ORLANDO — Why the 1960s?
And why look back at that decade today?
Dexter Miller remembers the decade well. He graduated in the class of 1964 from his high school in Maryland, and immediately joined the Navy.
“I enlisted,” said Miller, who runs Revenue Management Systems Inc. in downtown Orlando.
“I did not worry about the draft, would not have worried about the draft,” he added. “I was not ready for college, so I went in the Navy.”
That was in August of 1964. Within a year, he was in South Vietnam, an early part of a war that eventually tore this nation apart — and in many ways permanently changed the way Americans look at their government, their cultural values, and their society.
“I got to Vietnam in October of 1965,” Miller said. “We were way early of the deployment over there. We were one of the first groupings.”
Miller, the co-host of The Freeline Media Hour on the Phoenix Network, will have a lot to say about how the 1960s proved to be one of the most pivotal and influential — in both positive and negative ways — decades in our nation’s history. On Thursday, May 5, The Freeline Media Hour with Miller, host Mike Freeman and special co-host Sean Heaney will look back at the 1960s, and why that decade still resonates today — politically, culturally, and in a host of other ways.
“It was the evolution of the revolution,” said Doug Guetzloe, president of the Phoenix Network and host of The Guetzloe Hour. “The 1960s was a catalyst decade. Young people for the first time got involved in the political process. But they also got involved in drugs as well.”
The 1960s actually started out as a decade when people felt optimistic about their future. The nation had elected the youthful senator from Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy, to be America’s first Catholic president, shattering an old religious barrier, and people still believed in the government as a tool to improve their daily lives.
“The thing about the 60s,” Miller said, “is it started with us listening to American rock ‘n roll, and then came the British invasion with the Beatles,” he said. “Things started to change, it seems to me, with the assassination of President Kennedy.”
But even after Kennedy’s tragic death in November 1963, the nation still seemed to believe in its government. Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon Johnson, ran for re-election in 1964 promising Americans a “Great Society,” with an expanded social safety net that attacked poverty in America. Johnson won a landslide election over Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater, a conserative who called for reducing government spending and turning more powers over to the states — the precursor of many in today’s Tea Party movement.
“We went from the assassination of Kennedy to the Great Society, which is bankrupting this county even today,” Guetzloe said.
Miller said another turning point was when President Johnson urged Congress to authorize military action in Vietnam following the Gulf of Tonkin incident between North Vietnam and the United States in the waters of the Gulf of Tonkin. That happened on Aug. 2, 1964, when the destroyer USS Maddox was engaged by three North Nietnamese Navy torpedo boats, resulting in a sea battle. One U.S. aircraft was damaged, prompting President Johnson to call on Congress to authorize the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution giving his administration authority to assist any Southeast Asian country whose government was considered to be threatened by “communist aggression.”
It was the start of the decade-long Vietnam war.
What was truly different about this war, Miller said, was television. In-between wholesome television programs like “Gunsmoke” and “Bewitched” were news reports from Vietnam — bringing the violence and choas of that war home in stark reality.
“Television brought our involvement in the Vietnam War right into our homes on a daily basis,” he said. It also led to a growing skepticism that what was happening in Vietnam was as rosy and optimistic as the Johnson administration claimed.
“The class of ’64 in my high school, it just seems to me 1964 changed everything,” Miller said. “Even people who graduated in 1965 had a different outlook.”
The optimism of 1964 led to a growing sense of pessimism in the next few years. Miller came home to Maryland in November of 1967. Today, he still recalls 1968 as one of the most tumulous, unsettling and traumatic years in American history.
The Tet Offensive, launched on Jan. 31, 1968, may have become the moment when Americans started to lose faith in what their political leaders were telling them about how the war was progressing. Johnson was challenged in the Democratic primaries by Minnesota Sen. Eugene McCarthy — and ended up dropping out of the race altogether. Martin Luther King Jr. and New York Sen. Robert Kennedy were both assassinated. The Democratic Party convention in Chicago that nominated Vice President Hubert Humphrey as its presidential candidate was the scene of violent rioting between anti-war student protestors and Chicago police.
“It was a wild year,” said Guetzloe, who was 13 at the time and started off 1968 as a McCarthy supporter. He eventually would gravitate to the man who won the election that November, former Vice President Richard Nixon.
“There were more young people supporting Richard Nixon than Eugene McCarthy,” Guetzloe said.
“I think the world changed in the late 1960s,” Miller said. “All the people who were hippies then are running the country today. They’re all the people who are adults in charge of everything. Look at how it’s changed America since then. Our hearts and minds are different today than they were in the late 1960s.”
“It’s a fascinating decade to look at,” Guetzloe said. “It was just a shocking, dramatic, vibrant decade, and there’s never been another decade like it.”
Tune in on Thursday, May 3 at 3 p.m. on www.PhoenixNetwork.US to hear a frank discussion on how the 1960s brought us to where we are today, in the spring of 2011.
Contact us at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com.