NELSON CLYDE, Is it Just Me?
One of the most fascinating filters for the present is our past.
This has been illustrated in so many vivid ways, but the best recent example for me has been the PBS documentary on the Vietnam War by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick.
It was both mesmerizing and edifying.
As a child born in 1964 the war was a remote concept in my world. Faint memories of POWs returning home are combined with the memory of attending the funeral services of my cousin Bill Bothwell, who lost his life in the conflict. Each visit to Washington, D.C., with my children included finding his name on the wall and running a finger across it together. Their perspective will be even more faint than mine.
The film documents so many transitions in the life of our republic, from the death of trust in our presidents (and other leaders) to the revolt across the world against institutions, authority and traditions.
In many ways the film gives us an apologetic view of the actions people took that they now regret. Hippies, who reviled soldiers, wishing they had acted differently. Soldiers, who put their bodies in the ultimate way of harm, wondering aloud why they didn’t simply go to Canada. One man who went to Canada and renounced his American citizenship wishing he had not taken such an irreversible step.
Missing from the recap of the many regrets were the reflections of the leaders at the top. We can only surmise what Kennedy, LBJ or Nixon may have viewed with regret or remorse.
As we look at the world we live in today and compare, it seems we have only a sterilized notion of the intensity of what unfolded in the ’60s and ’70s. Riots were rampant from Watts to Detroit to D.C. These were not mere protests, but in reality likely the closest thing to anarchy our country has experienced outside of the American Revolution and the Civil War. Video footage makes it more real.
People forget such anarchy was rampant in London, Paris, The Hague, Prague and many more places. It seems the world changed more in those turbulent days across so many more issues than we can easily embrace now. Communism, religion, race relations and corrupt leaders made for a cauldron that rocked the world.
The problems our world dealt with in those days make many of our challenges these days seem rather small.
It is important to remember.
The Vietnam War documentary should be required viewing in every American History class taught in high schools across this country.