Witness to the Revolution – Radicals, Resisters, Vets, Hippies, and the Year America Lost Its Mind and Found Its Soul, by Clara Bingham
We Americans tend to ignore the social and political discomforts our nation has experienced from time to time, particularly in our examinations of national history, and that’s why Clara Bingham’s book seems so important. At times, our form of government forgets that is it is of, by, and for the people, and goes off on tangents that wear holes in the nation’s fabric. This is hardly unique to these United States, or to any thriving democratic form of society, for that matter. But the U.S. has put itself in the often uncomfortable position of refuge for the poor and weary of the world, as proselytizer of democracy and advocate of capitalistic opportunity, and that’s where trouble begins.
In the late ‘Sixties, we sought to save Asia from Communism, to shore up our position as economic supplier to the world at a time when Europe and Asia were finally climbing out of the morass of poverty and despair wrought by World War II. In so doing, we lost our way, and this is where Bingham’s book begins. The veneer of racial elitism that undercoats our culture found us murdering Vietnamese from the skies and up close and personal while attempting to hide these brutal forms from U.S. citizens. Fortunately, the media of that era exposed them and gave the U.S.’s people a new and ragged view of the power of empire.
And so, how were the people to respond to this tainted view of U.S. power? Students rebelled, only to be fired on, killed and injured by our own domestic military. Returning vets tossed their uniforms and deserted in numbers not seen since the Civil War. Governmental officials began not only to criticize our nation’s policies but to expose details of those secretive policies to public view. And young adults gave up on college and the American social structure, took on menial labor and formed rural and urban communes.
But perhaps the most awkward reaction to the time was the way young idealists turned America’s violence back on itself through a series of university and governmental building bombings. The Weather Underground and the Black Panthers openly challenged the U.S. to a fight, a fight both were destined to lose.
Bingham keeps her editorializing to a minimum and quotes the participants of that era in strung-together vignettes that give the reader a complex perspective of hippies and Nixonites, of Weathermen and FBI agents, of involved celebrities and journalists. In opting for this approach, coupled to copious footnotes and photos, the reader gathers a new view of this era, an era which, Bingham contends, almost led to a full-scale revolution in these United States.
My rating: 19 of 20 stars