which were harmless unless you did stupid things, and what they did was pull out the pin and stand a few feet apart and play catch under the shade of those huge trees. Whoever chickened out was a yellow mother. And if nobody chickened out, the grenade would make a light popping sound and they'd be covered with smoke and they'd laugh and dance around and then do it again. (66-7)

The jokey nicknames, the "goofing," and the insistence that "they were kids; they just didn't know" are O'Brien's ways of bringing home to the reader that there was very little traditional military heroism about the fight in Vietnam: the platoons that were sent there to fight were full of "kids," and they were not expected to "know" about anything, least of all a credible reason beyond Kennan's containment strategy, Kennedy and Johnson's domino theory, and ultimately Henry Kissinger's Realpolitik. Radicalization would come so easily to the anti-war and youth movements because the U.S. Government's escalation in Vietnam had been premised upon an outright lie. Robert Buzzanco notes that the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin resolution, which made America's involvement in Vietnam a little less vague by authorizing the Johnson White House to use conventional military force in Southeast Asia, was based on a fraud:

In August, two American destroyers, the Maddox and the C. Turner Joy, were in DRVN territorial waters as part of the 34-A operations when they were allegedly attacked by north Vietnamese torpedo boats in the Gulf of Tonkin. The attacks were never substantiated -- Johnson himself laughed, "hell, those dumb stupid sailors were just shooting at flying fish" -- but the episode gave LBJ a convenient excuse to begin air strikes above the seventeenth parallel and to ask Congress for authority to "take all necessary measures" to defend the RVN. The so-called Gulf of Tonkin Resolution then passed 416-0 in the House of Representatives and 88-2 in the Senate… (Buzzanco 70)

But it is also worth contextualizing the increased American military involvement with the overall process of demobilization after World War Two, and Eisenhower's warnings at the outset of the decade about the "military-industrial complex." To a certain degree, what is termed the "Cold War" represents a failure of American capitalism to fully demobilize, requiring the protracted proxy wars conducted in the wake of World War II (such as Korea and Vietnam) to justify the continued central role played by defense-related industries within the American economy.

The final historical trend of the 1960s I wish to identify is the "sexual revolution" with the women's movement and the rise of feminism considered as a vital adjunct. If O'Brien's "kids" fighting a war are emblematic of the final way in which youth culture transformed American society in the sixties, which was through a less overtly political and more personal means -- what is generally termed "the sexual revolution." Most persons are not accustomed to thinking of the United States Supreme Court and sex in the same thought, yet it is worth noting that the sexual revolution of the 1960s was intellectually driven by the Supreme Court's intervention in a number of pivotal cases, much as the Civil Rights movement had been similarly sparked. These cases -- which include Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), Loving v. Virginia (1967), and of course Roe v. Wade (1973) -- indicate the Supreme Court's growing intervention in issues related to sexuality, and to some extent are driven by intellectual changes wrought by the Civil Rights movement. Although the Court's decision in Griswold v. Connecticut was handed down at the height of the Civil Rights era in 1965, to a certain degree, it represented the established Civil Rights tradition of challenging legislation in courts through a prepared and motivated activist organization -- in this case, the head of Connecticut's chapter of Planned Parenthood, Estelle Griswold, deliberately opened a family planning clinic in downtown New Haven, within spitting distance of Yale University. To a certain degree, Griswold was already acting in the feminist tradition of Civil Rights, which had -- in the earlier suffragist era -- already launched the careers of early 20th century birth control reformers like Margaret Sanger in the U.S.A. Or Marie Stopes in London. But in Griswold v. Connecticut, Eliza Griswold and Planned Parenthood were deliberately challenging an enumerated law in the state of Connecticut. Justice Douglas in the Court's majority decision in Griswold quotes the relevant portion of Connecticut's existing statute (which had been legislated in 1879): "Any person who uses any drug, medicinal article or instrument for the purpose of preventing conception shall be fined not less than fifty dollars or imprisoned not less than sixty days nor more than one year or be both fined and imprisoned." (Griswold 1965). What is most noteworthy -- especially in lights of the emergence of the Griswold decision from the decade that was the crucible of the Civil Rights movement -- is that Griswold herself did not represent the first attempt to challenge the Connecticut statute in the Supreme Court. Yet the shock of the Griswold decision was not that the Court found in favor of the right to birth control, but how it did so. Douglas, deciding for the majority, claimed that the right was held under the First Amendment, which -- in the words of his Griswold opinion -- "has a penumbra where privacy is protected from governmental intrusion" (Griswold 1965). In other words, the Supreme Court would determine that the right to buy a condom is somehow protected by the guarantees of freedom of speech and religion offered in the Bill of Rights. Yet Douglas' vague invocation of a "penumbra" to those rights which includes a right to "privacy" would become the more central contention in later cases.

But only two years after the Griswold decision, the Court -- still in Lyndon Johnson's presidency, and perhaps influenced by the administration's willingness to address the concerns… [END OF PREVIEW]

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