Friday, January 11, 2019

Contracultura and Daniel Ellsberg

When I moved to Texas I found myself attending school with kids who were taught that Vietnam War protester and folk singer Joan Baez was a Communist. Interestingly enough, that didn't prevent Baez's big hit "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" from being performed in a school play but then I doubt they necessarily associated said song with her political views. Nor do I believe they picked up on the fact that Baez's version was probably meant not so much to be a defense of Dixie as it was to be an anti-war song.

Even today, I come across some people -- including people way younger than me who practice many of the same customs as your average hippie -- who use "hippie" as an insult. Usually they say something like, "Of course so-and-so is fucked up. Her parents were hippies." But the sentiment is still there.

And, of course, back in the 1990s, it was common for people in my Catholic singles group to note that you could get away with a pro-JFK sentiment more easily in Boston than you could in Dallas.

That said, we shouldn't pretend that Daniel Ellsberg was all that popular in his day. Much of the country's idea of political commentary back then began and ended with Merle Haggard and even moderate newsman Walter Cronkite--aka "the most trusted man in America"--was considered dangerously liberal in some quarters.

Despite attempts at evenhandedness in our high school history class, it seemed obvious to me when I was young that my teachers were biased toward the pro-establishment view of the Vietnam War and indeed, it wasn't until I ran into a fellow high school student who claimed to be a socialist that I met anyone who could explain what the fuss about the Pentagon Papers was all about.

And if you read the stuff written by people who actually lived through the period--for example, Harlan Ellison's "Glass Teat" columns--you'll note that there was as much despair over the effectiveness of the counterculture back then -- in an era which it was supposedly making much progress -- as there is today.

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