Thursday, November 13, 2008

Young and Political in the 60's

After Eisenhower, there was John F. Kennedy. Wow! Was there an uproar about a Catholic President! There was actually less , at least in my awareness, about President-elect Obama being an African-American man than there was about Kennedy being Catholic. Perhaps it was just my milieu at the time.

Kennedy, for all his human foibles, was what the nation needed at the time he was President. He inspired us.

When the Bay of Pigs crisis came, I was living with my parents across the river from Omaha, which was the headquarters of SAC, short for Strategic Air Command, located at Offut Air Force Base. This was considered a very likely target if war actually happened. Thankfully, it did not!

Anyone who was old enough in November, 1963 remembers the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, and remembers exactly where they were when they heard. I was in Spanish class. School was suspended. I became glued to the television.

There are many parallels to President-elect Barack Obama, another inspiring and for some, controversial leader. I pray that he remains safe.

At Kennedy's death, there were 16,000 American military advisors in Vietnam. Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ as he was often called) got us deeply into the conflict there. The young men of my generation were being slaughtered. I was at the University of Iowa during the late 60s and in the spring of 1971. I listened to Dick Gregory, scarecrow thin in the middle of his hunger strike, speak about war and peace. I walked in more than one peace march. And when guns were fired into a crowd of students at Kent State, I was in shock.

At the U of I, the state guardsmen were called in. Why on earth would the powers that be decide to set up an identical situation? All I know is that it was terrifying and also an opportunity. As the Chinese would have it - both a crisis and an opportunity.

The opportunity came in the form of speaking engagements across the state of Iowa. I lived in a nominally Christian living community, and those who were our mentors arranged for us to visit church groups across the state to dialogue with people who were interested. It was quite a time.

The other major event in that era was the passing of a Constitutional Amendment (the 26th) to allow 18 year-olds to vote. The prevailing sentiment, and underlying reason for the change, was that men who were fighting, and dying, for their country in Viet Nam, had had no say in politics that got us into the mess.

I was already 21 when the Amendment passed. I voted against Nixon.

No comments: