by Jim Wilson
The sixties today are more the stuff of legend than history. I graduated high school in 1966. One of my close friends demonstrated such heroism and leadership on a Vietnam battlefield he was field promoted from corporal to lieutenant; yet he left his idealism forever behind when he came home. Others are mere names decorating the national Vietnam Memorial. Many still carry the scars of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from fifty years back, earned in the war that gave the condition its name. Many marched for justice, to end a war America never intended to win, and – in Peace Corps – offer the poor a better life. Yes, there was sex, drugs and rock and roll, but that is only a portion of the whole story.
Contemporary studies and sociological treatments lauded the Boomers as possessed of a generational servant heart precisely because of service rendered through the Peace Corps, Vista, the hippy Diggers – feeding poor people in parks before it became mainstream – and their military service. The Jesus People erupted in 1967 and gave both scope and purpose to such impulses. Yes, there were the druggies and the drug dependent – I spent time living in a one-bedroom apartment with nine people; only two of us had jobs and supported the rest – but we had each other’s backs to an uncommon degree.
Later we would be vilified as the most self-centered generation in history, and that label endures today. We would be depicted as a bunch of draft dodgers because we challenged the lies our government told us about the war. We would be painted as ungrateful because we demanded authentic equality of opportunity, and sexually reprobate because we used the oral contraceptives and access to abortion our parents’ invented, secured, and used extensively while we were still children ourselves.
Although Generation is a thoroughly fictionalized account of the period and its people an author writes of what he knows. I personally made a trip to UCLA to hear an address by McGeorge Bundy, major league strategist under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, in which he all but admitted we had no intention of winning in Vietnam; our commitment was merely to not lose. This incident is fictionalized in Generation as involving two of the characters. There are other incidents depicted that are reality based and the whole book tells truth in ways that sometimes transcend mere facts without distorting them. At the end of the day the characters in Generation have one asset – and only one – that eludes all those willing to settle for the hand they are dealt. Faced with the unexpected death of loved ones, parents and teachers who tell them what they wish were true and scapegoat them when it doesn’t pan out, and the nightmare of unraveling families, they commit to seeking not just what is real but what one of them describes as “the really real.” For a quest this one wears unusually well as they wade through Klan violence and race riots, protecting one another from abusive authorities, making decisions about war and peace no one their age should be required to make. The Boomers impacted the culture with a renewed vision of family, grassroots approaches in public and private spheres, and a romanticized notion of a just society. The advent of the Jesus People offered a faith that moved mountains and gave our culture the modern recovery movement, sowed authentic social respect across ethnic lines, and popularized coloring outside the lines to a pragmatic end. It was the older generation that flew the missions to the moon, but it was young people who got them there and home again when the wheels came off. Later they invented the internet and modern mass communications because – to oversimplify – an article of faith was if old people could imagine Star Trek communicators young people could create them. Sex, drugs and rock and roll snuffed out many lives and ruined many more. Planned Parenthood and others of its ilk predate the Boomers by decades, but Boomers made it the juggernaut it is today. The sixties were not that good. But the spirit of self-sacrifice, innovation, and cultural integrity for which we were lauded back then was real and the quest for the really real was widespread to an unprecedented degree. The sixties were not that bad. Reality is the people coming of age in the sixties – a time of burgeoning hatred, national division, and self-sacrificing love that is amazingly similar to today – have a lot to teach us in this season. It is high time their story – their whole story – was told.
James A. Wilson is the author of Living As Ambassadors of Relationships, The Holy Spirit and the End Times, Kingdom in Pursuit, and his first novel, Generation – available at Bounty Books, or at firstname.lastname@example.org