What We Can Learn From the Turbulence of 1969

Fifty years ago, the United States was facing crises and
unrest on multiple fronts. Some predicted that internal chaos and revolution
would unravel the nation.

The 1969 Vietnam War protests on the UC Berkeley campus
turned so violent that National Guard helicopters indiscriminately sprayed tear
gas on student demonstrators. Later that year, hundreds of thousands of people
filled the streets of major cities as part of the “Moratorium to the End
the War in Vietnam.” In Washington, D.C., about a half-million protesters
marched to the White House.

Native American demonstrators took over the former federal
prison on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay and stayed there for 19 months,
declaring it their own sovereign space.

In November 1969, the American public was exposed to
grotesque photos of the My Lai Massacre, which had occurred the year before.
The nation was stunned that American troops in Vietnam had shot innocent women
and children. My Lai heated up the already hot national debate over whether the
Vietnam War was either moral or winnable.

Meanwhile, the trial of the so-called Chicago Seven,
involving the supposed organizers of the riots at the 1968 Democratic National
Convention in Chicago, roiled the nation. The courtroom drama involving radical
defendants such as Tom Hayden, Abbie Hoffman, and Jerry Rubin descended into a
national circus, as the battle between leftists and the establishment went from
the streets to the courtroom.

It was also the year of the Woodstock music festival. More
than 400,000 thrill-seekers showed up on a small farm in the Catskill Mountains
in August 1969 to celebrate three days of “peace and music.” Footage
of free love and free drugs at Woodstock shocked half the country but resonated
with the other half, which viewed the festival as much-needed liberation for an
uptight nation.

Newly inaugurated President Richard Nixon characterized the
national divide as the “silent majority” of traditional Americans
fighting back against radical changes in culture and politics.

Under the strain of constant protests, the cultural and
moral fabric of the country seemed to be tearing apart. Alternative lifestyle
choices sometimes led to violence or death.

When a West Coast version of Woodstock was tried a few months
later in Altamont, California, the concert ended up an orgy of murder, drug
overdoses, random violence, and destruction of property.

In July of 1969, liberal icon Teddy Kennedy ran his car off
a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island, Massachusetts, and his young passenger, Mary
Jo Kopechne, was left to drown. Sen. Kennedy did not report the accident to
authorities until 10 hours later.

The next month, members of hippie psychopath Charles
Manson’s “family” butchered seven innocents in Los Angeles, among
them actress Sharon Tate. The Manson family apparently had hoped that the
sensationalized murders would ignite some sort of racial civil war, thereby
unraveling the United States.

Yet a wounded United States did not just survive 1969, but
reached new heights of scientific, technological, and cultural achievement.

For the first time in history, a national economy produced
more than $1 trillion worth of goods and services in a single year, as American
nominal GDP for 1969 exceeded that level.

America also put the first humans on the moon in 1969–and
did it twice the same year, with the Apollo 11 and Apollo 12 lunar missions.

Boeing’s 747 jumbo jet made its first successful test flight in 1969. The 400-passenger airliner was so well designed and ahead of its time that it continues in service today, a half-century after its rollout.

It took some 35 years for a European company to introduce a competitor to the 747, the Airbus A380. Yet the latter jet has been something of a white elephant. Many airlines have stopped using the A380, and Airbus has announced that it will stop producing the jets in 2021.

American computer scientists first used a precursor to the
internet in 1969, when computers at UCLA and Stanford managed to share an
electronic network, known as ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency
Network).

Fifty years later, what are the lessons of the chaotic year
1969 for our similarly schizophrenic age of polarization, civil disunity, and
unprecedented wealth and scientific advancement?

America is such a huge and diverse country, and so
abundantly endowed with natural and human resources, that it is capable of
achieving unprecedented scientific, economic, and technological breakthroughs
even as its social fabric is tearing apart.

Or, put another way, while the media highlights crime,
protests, grievances, and civil disorder, a majority of Americans still go to
work unbothered each day.

And in a rare society with a free market, constitutional
government, and individual freedom, people continue to do amazing things even
amid the utter chaos around them.

(C) 2019 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

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