Saturday, November 15, 2003

1968

It was the year the shit hit the fan. An unpopular war, started under hyped-up pretenses, was not going well, with soldiers dying on the streets of the cities in a far-away land. The president, who had at first rallied the nation together after a national tragedy, had squandered any good will he had with the people and allies with his obsession to win his battles at any cost. His lofty domestic agenda that he hoped would restore the country’s prosperity all but disappeared in partisan wrangling – even the president’s own party began to show cracks.

Meanwhile, the tone of conversation in the country had turned bitter, reflected in the culture – popular music had gone from harmonious to raucous, some musicians advocating the use of illegal drugs in their hard-bitten lyrics. Civil rights had made many gains, but there were still powerful pockets of resentment against “those people,” and a recent Supreme Court ruling invalidating laws against certain types of behavior had caused a lot of anger and calls for certain justices to be impeached. And to top it all off, a presidential election was looming. Candidates who were seen as insurgents against the big-party machine began to capture the imagination of the disillusioned voters, and their momentum grew because they were actually going around and meeting people in small numbers that grew expotentially and overtook the “establishment” politicians.

The president tried desperately to control the situation. The president became isolated, unwilling to hear bad news, blaming the media for all the problems, and spoke in terms of “us versus them” about his own citizens. His battle plans for the war changed almost daily: first, we would liberate the country and make it safe. Then, we would just make sure it was safe to leave so the people left behind could establish peace. Then, in response to an offensive by guerrillas, we launched an aggressive counter-offensive, determined to break the back of the opposition and win the hearts and minds of the people. Then he considered just finding a way to get out so that it didn’t look too much like he cut and run. None of it worked, and long afterwards, the painful lesson of fighting a war in a land we didn’t understand against a dreadful but powerful force we couldn’t control consumed the national psyche for years. It would be a very long time before true prosperity came back to the country, both financially and psychologically, and, in some cases, it would be lost forever.

That was now.