My summer of love was nothing like the THE Summer of Love. I’m sure you have all read or seen the history of the Sixties. If you haven’t you probably should. There was no greater decade…or worse one. The Summer of Love took place in 1967 in and around San Francisco as some one hundred thousand kids descended upon the Haight-Asbury area or what became known as the “Hashbury” region of San Francisco. Actually the summer of 1967 was the culmination of a half decade of excesses that involved more than just a summer of love, drugs and music. It exemplified what most of the youth of our country had been moving toward during the entire decade of the Sixties…despite the protests of our parents.
I was caught totally unaware of what was going on in San Francisco. I saw a few mentions of “hippies” on the evening news hosted by “the most trusted man in the United States,” Walter Cronkite. Dirty, long haired, flower wearing and dope using, they were celebrating “free love” while protesting the Vietnam War, wishing to “make love not war” while “wearing flowers in their hair.” Many of my friends spoke of “dirty” hippies who were tearing our country down with their protests, while I couldn’t understand the distain. Making love sounded a lot better than making war. After two divorces I now realize that there is only a thin line between the two and that the free love mantra of the period was anything but free.
Despite the on-going Cold War and the assassination of President Kennedy, the early Sixties were a period of hope. The Cuban Missile Crisis was behind us and we still believed in the American Exceptionalism of World War Two. The young Americans, the Baby Boomers, found a role model in the youthful president, John F. Kennedy, and the sorrow of his loss did little to dim the hope of the period. Probably his death heightening our hopes making the fall at the end of the Sixties that much harder to take. There were plenty of causes to fight for, Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, Native American Rights, “the Right to Party”…wrong generation but we did our share…but not in Indian Land. Indian Land was still about the “status quo,” working class families either toiling at local textile mills or in agriculture related endeavors, most of whom who still believed in the mantra “our government right or wrong.” Vietnam and Watergate would change all of those beliefs and more for my generation.
Vietnam would change us in ways that I don’t think we understood even though most of the denizens of my small community continued to support the war to its bloody end. I would support it until opening a new chapter of my life at the “non-hot bed of political and social change,” Newberry College and was glad to have received my 2S deferment. My departure for Newberry would coincide with the year 1968. I have always believed that 1968 was one of those years that ranks with other significant years like 1776, 1861, 1917 and 1941. What made it significant was the fact that despite the divisiveness of the country, we survived as a nation. The assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, Mai Lai, the Tet offensive and probably the worst damnation the war would receive, Walter Cronkite said we couldn’t win and he was right. Protests raged, exploding during the Democratic Presidential Convention in Chicago and at colleges across the US including South Carolina State where three protesters were shot and killed by the police. Somehow our government held on, right through the Sixties into the Seventies and Watergate.
I wonder if some future history teacher will be saying the same about the divisiveness of this year or the next. How much more can our hatred for each other grow? Will 2015 or 2016 be the year that we survived despite fighting against ourselves, or will it be the year that the United States became something else? I believe that we are already on borrowed time and the specter of the break up of the Soviet Union after their excursion into Afghanistan haunts me a bit. I wonder if Afghanistan is winnable? Deep down I believe that our enemies do not lie outside of our borders. How many countries and empires have come and gone in during our brief history? We have come and I wonder if it is just our time to go?