This blog includes the parts of my memoir that resonate most strongly with me in the America of 2015. A more detailed treatment can be found at chriskochmedia.com, in Who Stole My Country Chapter 1 – Lost Paradise.
I understand these writings are only notes in a bottle cast into an Internet sea. They may come to rest on a deserted coastline and never be seen by anyone. They may sink to the bottom. Or they may help someone understand a little better what happened to America during the crucial post World War II years.
Much already has been written about this time and more appears every day. Recently, and all highly recommended, are Jefferson Cowie’s Staying Alive, which documents the collapse of the labor movement in the 1970’s. Kevin Kruses’ One Nation Under God shows how big business financed America’s post World War II religious revival as a way to reverse the New Deal. Karen Paget’s Patriotic Betrayal details the story of the CIA’s control of the National Student Association. Eleanor Agnew’s Back from the Land: How Young Americans went to Nature in the 1970s, and Why They Came Back is a thoughtful look at the back to land movement.
Dramatic first person accounts by people who struggled through these times are also common. So why add to all this chatter? Most of the personal accounts are written by boomers, the generation born after World War II. I have a different perspective.
I am part of the Silent Generation, people born between the mid 1920s to the mid 1940s. We are a comparatively small group, growing up during the great depression and a world war that killed 70 million people. We never produced a president. We produced few national leaders of any kind and most of those were outside the mainstream … Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Gloria Steinem, Andy Warhol, Tom Lehrer, Mort Sahl and the Beat poets.
The generation that fought World War II simply wouldn’t let go of power. The youngest of them, Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush, were born in 1924 and Bush was president until 1992. Almost fifty years after the war! Bill Clinton came next, a boomer who was born in 1946. My generation didn’t make the cut. Unless Bernie Sanders, born in 1941, surprises us all and becomes president.
The Nation Magazine in 1957 called us “The Careful Young Men.” That’s what the frightening Depression, horrific World War II and hysterical anti-Communist Crusade after the war taught us — be extremely careful!
I am entrenched in that past but I am lucky. I also experienced the first sparks of rebellion in the Beat poets, “sick” comedians and folk music revival (the last stand for Communist idealism!) in the 1950s. I am grounded in that history. I learned to howl in protest with Beat poets, laugh at authority with sick comedians and embrace the principles of universal brotherhood with folk singers.
Boomers, for all their enthusiasm, had little interest in the past and believed they were creating a new world from the ground up. The old left was washed up. A New Left would rise and take its place, but without historical roots the New Left was bound to fail.