A Few Words about the 60's
This controversial era still gets blamed for just about every ill facing this country today. There is no question that until recent events the 1960's had been our most violent decade of the century. It is supremely ironic that the era that gave us the creed of nonviolence and "We Shall Overcome" also gave us the non-negotiable demand and "Burn, Baby, Burn."
Experts like James Q. Wilson blame our present-day violence on the break down of the traditional hierarchy of family, church and community — and the expunging of individual responsibility. These were replaced by a social ethic in which one was encouraged to "do your own thing" regardless of the consequences. This live-for-the-moment hedonism may have undermined individual responsibility in society, but it fell worlds short of explaining the era's contribution to present-day violence. Is anyone willing to argue that without the 60's America would not be a violent place?
Under the FBI's COINTELPRO (Counter Intelligence Program), for example, law enforcement agencies conducted raids and harassment campaigns against the Black Panthers that left 28 Panthers dead. And indicated serious governmental misconduct. After the December 4, 1969 raid by Chicago police against Black Panther headquarters that resulted in the deaths of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, the FBI agreed to pay $2 million in compensation the families of the two men. Randy Weaver was not the first to receive such payments. The violence against the Civil Rights Movement was part of a continuum of white racism that had been around since slavery.
The police also reacted violently against peaceful anti-war demonstrations — and they were peaceful for the most part. It was the government, not the anti-war movement, that resorted to clandestine break-ins, wiretaps, and assorted black bag jobs to defeat a legitimate, if unruly, social and political movement. It was one of the rare times our government acted in such a way, but it happened — and with the support of much of society (as was the case with Japanese internment in World War II and the Palmer Raids during the First Red Scare). If the 60's contributed to societal violence, it was in large part because the era allowed traditional socially conservative violence to continue.
The race riots of the Long Hot Summers marked a turning point in the nature of race riots. Up to that point race riots had been white-fomented as a means of racial oppression. In the 60's the riots became expressions of black discontent. Prior to the Long Hot Summers, the twenty-five race riots of the Red Summer of 1919 had been the worst period of urban unrest in our history. By contrast the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (the Kerner Commission) reported 130 separate race riots in the summer of 1967 alone — now initiated by blacks in response to police brutality, poor housing, no jobs, and exclusion from the benefits and promises of American life. It became a true revolution of rising expectations.
This anti-establishment violence presaged the destructive violence of the anti-war movement that moved steadily during the latter 60's away from nonviolent direct action to acts of violent civil disobedience. When coupled with the salient rise in drug use among baby boomers in the counter-culture, the criminality of the period skyrocketed. The era drove — or allowed — people who in other times would never have committed anything worse than a traffic offense to delve into felonious crimes on a scale the Prohibition merely flirted with.
The re-birth of social violence in the form of urban riots, violent demonstrations and violent police repression, precipitated for the first time in our history the emergence of terrorist violence by groups such as the Weather Underground and, according to some, the Black Panthers, although the Panther's image may far exceed its intent. The 60's left a legacy of conflict to be sure, but the record strongly contradicts the notion that the era created our culture of violence.
Is 60's leftist violence responsible for the paramilitary right today? No. Despite claims to the contrary by the militias' amen corner on the radio, 60's leftists did not bring down the government. Neither did they subvert it. The left 60's and the right 90's may well be different versions of the same dissatisfaction with the direction the country is taking. Elements of both sides have gone off the deep end protesting against it. When you get right down to it, recent anti-government paranoia isn't much different from 60's paranoia.
One cannot condemn 60's extremist violence and while explaining it
away in the 90's.