Summary: History can tell us not only about the past, but also suggest insights about our time. Here examine a bright episode from the past. In the 1960s we were wrapped in illusions about the nature of our government, which were ripped away during the 1970s. Do we see the world as poorly as we did in 1963? Has a new cycle of revelations begun? Will we react as we did in 1970s? Or worse? Hopefully better.
- How the people of 1963 saw their world
- Our reaction to that news
- Has a new cycle begun?
- Our reaction to this news
- For More Information
- A New America under construction
(1) How the people of 1963 saw their world, and the harsh truth
In the 1960s we were wrapped in illusions about the nature of our government. The shocking revelations of the 1970s altered — perhaps permanently — our relationship with it.
Kennedy was the star of Camelot, an ideal President. Athletic devoted father, war hero author. In fact he was almost a cripple, sustained by a diet of powerful drugs. He was the very opposite of a “family man” (I’ve long suspected Jackie had him killed; no jury of women would convict her). He received a Pulitzer Prize for Profiles in Courage, mostly written by Ted Sorensen.
FBI agents were honest, incorruptible guardians like Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. on “The FBI” TV show (1965-1974; see Wikipedia). The reality was quite different. The FBI denied even the existence of the Mafia until public pressure forced action after 1957. The fabled FBI crime lab was found to be corrupt (see Wikipedia). Much of the FBI’s effort went into illegal political operations, such as COINTELPRO.
We knew the CIA was an effective secret organization, like the Mission Impossible Force. In fact generations of revelations (most recently in Legacy of Ashes) reveal it to be a clown show, with a long history of failed forecasts, missed major developments (most notably, surprised by the collapse of the Soviet Union), and botched operations.
We lived in the 1950s and 1960s safely behind the shied of the US military, defending us from the horror of atomic war.
(2) The shocking revelations of the 1970s
The revelations came with shattering force came in the 1970s, shattering our vision of America. These began the era of cynicism about government, about America, which continues today.
In 1971 the New York Times published the Pentagon Papers, the secret DoD study of the Vietnam War 1945-1967, showing its scaffolding of lies and incompetence.
In 1971 newspapers published information about CONTELPRO stolen by the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI from an FBI field office in Media, Pennsylvania.
In 1975 Church Committee revealed large-scale long-term violations of laws and basic constitutional rights by FBI, CIA, and NSA. See their reports here. on US government assassinations of foreign leaders
(3) Our reaction to that news
There were reforms, which seemed substantial at the time. Such as Executive Order 11905 in 1976, banning assassinations. But they were criticized at the time, and proved shallowly rooted in the US political system. From Wikipedia:
Early on, critics in the entertainment and news media such as Bing Crosby and Paul Harvey accused the committee of treasonous activity. The 1975 assassination of Richard Welch, a CIA station chief in Greece, intensified the public backlash against its mission. The Committee’s work has more recently been criticized after the September 11 attacks, for leading to legislation reducing the ability of the CIA to gather human intelligence.
To learn more about this:
- “Congressional Oversight and the Crippling of the CIA“, Stephen F. Knott (Prof National Security, West Point), History News Network, 4 November 2001
- “Back to Church“, Chris Mooney, The American Prospect, 5 November 2001 — The Church-bashing started before the WTC ashes cooled.
(4) Has a new cycle begun?
Do we see the world clearly today, or are we as lost in dreams as we were 50 years ago? Are the revelations of Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning and Edward Snowden the start of a new cycle of revelations? Many people believed their government conducted surveillance of us, but the scale and power of its programs were beyond the worst many of us imagined.
We’re even learning more about the Cold War.
(a) We were often in more danger from our generals than from the USSR. Tapes of meetings of the Executive Committee of the National Security Council (EXCOM) revealed our generals to be eager for war, willing to take insane risks of nuclear war for no rational reason. The eventual compromise — removing our nukes in Turkey for the USSR’s on Cuba (kept secret from us) — could have been made without taking us to the verge of WW3. For details see
- Recommended: Virtual JFK
- Audio tapes of the EXCOMM meetings (JFK is often the only same man in the room)
- “The World On the Brink: John F. Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis“, Interactive Exhibits at the John F. Kennedy Library
(b) Recent revelations show the USAF’s contempt for the nation’s civilian leaders: setting the launch codes to 00000000, and keeping them there. Real codes were installed in 1977. For more about this shameful history, gambling the safety of the nation and the world:
- “Keeping Presidents in the Nuclear Dark: The Case of the Missing ‘Permissive Action Links’”, Bruce G. Blair (President, former Minuteman missile control officer; Wikipedia entry), Center for Defense Information, 11 February 2004
- The USAF’s non-denial, Foreign Policy, 20 January 2014
- “Almost Everything in ‘Dr. Strangelove’ Was True”, Eric Schlosser, The New Yorker, 23 January 2014
(c) Update, more shockers about falsehoods we believed: “Almost Everything in “Dr. Strangelove” Was True“, Eric Schlosser, 17 January 2014
Perhaps many such discoveries lie ahead of us, things only crazy people on the fringes see today.
(5) Our reaction to this news
“Hegel says somewhere that all great historic facts and personages occur twice, so to speak. He forgot to add: ‘Once as tragedy, and again as farce.’”
— Opening line to Karl Marx’s The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1869)
A crises shows the nature of a people. Our reaction so far to the current news: supine. There are signs of cosmetic reforms, but of nothing else. Perhaps not even that. The non-response of Congress and comical speech by Obama suggest the Republic has become a farce.
On 7 June 2013 I gave a dark forecast: The NSA news might be a birthday for the New America! That still looks like the way to bet. I hope I am wrong. Let’s not repeat what we did in the 1970’s; do better this time.
(6) For More Information
Posts about the NSA:
- Attention fellow sheep: let’s open our eyes and see the walls of our pen, 2009 — Five years ago these programs, and their growth, were easily visible. We just didn’t want to see.
- The government says “We do not have ‘direct’ access to your info …”, 11 June 2013
- The US government is competent, as proven by the results of the latest terror alert, 12 August 2013 — Competent at what?
Posts about Edward Snowden:
- The NSA news might be a birthday for the New America!, 7 June 2013
- The Empire Strikes Back: The Demonization of Snowden Begins, 15 June 2013
- America’s courtiers rush to defend the government – from us, 22 June 2013
- Thoreau reminds us about one of the few tools we have to control the government, 24 June 2013 — About civil disobedience
- Will a wave of leakers undercut America’s national security?, 8 July 2013
- The government strikes again, but finds yet another American willing to fight. Applause is not enough!, 9 August 2013
- “You’ve had your debate. There’s no need to write any more.”, 21 August 2013
- Scoring the game so far: NSA is winning, we’re losing, 23 August 2013
(7) Words about the New America, now under construction
The foundation of the New America is our apathy, and unwillingness to bear the burden of self-government. Fiction though it is, at 2 minutes 33 seconds Loki explains the deal offered us.
5 thoughts on “We lived amidst dreams in 1963 & were harshly awakened. How clearly do we see today?”
To be fair, it’s not just the shocking nature of the revelations from the 1970s onward that transformed Americans’ view of their society and their government.
From 1965 to 1968, Americans got to watch live police officers beating women and children and old men with barbed-wire-wrapped rubber hoses, truncheons, and savaging them with police dogs. I watched some of this live myself. Even today you won’t see stuff like this on TV: the Selma Alabama and Montgomery Alabama police assaults on non-violent black voting rights marchers. The police riot at the 1968 Democratic convention. The Watts riots in 1965 shown live on KTLA’s “eye in the sky” helicopter.
Then there are the assassinations. JKF blown away in 1963 after John Bircher Goldwater fans pasted up WANTED FOR TREASON posters of him. RFK and MLK blown away in 1968. The Kent state students shot down like dogs by the National Guard.
And nightly everyone got to witness live footage of combat in Vietnam. Pre-censorship, pre-media-management, the Pentagon hadn’t yet gotten wise to “controlling the message” coming out of its wars. Today, reporters are not even permitted to take photos of coffins with dead soldiers in them, but back in the 1960s, anything went on TV and in the newspapers. I recall eating steak rare with the blood pooling on the plate while kids screamed and got shot in rice paddies on the TV and crawled howling while tracer fire lit up the Vietnam jungle. At a certain point, night after night, you start to gag, choke, and spit up your food on the plate. It gets to be too much.
Compare this hellish environment with the media environment most people live in throughout America during the 1950s, and you can see why Americans suffered severe cognitive dissonance.
There is one aspect about Thomas More says: many of those police actions were by city or state forces. What FM was analyzing was the perspective on the federal government.
Did people then make a clear distinction between what was going on at the national level and at the local/state levels — where provincial coteries of politicians and businessmen controlled much of what happened independently from Washington — or was it considered to be basically one and the same, with the city/state being a reflection of the national?
Thomas More is correct. The response to the revelations about government in the 1970s was crucially a product of the escalating tensions of the 1960s. Most importantly, we were all just freakin’ tired of it. Watergate, the Pentagon Papers… these weren’t bolts from the blue, they were validation of what the “radicals” and “troublemakers” had been saying for years. When the war (and the draft) ended, and Nixon resigned, most of us just wanted to call it over and done with. No one (we thought) would ever again blindly trust the government.
The “Reagan revolution” shocked me at the time; but in retrospect, I can see how the stage was set. What collapsed under the weight of the Pentagon Papers and Watergate was the belief in political solutions. In the 1970s,we really began to hope that there was an escape route: instead of trying to change government, we’d just make it irrelevant… work around it, until it had no power to hurt us anymore.
Now it is clear how hopelessly naïve that was—which is not to say today’s generation (see: BitCoin) won’t make the same mistake.
“Many people believed there government conducted …” their
These inferior spell-checkers don’t know how to use there and their. When our AI overlords arrive, software will become smart!
Thanks for catching this! Fixed.