Material covered in The Age of Great Dreams can be drawn from the title; it covers issues that were at the forefront of the 1960’s. The book details American growth after World War 2, civil rights, the Vietnam War, and the organization of students. Unlike other books about the 1960’s, Farber does not focus on a single point, but rather, gives a general overview of major events and movements of the 1960’s.
Farber begins by detailing the financial growth of the United States. The conclusion of World War 2 brought great riches to the United States. Soldiers came home and started families, these families lead to the baby boom. Unlike wars in the past, America maintained the level of economic superiority it demonstrated during the war. Business was alive and flourishing. An abundance of money and goods led to the creation of suburbs. Families fled the big cities for smaller neighborhoods where the goal was to be like everyone else and strive for the easy life as presented by the newly created television. Refrigerators, washers and dryers, automatic dishwashers, television sets, and automobiles were in abundance and affordable for the average family to own. Quickly the suburbs began to take on a similar look; individuality was on the decrease, while conformity was on the rise.
While the whites of the north enjoyed a golden age, the blacks of the south were still fighting for their freedom. African-Americans in the United States had their freedom but they were fighting separatist’s attitudes. Segregation was a normal part of life in the south. Blacks had their own schools, neighborhoods, churches, they were not permitted on the premises of all white facilities, nor could they even share the same part of a bus with whites. The blacks had their freedom, but they were not free.
Rising out of the racism were several African-American groups. The largest and most influential was the NAACP (Nation Association for the Advancement of Colored People). With Martin Luther King Jr. as their voice, “Black power” came of age and the struggle for equality would finally come to the American forefront. Two distinct ways of working towards equality arose; King’s peaceful demonstrating voice and the violent protests that often led to riots of the SNCC. King believed in organization and a unified voice where as the SNCC sought immediate gratification through loud disorganized demonstrations. Major cities of the United States erupted with riots that led to property damage as well as to the loss of life. Regardless of how it was sought, equality and civil rights for African-Americans was gaining the nation’s attention.
Through demonstrations, votes, headlines, speeches, and bloodshed a race of people achieved what they were striving for, equality. Though it would take several more years to be fully accepted, African-Americans had finally won their freedom. Desegregation allowed for the education of all children under one roof, shared facilities, political policies fair to all races, a political voice, and most importantly, self-respect.
The leading event of the decade was the Vietnam War. The United States refused to let Vietnam fall to communism. A civil war that had been going on since 1946 was drawing American soldiers into battle. Once a necessary war, in the eyes of politicians and the American public, was fast becoming an unpopular war with the American public, particularly with students. Politicians viewed Vietnam as the stepping stone for Communism to sweep through South West Asia (Indochina). Vietnam was the first domino in a chain, if fallen, would topple the other dominoes allowing Communism to sweep through the region.
The American government escalated the military’s involvement in the conflict. The main goal being the thwarting of the Communist regime led by Ho Chi Minh. The original goal was to establish two separate governments in Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh to the north and an American backed leader in the south. The attempt failed and U.S. military intervention was called upon. Over the course of 1954 to 1972, the U.S. sent troops to fight the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong. Never fully reaching popularity with the American people, politicians never had a definite plan for Vietnam. Tired of watching their sons and daughters die during World War 2 and the Korean War, the public was not ready to witness the slaughter of more American youth.
The enemy was not clearly defined during the conflict nor were the tactical targets. Standard military tactics did not apply. For starters, it was a nation seeking independence. Tired of French rule, the Vietnamese wanted to determine their own future and no longer wanted to be a puppet state for any country. NVA soldiers were not to be found; their guerrilla warfare forced U.S. troops to locate them. There were no clearly marked bases or supply routes to be destroyed. When U.S. soldiers did eliminate troops, more people seeking their freedom quickly replaced them. Coupled with unpopularity with the American public and a government not sure what stance to take, all the factors were in place for an American disaster. The disaster came with the Tet Offensive. The American public had had enough. Richard Nixon recalled the troops and the conflict came to an end.
During the events early in the decade, students were learning to question authority as well as learning to voice their opinions. Demonstrations, rallies, protests, and sit-ins were quickly becoming standard practice at American universities. Students before had always accepted the opinions of parents and teachers as fact, never considering the possibility of an alternative answer. During the 60’s students came to the revelation that the schools were there for them and as a result, should meet the needs that they, the students, felt necessary. Students sought classes they wanted to take, protested policies until they were changed, and ultimately cried for changes in society and in involvement of U.S. soldiers in Vietnam.
Out of the protests rose the use of drugs. Drugs were in use prior to the decade, but it was on the school campuses that where it found its acceptance and home. People would share in the bonding of smoking marijuana with each other and tried to expand their minds through the use of hallucinogenic such as LSD. Drug use grew rapidly. Books were written about the benefits of drugs, particularly LSD. Drugs became a major part of the protest environment, perhaps out of the boredom of legal substances such as cigarettes and alcohol. Along with the drug use, prescription drug abuse was on the rise. American youth was being influenced by rock n’ roll and rock n’ roll was being influenced by youth. The decade became the experimental decade, drugs, sex, and rock n’ roll truly was the attitude of the decade.
Farber writes this book much like a historical documentary, something I both like and dislike. The book lacks the passion often found in other books based upon the 1960’s. Information is printed on paper in chronological order that rivals most high school history books. While I liked the broad subject material as opposed to a possible boring single subject, Farber does not let his views be known. Is he fond of the era? Does he wish it never happened? I do not have the slightest idea, though I do appreciate the non-partisan details presented in the book.
I think that the 1960’s represent some of the greatest things to come out of United States history as well as some of its worst, this book strengthened my views on several subjects. Without a doubt the civil rights movement is at the top of the lists of good things. A race of people subjugated to persecution and racism within the U.S. borders is one of the most hypocritical aspects of democracy ever shown. Regardless of color, they were U.S. citizens. Immigrants could enter the U.S. and receive the rights bestowed upon its citizens by swearing an oath to the country, yet, a race of people who had fought, died, and helped form this land could not receive the same treatment. It is ridiculous the extent of pleading and fighting that African-Americans had to go to claim their birthright.
As I understand the plight, I do not condone nor do I comprehend some of the actions that were taken. The rioting of major cities ways deeply on my mind. Having grown up in Detroit, MI, I have seen the lasting affects of the riot. Though most of the damage is gone, there are still a few remnants of the physical damaged caused by the riots visible in the city. I cannot comprehend how the destroying of one’s own community’s property can help or sway sympathy in a positive direction. Yes it would grab the attention of the masses, but not in a desirable light.
Standing out most in my mind about the book is the sections about the Vietnam War and the student protests. The two are closely related and serve as two of the main focus points of the decade. Very few people are aware of the events that led to the conflict in Vietnam; Farber detailed the events accurately and included the different options that the U.S. was presented with. The most disappointing aspect of the War was the lack of support from the public the second being the draft dodgers.
Regardless of how Americans felt towards the government, they should have supported the soldiers. The soldiers where not the ones who decided to start a conflict, they were doing the job they were sent to do. The public stood behind the soldiers of every war until this one, the soldiers’ blood that was being spilled was American blood. It is an embarrassment and a disgrace the way the public shunned the soldiers in Vietnam.
Worse were those who felt they were above military service, that they were too good to die for this country. Not everybody should have to go to war, not everyone can handle war, and it is understandable that certain people be made exempt from the draft. People who serve a vital role at home should be excluded; however, neither a plumber nor a local mechanic meet these requirements.
People, who dodged the draft by these means, went to college only in an attempt to avoided being drafted, or even worse, fled to a foreign country were cowards. The Army was better off without these spineless cowards, for they lacked courage and probably would have caused more damage than good. They had no heart, at least not the heart of an American. All of them should have been tried for treason. Very few people that served in Vietnam wanted to be there, but they displayed the courage and intestinal fortitude that has made this country great and for that I salute them.
Even worse than draft dodgers were the protesters in college. These idiots who thought American casualties were a joke and that they got what they disserved make me sick. While U.S. soldiers were fighting and dying they were at home doing drugs, forgetting about personal hygiene, hiding from American duty, and protesting that some course was not available at their school. I know that not every student of the 60’s felt this way, but this book provides strong evidence to the contrary. I would like to have seen them go through one day in the life that a soldier in Vietnam faced. None of them would have made it and they would have been forced to see that what a soldier did was for survival. To take the life of another soldier, to see that dead face in your dreams every night is not an easy thing to do, it is done out of survival, not because they get off on killing babies. This part of American history is a chapter that I wish we could disregard and learn to forget.
Questioning authority is a natural part of democracy; it is essential in order to maintain our way of life. If a problem arises and the majority of the population thinks that change is necessary, then I am all for it. I do not question their actions as much as I question their merit. Was all of the drug use and protests really necessary? Is it possible that many of the participants were only following what they saw as the current fad? Or was it just the effect of too much reality and one time? I do not know. Regardless if their actions were sincere or they were just escaping, as Americans they had that right. Ironically, that is why those men and women in Vietnam were dying, so that a person in another country might have the right to make those similar decisions.
The era of the 60’s did have a huge impact not only on the United States but globally. It is the decade that America came together by being torn apart. All Americans became free not just in theory, but in reality. The plight of the African-Americans was finally understood by all and the changes that needed to take place were put into action. It was the decade that saw Americans in space as well as a man on the moon.
The world, horrified, watched and waited, as nuclear world war became a possibility during the Cuban missile crisis. A president was assassinated another resigned in disgrace. American sons and daughters gave their lives in a conflict that had no importance to the United States while their friends and families cursed them and turned their backs to them. It was the decade of sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll as well as the decade of protest, experimentation, and prosperity. Most importantly, it was the decade that we found our collective American voice, it was America in the 1960’s.