1969: Relevant and Irrelevant Lessons From a Turbulent Time

Ah Fall 1969: A time of graduation and marriage for many young folk, The Beatles release “Abbey Rd,” (including “Come Together” and “Something”) the Stones release “Let it Bleed with (with “Gimme Shelter” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”) and the Amazin'(or in my opinion just plain lucky) Mets win the World Series over the unluckly Baltimore Orioles. Also for the first time polls indicated more Americans oppose the Vietnam War than support it.

Of course much has changed since then: The music bands are gone (but the ageless Rolling Stones are still here), the Orioles of 1969 just had bad luck, now their just bad (to my great disappointment). But one similarity and one difference are connected: there isn’t a radical anti-war movement in the streets (difference), and for the first time a majority of Americans think “the war” was a mistake (similarity).

According to liberal columnist Harold Meyerson in a June 2005 article, “In Nov-Dec. 1969 the Gallup Organization found that 49 percent of Americans favored a withdrawal of U.S. forces and 78 percent believed that the Nixon administration’s rate of withdrawal was “too slow.” But there was one other crucial finding: 77 percent disapproved of the antiwar demonstrations, which were then at their height.

“That disapproval was key to Nixon’s political strategy. He didn’t so much defend the war as attack its critics, making common cause with what he termed the “silent majority” against a mainstream movement with a large, raucous and sometimes senseless fringe. When Nixon won reelection in a landslide, it was clear that the strategy had worked — and it has been fundamental Republican strategy ever since….” “However, the the absence of an antiwar movement is proving to be a huge political problem for the Bush administration, and why the Republicans are reduced to trying to turn Dick Durbin, who criticized our policies at Guantanamo Bay, into some enemy of the people. The administration has no one to demonize. With nobody blocking the troop trains, military recruitment is collapsing of its own accord. With nobody in the streets, the occupation is being judged on its own merits.”

Meyerson thinks that Dems should not shun a fight with Bush, but take him on head-on. He thinks that candidates who call for putting a date on US withdrawal from Iraq will be rewarded at the ballot box. I’m not sure I agree with that, but it is food for thought. His criticism of Kerry as having a “muddied” position on Iraq is wrong. Kerry said over and over we had to internationalize the Iraqi situation if the mission was to be successful and that we only had a few remaining months to get it right or else the situation would worsen as Iraqi views solidified into one where they uniformly thought of us as occupiers, not agents of democracy. Sometimes I wonder about these folks: it’s as though if the Dems don’t nominate another McGovern then they have to nominate a Bush clone.

Still, Meyerson’s point about how Nixon used the anti-war movement to his advantage, and that the anti-Vietnam War movement’s tactics only succeeded in pushing folks away from them who otherwise might be supportive is right in my book. You can read all of Harold Meyerson’s article here.

“The important thing to remember as anti-war Americans gather in Washington DC this weekend, is this:

1. Keep it nonviolent. The best friends Nixon had in 1968 were not southerners, corporate contributers, or Archie Bunker, but the violent anti-war protestors in Chicago at the Dem Convention in 1968. According to Harris polls, “Only 14% of Americans thought the rights of anti-war protestors were violated, while a whopping 66% disagreed with that view.”

2. Know thy REAL enemy. Yes the Republican Noise Machine folks are a bunch of liars, but anybody who gives this machine ammunition has only themselves to blame. Ergo, make clear that you are anti-war, NOT anti-American or anti-Armed Forces. This war in Iraq didn’t happen because the armed forces (especially the troops) wanted it, it happened because Bush, Cheney, and Haliburton wanted it.

3. Accept, don’t push away, new converts. Some people supported the Iraq war initially, others did not. The same was also true during Vietnam. One of the greatest mistakes the anti-Vietnam folks made was to adopt tactics that turned off folks that agreed with the anti-war movement’s main point that Vietnam was the wrong thing to do. There-to this day- tends to be a tendency among those who opposed Vietnam from the get-go to look down on those who did not oppose it from the get-go. Here in over-educated Montgomery County, where we have more aging anti-Vietnam snobs than the South has rednecks, I actually heard people saying they doubted Kerry’s commitment to peace not only because of his IWR vote but also because he volunteered to go to Nam. If anti-Iraq War folks come off as elitist, peace at any price, or angry anti-Americans, they are helping no one but Karl Rove.

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About Nick

Teacher of Social Studies. Born in the 1970s. History major, music minor. Big Baseball fan. Economic progressive.
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11 Responses to 1969: Relevant and Irrelevant Lessons From a Turbulent Time

  1. Marjorie G says:

    That muddled judgment bothered me, too, but it is shared by many who didn’t pay attention, or heard him enough. I’m sure there are people close to Kerry who wish he could have been more strongly anti-war, as his natural voice and story-line. But the position was so uncertain, and there is nothing he did to prolong a war, of which the media and Bush convinced everyone was necessary or worthing fighting.

    Interesting look at party politics and history. Not long ago I said Russ Feingold will make something of his being the first to name a date. Still think so. Meyerson said he feels that important for ’08.

    I think Kerry is feeling on fire because he can protest the Katrina tragedy, easier than Iraq. I’m eager to hear his take on his Iraq fact-finding, as he’s always my barometer for how much diplomacy we can still try.

    Let me mention we married in ’69.

  2. Nick

    Great stuff here. Thanks Mr History Teacher.

    Muddled… what’s muddled is the opinions of people who clearly were not paying attention.

  3. Nick,
    Some very good advice for protesters that may be involved in this weekend’s anti-war rallies that will be going on throughout the country. I hope to go to a local event in downtown St. Petersburg, where at the tender age of 14 I attended an anti-war rally in the late sixties, it was quite an eye opener, but for the most part arrest’s were minimal. That was an interesting stat on the 77% of people disapproving of their protesting. It was a more conservative time, they were the people that fought WWII and were up to their eyeballs in the cold war, a stark reality…even if their leaders were just as responsible for it’s escallation. Also a point I would like to make, just an observation…but up to that point in time it seems that people were taught about the constitution , Bill of rights and the rest …but they really did not know how to interpet it. to most folks, these statements were made for and by men and patriots of another time, and these elements of our heritage did not pertain to us in our time. We seem to re-direct this sense of “rights” and “freedoms” to others outside of our society, thinking “they” are after “our’ freedoms, or someone elses. We never have the sense to bring it out in our own house…just an observation, and we are doing it now.

  4. Ginny in CO says:


    Good points. My kids graduated HS in ’99 and ’03. Their history teachers were not allowed to cover the last 25 years!!! Too “recent” to be History…

    Am I the last person to realize the March and Rita’s landfall will be the same day?

    Will the MSM be able to cover both? CNN was covering the LA airplane landing, Rita and a Minneapolis tornado at the same time Weds evening….

  5. Ron Chusid says:

    I always thought one of the benefits of supporting Kerry is that he was the strongest anti-war candidate who could get mainstream support. It is amazing how many bloggers think that someone more firmly identified as anti-war by the average person would have had a better chance to win. It is also amazing that they continue to fall for the primary attacks and don’t realize how strongly Kerry opposed Bush going to war.

  6. Nick says:

    Too recent?

    Did your kids go to school in Colorado? I am the child of baby boomers (born in 1948 and 1949) and I graduated HS well well before your kids did. When I was a high school student we got as far as the Ford and Carter years. I’m all for kids learning more about early American History, (e.g. the colonial years) but to neglect recent history is criminally wrong.

  7. Marjorie G says:

    Are we ready for the right’s implication of the hurricane on the same day as protesting a righteous war, God’s war-aka Bush, and of biblical proporations? I know they’ll draw some connection, but what?

  8. KJ says:

    I think Pat Robinson will think it’s because of Ellen Degeneres.

  9. Nick says:


    One thing that often gets forgotten in the history of (or memory of) the Vietnam War is that the North Vietnamese DID invade the South and the North Vietnamese WERE communist. Of course, there was a nationalist element to the communist cause in Vietnam that did not exist in most countries. And anyway, while it was important to fight the spread of communism why Vietnam was considered the place to halt communism, “a piss-ant fourth rate country” to quote LBJ, is beyond me.
    Still, supporters of the war could claim they were fighting for a good cause-fighing communism. There really was NO reason to go to Iraq if Saddam didn’t have WMD and was about to use them.
    Vietnam just wasn’t the place to fight that fight against communism. It promised a likely defeat and victory would’ve meant that instead of a corrupt communist regime in S. Vietnam there would be a corrupt non-communist regime. No wonder JFK refused to send troops and Gen. McArthur told Kennedy that any president who sent combat troops to Vietnam should have his head examined. Coincidentially, McArthur died in 1964, just a year before the beginning of US bombing of Vietnam and the first commitment of combat troops.

  10. Ron Chusid says:

    If it was because of Ellen Degeneres, it would be directed towards Orlando.

    That’s because not only does Epcot have an exhibit in which Ellen Degeneres hosts the film, the film discusses evolution. A lesbian backing evolution–must drive them nuts.

  11. KJ says:

    Ron, omg! ๐Ÿ˜‰