Summer of ’69 – a few things to remember

While 1968 was a year of significant occurrences, we are now reflecting on the events of fifity years ago in 1969. Bryan Adams sang of this year from a personal standpoint in “Summer of ’69,” so it is a great way to kick off:

“I got my first real six-string
Bought it at the five-and-dime
Played it till my fingers bled
It was the summer of ’69
Me and some guys from school
Had a band and we tried real hard
Jimmy quit and Jody got married
I should’ve known we’d never get far
Oh when I look back now
That summer seemed to last forever
And if I had the choice
Ya I’d always want to be there
Those were the best days of my life”

This song was penned by Adams and James Douglas Vallance and reveals how the band was so important to the life of the singer. Yet, I find of interest how he interjects how life rears its head and alters the dreams. I do not know how autobiographical the song is, but I am glad Adams stuck with it, as he has crafted and performed many memorable songs.

Fifty years ago, we saw the final straw that caused action to occur on environmental protection. Following the reaction to Rachel Carson’s push with ‘Silent Spring,” the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland caught fire as it was so polluted by chemical dumping. Seeing this in retrospect, it amazes me that companies would dump or drain chemical run-off into a river and be surprised by the result. Within six months, President Nixon inked the law to create the Environmental Protection Agency, one of his two greatest accomplishments (opening dialogue with China was the other).

Later this summer, we will reflect on Neil Armstrong taking “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” as he is the first human to walk on the moon. Buzz Aldrin would soon join him for a lunar walkabout. These actions opened up science as a possible career for many young people and it also showed us that we are mere occupants on our planet. So, it is crucial we take care of where we live for our children and grandchildren. Maybe this helped provide additional context for enacting the EPA.

In August, will be the fiftieth anniversary of Woodstock where 300,000 or so people ventured to a farm in upstate New York for a three day concert. This event still amazes me and I am intrigued by a friend’s recounting of what happened as he was there as a young college student. From his view, he remembers there were so many people, things like food, water and restrooms were dear. He recalls making food runs for people. The music and atmosphere were wonderful, but the challenges are overlooked in memory.

Finally, people who do not follow baseball or football will yawn, but this was the year of two huge upsets, which in actuality, should not have been as surprising. In January, Broadway Joe Namath led the New York Jets over the heavily favored Baltimore Colts in the Super Bowl. Namath had bragged that they would win the game the preceding week, but what many failed to realize, Namath had a terrific set of receivers and two of the best running backs in the game. This win led to the merger of two rival football leagues.

In October, the New York Mets easily won the baseball World Series over the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles (it was a tough year for Baltimore fans). For the first part of the decade, the new Mets were the worst team in baseball. What was underestimated by the Orioles is the Mets had two future Hall of Fame pitchers – Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan and another excellent one in Jerry Koosman. Good pitching will beat good hitting almost every time. I mention these two events as when you look under the hood, the outcomes are less surprising, even though they were at the time.

The decade ended with two eventful years. Unfortunately, the US remained in Vietnam fighting a war which, we learned later, we knew we could not win. Many Americans and Vietnamese died, as a result fighting a war that would last several more years. We should remember people die in wars, before we go out and fight another one. As a Vietnamese soldier said in Ken Burns’ documentary on the war, people who feel they can win a war, have never fought in one.

 

 

Watergate was bad, but that was not Nixon’s greatest crime

I have been watching Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s excellent documentary on The Vietnam War. While tough to watch at times, the ten part series has been very informative, as it takes us through a variety of perspectives on this tragic war – American soldiers, Viet Cong soldiers, North Vietnamese soldiers, South Vietnamese soldiers and citizens, American parents and relatives of soldiers, draft dodgers, protestors, Presidents, military leaders, experts, etc.

What has been frustrating, JFK, LBJ and Nixon all were not very forthcoming with the American people or press on the Vietnam issues. They knew early on this was an unwinnable war and that we had partnered with a corrupt leadership in South Vietnam. And, as many American soldiers attested, we were fighting a very effective opponent in guerilla warfare. These leaders also led on the American people to believe we were winning the war, when that was not the case.

The two Presidents that frustrate me the most on these issues are LBJ and Nixon. For all the good LBJ did domestically, he went down a poor path that said we must stave off communism at all costs. As a result, he escalated the war. But, Nixon did something that was unforgivable that is actually worse than what he did with the Watergate break-in and cover-up that led to his resignation and jailing of over twenty of his staff members.

If it were not for Watergate, the Nixon Presidency would have been mostly remembered for its positives – opening up China, establishing better relationships with the Soviet Union and enacting the Environmental Protection Agency, balanced by the negatives of his widening of the Vietnam War and his iron thumb on protestors. So, what was worse than Watergate?

Richard Nixon committed treason and twenty thousand more Americans died and even more were injured. Nixon called the President of South Vietnam five days before the 1968 election against Hubert Humphrey to ask him to hold off on going to Paris peace talks that had been progressing and he would his influence on North Vietnam to get better terms. The encouraging news of the peace talks had brought Humphrey closer to Nixon in the election polls and Nixon felt the need to derail the peace talks for his benefit.

How do we know this? The CIA bugged the South Vietnamese President and recorded the conversation between him and Nixon (see below link). LBJ listened to the recording and called the most senior Republican Senator and a friend and they both spoke of Nixon’s treason, repeatedly using that term. LBJ decided not to act (does this sound familiar), but did get a call from Nixon where he noted to LBJ he had heard these rumors and they were not true. That was a lie, but LBJ did not call him on it. Maybe LBJ felt it would lead to his own lies on how well the war was going or maybe he felt like Obama did last year that it would look politically motivated.

The result of this treasonous act is the peace talks stalled and the war went on for four more years. Many more Americans died needlessly. To be frank, American deaths which occurred before then were needless as well, as we knew we could not win. Some folks may contend I am making this up or using inflammatory language. But, the word “treason” was used by the President of the United States and the lead Republican Senator to define what Nixon did. Intervening with a foreign entity to override our policy is far more than poor form. It is criminal. And, American people died or were injured.

http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-21768668

When Leaders Hide the Truth

I have been watching the excellent documentary series by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick called “The Vietnam War.” After just two episodes, a key conclusion can be made. When leaders hide the truth, people suffer.

American leaders, both military and in the White House, did not shoot straight with Americans and people died. There were numerous opportunities to realize what we should have known going in, that we were abetting a war effort that could not be won.

We backed a leader that was corrupt and who hired corrupt leaders all down the line. We were battling an enemy who was winning the hearts and minds of the rural people, who detested the corruption and Americans who supported it. We told Americans at home, things were going better than they were and tried to cover up the bad news.

As evidence, there was one battle after which the leaders in Saigon declared victory, but the leader in the field said it was a debacle. It was so bad, the Viet Cong was galvanized around their victory and no longer feared the Americans.

Leaders must not hide the truth. An American soldier said we were the first troops to realize we could not trust our leadership to tell us the truth.This battle was early in the Kennedy Presidency, so we could have saved many American lives had we been more honest with ourselves and the American people. What became apparent, we remained and expanded our efforts only to prevent the spread of communism as this was in the middle of the Cold War.

The sad truth is we do not learn lessons from history and are destined to repeat mistakes. Everything we needed to know, we could have gleaned from the French failure in Vietnam. Later, we went into Iraq and Afghanistan without full understanding of the issues and people involved. We should have known about Afghanistan as we aided the tribes to drive out the Soviets in the 1980s. We sided with the less than scrutable leadership in Iraq.

What frustrates me is people die when we don’t think things through and are not truthful. And, as John Fogerty sang, it is not the senators’ sons who are dying. This is what bothers me most about our current President who has a very hard time with the truth. Coupling that weakness with his lack of desire to learn what he does not know exacerbates his ineffectiveness. I just hope people won’t die due his limitations and behaviors.