Inside America: The Rise and Fall of An Empire

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What kind of generations were acting out their lives in America during the Sixties? Basically three. First, those Americans born between 1917-29 and who came of age during the Second World War. By the Sixties this age group was in its late thirties to mid-forties. This is Chad and Deborah who we now know as the parents of Mara and Harvey. The World War Two generation saw America triumph during the Second World War and become the richest nation on earth. This World War Two generation had more confidence than the succeeding generations for many reasons. This generation thought that America with her money, and science could do no wrong. This generation also benefited greatly from many post-war government education programs and it became synonymous in the nation's mind with leadership. It was the John F. Kennedy generation, but it was also the Eisenhower, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan and Bush generation.

The Silent Generation born between 1930-45 did not grow up as optimistic as the Second World War generation, but it was also less angry than the newer generation born between 1946-55 and which came to be called The Vietnam Generation. The generation of Mara and Harvey. The Silent Generation saw the beginning of the Cold War and the Atomic bomb scare, but it was loyal to American values of earning money and being patriotic to the nation. Economic times in America also continued to improve until the late 1960'and all three generations had little problem finding work and higher education. But the Vietnam generation ultimately was more individualistic and it respected authority far less than the preceding two generations.

Why was this so?

Because life in America was becoming more complex and good economic times were no longer enough to satisfy the new generation. More freedom to the Vietnam generation meant not just more education, but also more meaningful education. Not just employment, but more fulfilling employment. Also, marrying later, instead of marrying earlier. This new sense of greater entitlement would later clash with more difficult economic times in the future, but at least during the Sixties the need for more personal freedom would find _expression not only in new kinds of life-styles and crazy fashions, but also in violent opposition to the long Vietnam war which represented to the Vietnam generation everything that was wrong with America's World War Two values.


Television in the 1960's lacked the diversity that the outside culture was developing, but through the news the world seemed to be not only closer and more intimate, but also moving much faster. We have seen how science fiction became popular during the 1960's with Star Trek. But other programs like The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits had many fans as well. Both television shows were about mystery and horror science fiction. No idealism here like Star Trek. Somehow the idea of the atomic bomb hanging over everyone's head found a strange release in television programs that left the viewer in a state of perpetual suspense with things from the unknown. But also comedy in dark times led to television programs like GET SMART an American secret agent working for the U.S. government under a program called KONTROL fighting secret enemies working for a foreign government under their program called KAOS. The secret agent always made silly and funny mistakes, but won in the end.


January 1968: The Tet offensive breaks out in Vietnam. For three years the American government under President Johnson had been escalating a war in a corner of Southeast Asia that most Americans initially could not even locate on a map. Without a declaration of war American troop strength had gone from 15,000 soldiers in 1964 to more than half a million by the start of the Tet offensive. So why was Tet important? Because it showed to most Americans that the war in Vietnam was not going well and that the American government had lied to the American people. For three years American bombing and military ground activity seemed to convince the American public that the war was almost over. The enemy in Vietnam seemed defeated, but during the Tet holiday, the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong staged hundreds of attacks all over Vietnam and American troops suffered heavy casualties which was seen on national television every evening.

The war in Vietnam was already very unpopular with many young Americans, but it was the Tet offensive that turned most Americans against the war. They could no longer reconcile the good news about the war that the American government told the American public and what Americans were actually seeing, nightly, in front of their television screens. The Tet offensive signalled the start of what critics later would call the CREDIBILITY GAP between what the American government said and what actually was unfolding slowly in Southeast Asia. The Tet offensive would also bring to a swift end the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson. A man who had quickly pushed through the American congress more social legislation for poor and senior Americans than any other president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It was a tragic end to an interesting political career.

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All contents of this site copyright by Michael Arthur Finberg