The Chasm Forever
America has always been wracked by violent divisions and opposing sides have never given in willingly or peacefully. The battle for the American soul has been going on for a very, very long time and it shows no sign of ending any time soon, so hold on to your hats and get ready for the continuing ride.
There was absolutely no way under the sun that I could be convinced that the Vietnam War was a just war and that I laughed and scoffed at the other view, that if Vietnam fell to the communists, the dominoes would continue toppling and our democracy and the American way of life would be in dire danger and that the blood shed and the deaths of so many young boys was worth the effort. To me, the only dominoes were in the brains of LBJ and William Westmoreland and I knew that it was criminally insane to send young men to their deaths for political expediency, I knew that and I would die before I would give in, or at least that’s what I claimed.
And there wasn’t an iota of chance that my neighbor would look at me as being anything other than a spoiled, immature, unpatriotic, un-American who ought to be kicked out of the country and who never worked an honest day and who didn’t have a clue about the meaning of freedom and that there are times when the nation is under attack and it must fight to preserve the American way, something that has been done since our great country was funded.
None of us on either side knew what we were talking about but we had staked out our cultural membership and we certainly acted confident even if it was an act to cover our own lack of knowledge.
I would look at my neighbor and see someone who was living in a past that needed to be decimated and discarded long ago, a past when conformity was demanded, when being different was a curse, when kids saluted the flag without question and those who did question it were roundly ostracized or worse.
And my neighbor would see me and my long hair and see how my kind was akin to anarchy or communism and how we were the cause of the crippling and cracking of a way of life that should be cherished and not spat upon.
I would light the American flag and watch it get consumed in flames and I would cheer the symbolism of destroying a government that enslaved millions while spreading imperialism through the barrel of a gun, all to benefit the rich aristocracy that ruled the U.S.
And my neighbor would see what I had done and cursed me for stepping on the holy symbol that was waving only because of the blood that was shed by his parents and those before them. He would swear by his hard hat, sweat pouring from his brow, as he worked his ass off to construct a skyscraper during the punishing, brutal heat of summer and he watched young girls walk by wearing mini skirts that challenged any notion of modesty and decency while their boyfriends grew beards and paraded down Broadway in their sandals and tie-dyed shirts and lived off their parents and my neighbor wanted to puke.
The war in Vietnam was the point where neither side would budge even if neither side understood the history of the war and what had drawn the U.S. into greater and greater conflict and without understanding the context, neither side could pose a rational argument. But that didn’t stop them or me from taking sides if for no other reason than that was what their parents did or their friends did.
One side said ban the bomb, the other decried drop the bomb. One side cheered for Muhammad Ali, the other booed Cassius Clay. One side put up white picket fences, the other moved to city lofts. One side cheered the radicals who fought the police at the Democratic Convention in Chicago, the other side wanted the police to continue cracking heads. One cursed the pigs who busted those who were different, the other praised the police who put their lives on the line to protect us.
So both sides retreated to their culture wars, they call it identity politics today, and you could tell which side a person was on by the length of his sideburns and the hair down below his collar or the breath of his Afro while the other side’s uniform included crew cuts and button down shirts, chinos and penny loafers. One side craved “The Ozzie and Harriet Show” and the other flicked the station to “Soul Train.” Homophobia was rampant and signaled further erosion of the Christian morality that was the foundation of the nation while others championed gay rights. African Americans demonstrated for their rights, while the conservatives kept up the heat to keep them out of their lily white neighborhoods.
The sides were each totally positive of their perspectives and were equally and adamantly and sometimes violently convinced that people like my neighbor were utterly wrong and were leading the country to its own destruction. They carried signs of their stark differences, like “End the War,” “Peace is the Answer” and “Free Love” while the other side had their signs too, demanding “America, Love it or Leave It” or “Keep Alabama White” or “Save Our Land, Join the Klan.”
And one side listened to the razor sharp criticism of Bob Dylan and the calls to “tune in, turn on and drop out” while the opposite side enjoyed the sounds of Elvis and Sinatra and screamed that the music of the day was just loud and obnoxious and nobody could understand the words anyway and it was leading the country to rack and ruin.
Marijuana smelled so sweetly to the one generation while it signaled “reefer madness” and cultural destruction to the other side, who complained after cracking open another cold one. The pot smoking hippies cheered on Hanoi Jane while the other side demanded a return to good old American values the way that Merle Haggard said.
There is nothing new under the sun although things come disguised and appear to be different. The clothing may be different today but the battle continues for the soul of America.