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The 1960s period is very significant to the American history. Most of the contemporary practices and norms in society can claim to have been born from the events that took place during that period. For instance, the social movement, hippie revolution, Vietnam war and some other events were witnessed, giving way to democracy, end of minority segregation and emergence of modern culture. This paper will discuss the events of the 1960s that have significantly influenced modern society.
Martin Luther and the civil rights movements
Although the issue of rights for the African American and other minority groups had become a thorny topic in America for many years, it was until 1960 when the momentum of this agitation became enormous (Brunner and Haney, n.d, p.1). An event occurs at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College where four African American students are segregated at Woolworth lunch counter and as reaction to that, the students start a sit-in at the premise (Brunner and Haney, n.d, p.1).
The event results into non-violent protests in major parts of the South, leading to partial removal of segregation policies in areas like “parks, swimming pools, libraries and other public facilities” (Brunner and Haney, n.d, p.1). The non-violent protests continue in many parts of the country especially with eloquence of Martin Luther King urging the people to protest without using violence. In 1962, Martin Luther is arrested but remains unshaken, urging the people to be disobedient in order to unjust the laws (Brunner and Haney, n.d, p.1).
Martin Luther continues to organize public forums and nationwide protests in demanding for granting and respect for the rights of the minority. In 1963, the government starts to initiate key changes by first making the 24th Amendment by banning poll tax in eleven Southern States that earlier had prevented the blacks from voting (Brunner and Haney, n.d, p.1).
In 1964, the administration of president Johnson boost the civil rights efforts by making it into a law the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that came to be regarded as the major civil rights legislation to be undertaken by the American society (Brunner and Haney, n.d, p.1). The Act criminalizes all forms of discriminations based on “race, color, religion or national origin” (Brunner and Haney, n.d, p.1).
Today, the results and fruits of civil rights movements of 1960s have seen the American society embrace economic equality, racial justice, and even international peace, making the society equal and easier in pursuing and attaining the ‘American Dream’.
With evidence from the election of Barrack Obama as the first African America president, it can be noted that the 1960s as a period of heightened activities of civil rights movements broadened and opened the political environment of the United States to all groups to participate without discrimination.
Vietnam War and impact on the American foreign policy
According to Holsti and Rosenau (1984),”the war in Vietnam represented a major landmark in American history comparable to what students of domestic politics call ‘watershed’ elections” (cited in Rosati, Hagan and Sampson, 1994, p.248).
Taking place in 1960s, the Vietnam acted as the forum that represented the first major political-military failure in the entire history of America (Rosati, Hagan and Sampson, 1994, p.248). The country invested a lot in the war and estimates show that around $30 billion and over 500,000 troops were deployed to Vietnam every year during the American involvement in the war (Rosati, Hagan and Sampson, 1994, p.248).
America lost greatly in the war and studies have shown that the country was largely unsuccessful in its strategy of containment and building back Vietnam. The events of failed war in Vietnam coupled with social and political turmoil at home; American society was subjected to a prolonged period of agony originating from poor American foreign policy (Rosati, Hagan and Sampson, 1994, p.248).
Americans could not come to terms as the American soldiers had not lost any major battle during their entire course of war and as a resulted they associated Vietnam loss to wider failure of political policies and the national morale (Wiest, 2002, p.88). The argument was that the foreign policy had been misguided and the government commitment was questionable.
The Vietnam defeat “caused a painful, national catharsis in American society, which represented a sea change in American cultural history” (Wiest, 2002, p.88). Before the Vietnam War, American exceptionalism was alive and well, and Americans saw themselves as people who mean well to others.
As Americans had been known to provide help to other European nations in banning and discouraging tyranny, Vietnam case was different, Americans had lost, the political leaders had lied and the soldiers have participated in gross human rights violation (Wiest, 2002). The larger American society imploded leading to what came to be known as, “Vietnam Syndrome” as the larger national mistrust increased. American public contented the fact that its government could also make mistakes in a very confusing world (Wiest, 2002).
The “Vietnam Syndrome” became firmly implanted in the American society and this is evident from the foreign policies the country undertook with regard to Gulf War, Iraq War and Afghanistan War. The “Vietnam Syndrome” is today reflected in public opinion concerning American foreign policy which has greatly changed since the Vietnam War.
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Cultural Revolution of 1960s
The 1960s was a period described by Bob Dylan as, “The Times They Are a-Changing” (Grant, 2008, p.2). This song clearly shows how the society was being subjected to social changes that were taking place and the musician warned that, “awash in this sea-change, you better start swimming or you will sink like a stone” (Grant, 2008, p.2).
No perfects words like those of French philosopher, Alain Finkielkraut captures the role of 1960s period to the general culture of the society when he wrote in his book, ‘The Undoing of Thought’ that, there was, “the eclipse and triumph of babydom over thought” (Kimball, 2001, p.10). Further, the philosopher observed that,
“Two decades have been enough for deviance to become the norm…and for the adolescent life-style to set the pace for society as a whole; youth is fashionable; the cinema and advertising focus primarily on a public of fifteen to twenty year olds; thousands of portable radios sing, almost all to the same guitar strains, of our good fortune to be done with conversion; and the drive against growing old is quite open…today youth is the categorical imperative of all the generations….people in their forties are teenagers who have not grown up…..it is no longer the case that adolescents take refuge in their collective identity, in order to get away from the world; rather it is an infatuated world which pursues adolescence…..the long process of conversion to hedonism and consumerism of Western societies has culminated today in the worship of juvenile values; the bourgeois is dead, long live the adolescent” (Kimball, 2001, pp.10-11)
American society at that time was seen to be fragmenting, as numerous challenges to state were met with accelerating and violent resistance. The generation gap between parents and their youngsters broadened and generally there was almost resistance to any social established value or norm (Grant, 2008, p.2). The impacts of this period to the American culture have remained up to date. Many writers have noted both the positive and negative effects especially with regard to glorification and degradation of the popular culture.
Pop culture in form of rock music, comic, television sit-coms and more became ‘stapple food’ to many youth. There was both social and generational resistance as more youth defied the established social norms and values and engaged in creating new ones. John Lennon, Paul McCartney and The Beatles pioneered a new sophistication and inventiveness to the rock music. Generally, this was a period that witnessed the ‘hippie generation’ culminating into a hippie movement.
As their name suggest, hippie became a generation of setting trends from consumption, to fashion and to values and norms. The movement became more involved in politics especially after the Vietnam war where the generation expressed their dissatisfaction to continued use of violence and military in solving disputes but rather advocated for “world peace and believed in peaceful way of solving conflicts with solution-methods like dialogue, co-operation and negotiation” (Jensen, 2005, p.1).
The theme of the hippie movement was for the youth to be and live ‘themselves’ and in the process transform the society to a place full of peace and safe to live with others (Jensen, 2005, p.1). Much transformation by this group became evident in how society’s conservative ideas and norms got changed. For instance, they changed the traditional sex morals of the society, and sexual experimentation became a norm with belief that it was the truest ingredient to guarantee happy life (Jensen, 2005, p.1).
In music, artists like Dylan and the Beatles invented and revolutionalized music to a level that could not be resisted. The music became a tool of championing and communicating social issues the youth and the larger society faced. And inventing a new and unique dressing style, the hippies style came to be regarded as ‘eccentric’ where it was full of many dazzling colors and numerous decorations, big in size and the youth would define it, “very comfortable to wear” (Jensen, 2005, p.1).
Key lessons from this period
As outlined and demonstrated, the 1960s period became important in transformation of the political, social, and cultural landscape of America. Today, democracy is vibrant and political space has increased and matured. Civil rights of minority in society have been legalized and institutionalized through affirmative actions policies in economic, health, political, employment and administration.
Discrimination, though not totally eradicated in society, is slowly becoming invisible indicating that there is recognition of equal rights of all individuals. Election of president Obama acted as the final signature to civil rights agitations for political participation by the minority.
On the other hand, cultural and social revolution of the period has resulted into remarkable changes in society in terms of music, literature, family life, freedom of individuals and consumerism and fashion (Mombille, 207).
Today, capitalism production is manifested in cultural orientation of the youth in terms of fashion, foods products, entertainment, and even education. Society has greatly changed leading to dismantlement of conservative sexual morals and now sex orientation and adventure is no longer punishable or frowned upon than before.
In terms of politics and America’s international relations, the ‘Vietnam Syndrome’ has refused to die among many people and the public no longer trust or full support the government’s foreign policy. This can be evidenced from many public polls that largely show total disapproval of the public for the unilateral foreign policy the government may want to pursue. For instance, Iraq and Afghanistan wars were largely disapproved by the American public.
Although numerous periods have been influential to the American society, I tend to believe that the 1960s was a unique one that for ages to come will continue to modify the American society and the world at all. Political developments in future will draw decisive lessons from the events of the period, capitalistic world and production cannot ignore the period for it has transformed their fortune forever almost at every level of the society.
The family structure will forever remain transformed, music industry has and will continue to flourish on pop hits and songs and societal value about education, sex, religion and even leadership will for a long time remain fluid. Therefore, the conclusion is that the American society permanently changed as a result of the 1960s events.
Brunner, B. and Haney, E. Civil Rights Timeline: Milestones in the modern civil rights movement. Web.
Grant, B. K. (2008). American cinema of the 1960s: themes and variations. NJ, Rutgers University Press. Web.
Jensen, R. (2005). The age of hippies and the term “flower power.” Web.
Kimball, R. (2001). The Long March: How the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s Changed America. Encounter Books. Web.
Mombille, T. (2007). Activism: The Legacy of the Hippie Movement in the Sixties. Web.
Rosati, J. A., Hagan, J. D, and Sampson, M. W. (1994). Foreign policy restructuring: how governments respond to global change. University of South Carolina Press. Web.
Wiest, A. A. (2002). The Vietnam War, 1956-1975. Osprey Publishing. Web.