Re: [sixties-l] "Generation" as the wrong focus

From: Marty Jezer (
Date: Mon Jun 05 2000 - 23:05:18 CUT

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    Both Neil and Ted talk about generations as the marker of the sixties. As
    Ted says, the activists were of mixed ages, many baby boomers were (and
    are) conservative; indeed, there is a revisionist book waiting to be
    written that claims the sixties' baby boomers were the shock troops of the
    Reagan Revolution and that the sixties radicals were an irrelevant
    aberration (it's not the book I'd write, or the argument I'd make, but
    there is an argument that could be made).

    I've always thought that there were two generations involved in the shaping
    of the sixties. The pre-baby boomers born just before the war (and who
    remember the experience of wartime America) and those born as the war was
    ending or in the post war, the true baby-boomers.

    I would argue that the founders of the sds, the activists in the early days
    of sncc, the organizers of the counter-culture and the woman's movement
    were pre-baby boomers.
    Tom Hayden, John Lewis, Robert Moses, Barbara Haber, most of the early
    sixties' feminists, Abbie Hoffman, the Merrie Pranksters, diggers, first
    communards etc., were all pre-baby boom. They did most of the organizing up
    until, say, about 1967, when the real baby boomers came into the movement
    either as hippies, draft resisters, college sds'ers, feminists, etc.

    The experience of the war shaped the politics of the organizer generation,
    the pre-baby boomers. We (I was born in 1940) came to consciousness during
    the war and, though very young, experienced the great wave of patriotism
    and sacrifice that defined the war effort.
    I remember big Memorial Day parades down the Grand Concorse in the Bronx at
    the end of the war. I waved my little flag, stood at attention and would go
    down to the local army and navy store to buy (and collect) military
    insignias and buttons. (During the Vietnam Era I was active in draft
    resistance." Everyone had relatives and neighbors in the military. We knew
    the enemy. I remember "Paul's fruit and vegetable store" where my mother
    shopped having a huge poster with pictures of Hitler, Mussoulini and Tojo.
    These images and the feelings of patriotism were very powerful. In my
    biography of Abbie Hoffman I tell how he admired his uncles who served, how
    he loved the idea of the American Revolution, visited Lexington and
    Concord, considered Sam Adams his hero.

    We -- the pre-boomers -- saw the civil rights movement as a patriotic
    movement, trying to force the country to live up to the ideas we believed
    in and imbibed as kids. The early anti-war demonstrations also had that
    feeling of patriotism. Someone, Carl Oglesby, I think, said of the U.S.
    government in Vietnam that "it broke my American heart." (I forget the
    exact quote). As the civil rights movement was repressed and the war became
    central we, as a generation, got angry and moved left. But that early
    patriotism had an effect. We felt betrayed, angry, wanted our country back.

    Those younger, who filled the ranks of the movement after 67, didn't
    experience the wartime high. They didn't feel betrayed, they were merely
    angry. They could dump on the country because they felt alienated from it
    at the start. My sense is that when this younger generation came into power
    in the movement (in SDS Carl Davidson rather than Carl Oglesby) the
    movement became more anti-American, because the leaders never experienced
    the emotional sense of belonging that came during the second world war.
    True, some of the older people, Hayden for one, went along with that
    nihilistic anger. (But then he went back to his roots and became a
    left-wing Democrat -- and would have supported Bobby Kennedy if he had
    survived to run for President).

    But the point is that World War IIK shaped the way the pre-boomers reacted
    to the activism of the 1960s.

    Which generation had the right perspective about America is another
    question. I would say that people like myself, who believe in American
    ideals, are romantics bound to be let down over and over again because the
    ideals, for the most part, are not real. On the other hand, the North
    Vietnamese were shocked at the anti-war movement's anti-Americanism. They
    told us over and over that you have to love your country in order to change it.

    But that's another thread. This one is about how new left and anti-war
    activism encompassed two very different generations.


    Marty Jezer

    At 12:13 PM 6/5/2000 -0400 Ted Morgan wrote:
    >Quite a few of these recent posts --the "generation-divided" discussion,
    >reflections on changes in
    >us over the years, New Left/ New Right, the discussion of 60s "revolution" and
    >anti-nostalgic takes on the 60s-- touch on something I've been thinking a lot
    >about .................

    Marty Jezer  *  22 Prospect St. *  Brattleboro, VT 05301 * p/f  802 257-5644 

    Author: Stuttering: A Life Bound Up in Words (Basic Books) Abbie Hoffman: American Rebel (Rutgers University Press) The Dark Ages: Life in the USA, 1945-1960 (South End Press) Rachel Carson [American Women of Achievement Series] (Chelsea House) Check out my web page: To subscribe to my Friday commentary, simply request to be put on my mailing list. It's free!

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