Tin soldiers and Nixon's comin'.
We're finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drummin'.
Four dead in Ohio.
----“Four Dead in Ohio,” Neil Young 1970.
Old people need to give perspective to young people who are worried.
I’m 77. When I was four and five, my father brought home the papers with frightening photos of bombing and invasions, bodies washing up on beaches. We really did not know how World War Two was going to end.
In 1945, my mom learned her two Irish-Belgian cousins had died in Bergen-Belsen after being imprisoned by the Nazis for resistance. We began to hear what had happened to Jews and others labelled as outsiders.
When I was in grade school, there was a “police action” in Korea. Life Magazine ran frightening pictures of our soldiers patrolling icy mountains. The Soviets developed the atomic bomb. I had the attic room in my family house and I lay awake at night figuring if the Russians bombed Queens, I’d be the first to get it.
My mother, a loyal Catholic talked with scorn about a priest on the radio named Father Coughlin, who had made stuff up about President Roosevelt -- who actually did help make America great again. You could look it up.
My parents talked with contempt about a senator from Wisconsin named Joseph McCarthy who held up foolscap with “evidence” about thousands of alleged American Communists and a politician from California named Richard Nixon who slandered opponents.
When I was in high school, the Supreme Court passed Brown v. Board of Education. Black children began attending school with white children in the South. Whites spat and cursed and threatened.
When I was just out of college, there was a showdown with Soviet ships carrying atomic missiles toward Cuba. For several days that fall, the world held still as President Kennedy talked the Soviets into turning the ships around.
My first vote for president was for the peace candidate -- Lyndon Johnson -- who promptly escalated the war in Vietnam. Today, a friend who fought in Vietnam goes back to West Point every Memorial Day to honor 25 classmates who died after – after -- Johnson and his defense secretary Robert Strange McNamara had what my friend calls “their little epiphany” that the war was not quite working.
In the spring of 1963, in the Mets’ clubhouse in Pittsburgh, Maury Allen and I chatted with Jesse Gonder and Alvin Jackson, both African-American, about the March on Washington, which we had all watched in our hotel rooms that day. Maybe the country was getting somewhere.
On Nov. 22, I was playing touch football when JFK was killed. I was driving north through Georgia (with a black friend) when Martin Luther King was killed in 1968. I was with the Mets when they refused to play during the funeral for Robert F. Kennedy, the senator from New York.
Those were times when it felt the center would not hold. I was on a trip with the Yankees in 1970 after the U.S. invaded Cambodia, same spring the National Guard massacred four young people at Kent State University. For a few days, my knees did not work when they played the pre-game National Anthem. Today, I think this is called Kaepernick’s Syndrome.
In 2001, I was about to head downtown when the planes were flown into the World Trade Center. In 2003, I was covering a basketball tournament, feeling a terrible ache in my stomach because President George W. Bush was really going to war in Iraq with the help of senators like Hillary Clinton from my state. More recently I watched as the McConnells and Boehners and Cantors and Ryans smirked in defiance of a black President.
You see a lot if you are blessed to live a long time in this wonderful country. I would tell that to children who are scared of the current vile get-him-out-of-here mood
(But. Have I ever seen the mix of ignorance and rage and bigotry and lack of impulse control that I see in this new man, empowered by Americans? That is a different question.)
David Vecsey's sweet tale of distant love before the Web, now NYT Podcast, narrated by Griffin Dunne. Please see:
George Vecsey is Hofstra University's Alumnus of the Month! Read a Q&A with George here.