1. A Prologue to the Sixties
When many of us conjure up memories of the nineteen-sixties, we think of hippies, psychedelics drugged out concerts, love and peace (baby!), rebellious college students and Vietnam.
But more important the 60’s was a time of emotional change. They were beset with blatant civil rights violations,cities on fire raging from their ghettos,.a generation gap, a threat to our Democracy, a paradigm shift in Government after an election almost too close to call,,.. and a war based on ideologies with a foe we never learned how to fight. Very much like now.
The sixties opened as the dust of world 2 war was settling, when they followed a time of guarded peace and open prosperity.
During the 1950s The middle class had been defined through a new suburbia as we moved to the outskirts of big cities to insulate ourselves away from the stresses of the cities.
In short, we’d become tensely complacent under the specter of nuclear annihilation as we calmly stocked our bomb shelters.
But we had something new; a latter-day version of the family campfire and hearth to entertain us into a new reality. We had television.
Television had actually been introduced at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York and just before the war, which halted any further production. But the implement itself meant little, like a computer without the programs to run it. Media philosopher Marshall McLuhen had properly defined it as a Medium, like a gypsy’s crystal ball. The medium is the Message, he said.
The fifties gave the TV its function through networks and programming which FCC chairman Newton Minnow was to describe as a “Vast wasteland” in 1961.
Yet We were to watch the 60s on TV. And that's where our 1960s begin.
The Medium is the Message—Marshall McLuhen proposed that what we see on television and in the movies can define our way of thinking as a society.
2. The Roots of a New Generation
Candidate John Fitzgerald Kennedy—
An Icon for a new and needy generation?
In January, 1960, a little- known Congressman from Massachusetts announced he was running for president. He looked good on Television. John F Kennedy was prepared for the public through TV to become an icon of a new culture.
On July 2, before the DNC in Los Angeles began, Former president Harry Truman took to television not to denounce the young democratic candidate, but to warn against his lack of experience. It was enough to cause the former president to not attend the convention. It was a debatable guarded attempt to argue against the Kennedy elitism and the emerging power of money over politics.
Harry Truman takes to the airwaves—
Harry S. Truman went on television to express his concern that Kennedy was too young and inexperienced. The former president later refused to attend the 1960 DNC.
Truman had come from humble Midwestern roots, and he was chagrined over the idea that politics was still the rich man’s game it always had been. It was typical old guard stuff lumped together with similar concerns about the demise of the Democratic Party.
But Kennedy won the primaries and, in October, debated his contender, Vice President Richard Nixon, on television. Though Nixon won on Radio, Kennedy famously won on TV, where Nixon was shown unshaven, sweating and fidgeting. Kennedy appeared relaxed and confident, while Nixon appeared as though he was standing in front of a firing squad, rather than a Television camera. Television made it all about image and image ruled the 60s, when Media became the Massage, extending the purpose of the Medium as the Message.
The train powered by JFK’s youth and charisma chugged into November, when he won the Electoral vote, but by only 120,000 popular votes.
A case of Death by Media—
During the first televised presidential debates, JFK appears confident, while Nixon comes across as figiety and sweating. The consensus was that Nixon won on radio, but JKF won on TV, which prevailed
Calling upon the prior successes of Woodrow Wilson’s “New Freedom” and Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal,” Kennedy coined his promise of a “New Frontier” in his acceptance speech.
This would become a rallying call directed toward the promise of the younger generation.
Calling upon the prior successes of Woodrow Wilson’s “New Freedom” and Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal,” Kennedy coined his promise of a “New Frontier” in his acceptance speech. This would become a rallying call directed toward the promise of the younger generation.
You could tell something was changing with JFK’s inauguration speech on January 20th 1961. He exuded vitality, despite his bout with Addison’s Disease. At 43, he was the youngest president ever, and the first president to stand hatless behind the inauguration podium in the windy twenty-degree chill, as though ready to roll up his sleeves. He connected to a new generation, forged not in a time of a Depression or outright war, but by an era of relative peace and prosperity.
"...Ask what You can do for your country!" —
Kennedy's short, fourteen minute long inauguration address delivered in the 20-degree chill of Washington DC on January 20, 1961 will be remembered as the greatest such call to action to date. In it, he inspired a cosmic shift in the American way of thinking.
A new calling for a new generation—
JFK welcomes new volunteers for the Peace Corps, a youth initiative he established soon after he became President.
JFK was a young and vigorous image of a president, and one to whom an emerging generation could relate. The first Catholic president, he came from a well-known dynasty of prosperity, yet he challenged a new youth hungry for an identity to go out unselfishly into the world and extend the hand of peace. He pledged several means for this, most notably the Peace Corps, which he established a quick two months later. The volunteer operation called upon recent American college grads to assist developing countries in health and agricultural matters, and to catch them up with more advanced cultures.
Though the response is enthusiastic, some students, especially in later years, partook in the Peace Corps to avoid being drafted to fight in conflicts brewing in Southeast Asia, and perhaps Cuba.
3. The Cold War and Cuba
A salute to the Soviets--
Cuban leader Fidel Castro hails the Soviet troops training in Cuba at the 1962 May Day Celebration in Havana, six moths before the Missile Crisis. By then, the Russians were already setting up medium-range missile bases in San Cristobal and other strategic sites.
The Military-Industrial Complex
An ominous warning from President Eisenhower—
In his outgoing message, President Eisenhower warned of a growing Military-Industrial Complex. It was a culminating awareness closing out a relatively mundane and peaceful presidency regardless of the ever present Cold War.
Just Before JFK’s inaugural, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, warned against a growing “military-industrial complex” in his outgoing speech. This was first defined in 1957 by Sociologist C. Wright Mills in his book “The Power Elite “ as a system whereby corporations would work behind the scenes to sway the military, and by extension, war. Later, the emerging generation finding its voice would denounce this as a veiled form of Fascism.
Anyway, We Liked Ike. Up until several months before, even under the specter of the Soviets, Ike’s presidency had seemed to be outwardly mundane, almost relaxed in nature, as he as he played a lot of golf.
But In May, 1960 an American U-2 spy plane was shot down over Russia and its pilot, Francis Gary Powers, was taken captive by the Soviets as a trophy to taunt the U.S. It was the first such show of Soviet aggression to hit this close home--making it personal. President Eisenhower was humiliated enough by this to consider resigning, as a passing thought.
President Eisenhower after the U-2 Incident—
After a relatively quiet two terms, Ike faces criticism from the Soviets, which heightens anxieties over the heating cold war.Here he is shown at the 1960 Geneva Summit, just weeks after the U-2 Incident.
A few weeks later, the incident became the one heated topic of the world Summit Meeting in Geneva, further icing up the frost that was the Cold War. Soviet Foreign minister Andrei Gromyko proclaimed that the U-2 incident had brought the US and Soviets to the “brink of war.”
The emerging Caribbean Threat
A revolution in paradise—
As 1959 opened, Fidel Castro (right) and his rebel troops seized the power in Cuba from dictator Fulgencio Batista (left).
On New Year’s Eve, 1959, Cuban Rebel forces led by Fidel Castro overtook the dictatorship regime of Fulgencio Batista to soon establish Cuba as a Socialist state.
In April 1961, just four months into his Presidency, Kennedy deputized a group of Cuban Exiles into the CIA, he ordered them sent into Cuba to gather intelligence on the newly-instated Castro Regime.
They came ashore under cover at the Bay of Pigs on the shore of Cuba about 50 miles southeast of Havana. But Castro had already found out they were coming, and they met serious resistance and were quickly captured by Cuban forces.
Things remained furtively peaceful here in the US, despite the instability in Cuba only 90 miles south of Key West. Exemplifying a spirit of partisanship and the symbiotic relationship that the Kennedy administration had inspired among the emerging generation, hundreds of college students assembled in Washington DC for a peace rally in February 1962. True to his promise to foster the New Frontier, the President ordered urns of coffee to be sent out to the demonstrators. He later invited a few of them into the White House to meet with him and his top advisers.
Kennedy takes a break from the Soviet-Cuban threat—JFK addresses a few hundred student peace demonstrators on the White house lawn. He later orders coffee to be served for them.
This was a nice respite to the rising tensions in Cuba, where Kennedy had set an embargo against Cuban tobacco, an important factor in the Cuban economy. Castro called the President “a shameless person...in another act of economic aggression.” He set out to increase Cuba’s agricultural production to serve the rest of the world, most distinctively the Soviet Union, cementing the relationship between the two regimes.
Our show of dissent proved to be a Pyrrhic Victory, as US cigarette and cigar manufacturing, a big chunk of our own economy, relied on tobacco imported from Cuba. The price the U.S. paid for the embargo was a loss of an estimated 6,000 US jobs.
The Soviets took strategic advantage of their new Caribbean ally by making it a training ground for their troops. They sent “advisers” to the island, which did little to assuage our fears of a Soviet attack from so close to home.
Kennedy responds to the Soviet threats— In September, 1962, JFK put our missile bases in Turkey on alert, thus tightening the knot of Soviet aggression.
Proclaiming he would “use any step to bar Cuban aggression in the West,” the president put our missile bases in Turkey on alert. On September 1962, Khrushchev announced he would call up Soviet military power if need be. He stated that any further act of aggression by the US would mean a nuclear war.
On this, JFK invoked the War Powers Act which allowed the US President to call up troops without declaring a national emergency. He proposed to mobilize 150,000 US troops into Cuba.
The threat of nuclear annihilation hits close to home— Later in September, 1962, the US Defense Department received U-2 spy plane photos showing proof that the Soviets were building strike bases in Cuba.
A failed military operation—
JFK had authorized the CIA to deputize and train some Cuban exiles to invade Cuba at the Bay of Pigs in April, 1961. Castro and his troops were there to meet them, and the the US invasion team was quickly captured.
It seemed we had no other option but to act, and this brought us closer to nuclear annihilation than we ever had been before, or since. So, for eight days in October, many of us went to bed with the legitimate fear that we’d not see the light of morning.
The next issue of Media/Culture Magazine will cover how the Cuban Missile Crisis unfolded during the following week.
Kennedy’s first military operation was deemed a flop, by his republican detractors and him a failure by those to his right. Even though the plan had been put into effect by the CIA during the Eisenhower administration, Kennedy’s decision to carry this out would haunt him through his remaining years.
Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev came short of proclaiming the attack an act of war and vowed to increase Soviet vigilance in Cuba. During a May Day celebration in Havana, Cuba, Fidel Castro proclaims Cuba to be fully Socialist, cementing his nation’s alliance with the Soviets and against the US.
JFKs assertive nemesis—
Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev had secure designs on Cuba, 90 miles south of Key West.
In June, Castro seized a Texaco oil rig off his shores, presumably to supply the Soviets with fuel, and we retaliate by in placing an embargo on Cuban sugar. Accusing the US of “Economic Aggression,” Castro eventually seized and nationalized US-held assets in the late summer.
Then, on September 24, came the evidential proof that the Soviets had shipped missiles to Cuba, and were building launching bases there. This brought US-Soviet tensions to a fever pitch.