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era of hope to division and dillusion

How did the U.S. go from an “era of hope” to a period of “division and disillusion”?


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  1. At the end of January 1968, the North Vietnamese and Vietcong (South Vietnamese Communists) launched the Tet Offensive, a massive military strike against American bases throughout South Vietnam. Although US troops repulsed the offensive after a month of ferocious fighting, the media emphasized horrific images of the war, the staggering number of American casualties, and the daring scope of the enemy offensive, causing many in the United States to question their nation’s purposes and actions, and whether the war could be won at all. A shaken President Johnson then announced that he was halting the bombing of North Vietnam to facilitate peace talks to end the war, and that he would not accept the nomination of the Democratic Party to run for another term as president. An era of hope and liberalism lay in ruins.

    By 1960, more than half the US population was under age thirty. Most were not radical, not even liberal, and many who were politically active were conservatives—idolizing Barry Goldwater, supporting the war in Vietnam, and embracing traditional values. But it was the minority of liberal arts majors and graduate students at prestigious universities who attracted the most attention.

    Radicalized by what they saw as the impersonality and rigidity of campus administrators, the insensitivity of the nation’s bureaucratic processes, and mainstream liberalism’s failure to achieve radical change or end the war in Vietnam, an increasing number of students demonstrated to change university rules and protested against racism and war. They succeeded in largely abolishing dress codes and curfews, ending mandatory ROTC, and mobilizing campuses into an antiwar force that the government could not ignore.

    Even more students, alienated and hungry for change, turned to cultural rebellion. Loosely associated with what was known as the “counterculture,” some accepted the invitation to “turn on, tune in, and drop out,” using mind-altering drugs, especially LSD. Many more tried marijuana. They showed disdain for middle-class consumerism by wearing surplus military clothing and torn jeans, and young men galled adults by sporting long hair and shaggy beards. Given the increasing acceptance of contraceptives and abortion, and the waning fears of unwanted pregnancy, many in the counterculture, following the adage “if it feels good, do it,” engaged in sex without marriage, in what was called casual sex. Simultaneously, a growing number of openly gay individuals and associations campaigned for equal rights for homosexuals, the inclusion of lesbianism into the women’s movement, and the removal of the stigma of depravity attached to being gay.

    The rock music of the time both influenced and echoed the counterculture and sexual revolution. Lyrics extolling “sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll” became the hallmark of such popular groups as Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead and performers like Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin. In August 1969, four hundred thousand young people gathered for the Woodstock festival, reveling in the rock music, and openly sharing drugs, sexual partners, and contempt for the Establishment. Some saw it as the dawning of an era of love and peace, the Age of Aquarius. In fact, the counterculture was already disintegrating, and in 1970 the Beatles disbanded. John Lennon sang, “The dream is over. What can I say?”

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