As we celebrated Memorial Day with a look back at the folk songs protesting war and preaching peace I was taken back to the days of the ’60’s and 70’s. Born in 1951 I was becoming an adult and as I began learning critical thinking I began questioning the values and beliefs instilled in me by my arch conservative parents. The Vietnam War, when Nixon expanded it into Cambodia, became a flash point for millions of us in my generation. With a brother nine years my senior who was into the Kingston Trio and other folk artists songs like Blowing in the Wind and Where Have All the Flowers Gone spoke to me.
My transformation from a Goldwater Republican to liberal Democrat supporting George McGovern was quick and gradual. One doesn’t abandon their entire belief system overnight. I remember wondering if I really wanted to trade rubbing elbows at the country club to rubbing them with ordinary working folks, the trade union types my elders always ranted on about.
College really transformed my view of things. I met veterans just back from ‘Nam who were living at the Vets house not far from my fraternity at Penn State. They told me stories of what was actually happening over there, programs like Operation Phoenix which had little to no media exposure but which exterminated countless Vietnamese civilians. The worst of what they saw they only shared among themselves. One of the things college does, especially at a major university like Penn State, is to expose you to people from many different backgrounds, races, creeds and beliefs. I found my value system during those days questioning the conservatism on which I was raised and embracing liberalism.
My Mother never forgave me for becoming a bleeding heart liberal and we debated politics until the day she died. I cringed every time she voted for George W. Bush or Bob Ehrlich (she lived in Maryland by then). I recall those days when the little publications from The John Birch Society came in the mail. To my parents everything was a conspiracy theory. I think that’s why I am so quick to dismiss those who embrace such craziness.
The music of our generation led us. It was the soundtrack of our lives. Not just Woodstock but all that music did to teach us values. I’ll always treasure Peter, Paul and Mary, Dylan, Joan Baez and the others whose music helped make me a better person.
In my lifetime we’ve been through far too many unnecessary wars. In fact I can’t think of one which was truly necessary. Part of the conservative mantra is to keep us afraid. First it was the godless Commies. After the Soviet Union collapsed from its own weight it was terrorists, gays and now progressives. As a progressive gay man I especially have a target on my back. Now we progressives are really Communists so it’s taken a full circle.
We had such ideals back then though. We were going to change the world. Instead Ronald Reagan completed a revolution and things have gotten progressively worse for everyone but the 1%. My generation sold out. Except for the hippies who settled in Taos and San Francisco they’re busy driving their Beemers, lamenting the losses in their 401(k)’s and hoping their adult kids eventually find jobs and move out.
What happened to them? Life. It got in the way of their ideals and goals. Many of them are probably Republicans hanging out at those country clubs and spreading rumors about the dangerous Occupy Movement they would have part of fifty years ago.
The music takes us back though. It reminds us of our youth because it WAS the soundtrack of our lives. If you’ve lost your way, if you’ve misplaced your ideals listen to those songs Walter Brasch collected and a few more and embrace that inner revolutionary again. This nation is not for the 1% it is for all of us. No American should be left behind and NO American should die overseas for corporate America and the military/industrial complex. It is time for peace and prosperity.
It wasn’t just the Folkies recording seminal songs. This one stands out in my memory:
This video reviews the anti-war movement and music:
What happened during the last eleven years of war? Where is the music of protest, of peace and of justice? Where is the soundtrack this generation needs for consciousness raising? If it appears will they keep the commitment or will life get in their way also? Such is life I’m afraid. I salute all those like Walt Brasch who kept the commitment and fought all their lives for peace and justice. It isn’t easy. The music still keeps us going though even after all these years.
What are your favorites?