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1969 at Forty
by Dr. Gerry Coulter
2009-08-29 08:52:22
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1968 gets more press but 1969 was the year of the decade. Many of its events echo on while others, important footnotes of history, are silently forgotten. It is worth looking back on this amazing and eventful year as it turns forty especially from the vantage point of our own relatively eventless existence as hostages of the global networks of 2009.

In music Elvis went back into the studio and John and Oko recorded Give Peace a Chance during their “bed-in” at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal. Heavy Metal was birthed – the baby was named Zeppelin I. Earlier in the year The Beatles gave their final brief public performance from the rooftops of Apple Records in London before the police dispersed the crowd in a rather stunning act of public censorship. Spontaneity, one of the 60’s happier children, was put on notice. It surfaced in May at Zip to Zap – a kind of trial run at what would become Woodstock in August. Proud young members of America’s National Guard, many of them ducking service in Vietnam, dispersed and evicted the crowd. Later that month other National Guardistas would spray anti- Vietnam War protesters in California with an unknown skin stinging powder. This quiet incident in the history of American chemical warfare [of the kind not run by the tobacco companies] went largely unnoticed.

Elsewhere among the Pop Cults Walmart incorporated its chain and set out to make the world into an endless garbage dump in which it would serve as the leading conduit running between natural resources and waste. The first Gap store opened in San Francisco and almost no one would notice for another twenty years. The Saturday Evening Post died, Puzo published The Godfather, and the Manson clan tore a hole in Roman Polanski’s existence. The first ATM machine opened in New York and Monty Python’s Flying Circus first appeared on BBC 1. Michael Schumacher and Marilyn Manson were born. Ike died.

In politics the wastelands opened up. Nixon became President and immediately the war in and around Vietnam would escalate for the final time [less than two months into “Tricky Dick’s” Presidency – Operation Breakfast – the (not so) secret bombings of Cambodia began]. Ted Kennedy and Mary Jo Kopechne drove off of a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island. Muammar Gaddafi came to power in Libya where it is still 1969. Arafat was elected in Palestine, Golda Meir in Israel, Willy Brandt in West Germany. The Wall turned 8. Charles De Gaulle, having taken his fill of the 1960s finally stepped down in France but not until losing one last desperate referendum. “May” (1968) had eventually won but it would remain a childless phenomenon.

Pompidou was elected. FLQ bombings continued in Montreal while in Madrid martial law was declared and the University closed. Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau was watching closely opting to hold off for one more year before overseeing the Canadian Army invasion of Montreal and an accompanying declaration of The War Measure’s Act. Still, French was made the equal of English by Canada in July so someone must have heard those bombs all the way to Ottawa. Britain began its reoccupation of Northern Ireland and Colonialism’s last pathetic little war dug in. America deepened the militarization of space by invading the moon. Poets wondered if a global pandemic of melancholy might not accompany their return bearing all that moon dust. To be safe the US Government kept the astronauts (Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins) in isolation for several days. No moon bugs were detected but the 1970s certainly would be miserable.

The Concorde flew for the first time, spaceships sailed for the Moon, Venus and Mars; the first artificial temporary heart was installed. The Stonewall Riots set off what would become the American Gay Rights movement. In an unrelated but deeply ironic development the first strain of what would become known as the AIDS virus entered the USA from Haiti. The first links in the ARPANET were connected – the cells of the Internet began to divide. The quote of the year may well have been uttered by Nixon’s aptly named VP – Spiro Agnew – who called critics of his president “nattering nabobs of negativism”. The Chicago police murdered Black Panthers Fred Hampton and Mark Clark shooting the two dead while they slept. Samuel Beckett won the Nobel Prize in Literature.

The trial of the Chicago Eight wore on as the Weathermen faced off in the days of rage against the National Guard. Millions took part in anti-war protests across the United States and elsewhere. In April, Students for Democratic Society occupied the Administration building at Harvard. The radical Weathermen faction would have the last laugh however by themselves occupying the offices of the SDS in Chicago for four days in June. The US Army failed in its attempt to cover up the Massacre at My Lai thanks to the story by Seymour Hirst and pictures in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The March Against Death ensued bringing 400,000 to Washington. They were also none too happy to have learned from dissenting government statisticians that the draft lottery was not random.

On December 6, 1969 at Altamont, California an attempt at a “Woodstock West” hosted by the Rolling Stones (who were deeply embarrassed at having shunned Woodstock), erupted in waves of violence. Woodstock might have been the event of the 1960s but the Stones had their revenge – Altamont ended the 60s! I was ten in 1969, Woodstock began on my birthday. Happy fortieth 1969! Thank you for your lessons concerning the rotten centre of all authority and the value of “long-haired freaky-type people”.

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Flower2009-08-30 01:08:08
I was conceived at Woodstock. Your article rocks!

George2009-08-30 01:10:23
Indeed! Who would have thought, as New Year's Eve 1970 passed, that we had just witnessed the passing of the best year any of us would ever see again (and, for that matter, decade)

Astrid2009-08-30 01:12:11
Your article made me cry.

Thank you!

Happy Birthday (belated) Flower!

Kewl Dawg2009-09-01 21:10:05
Moon dust melancholy is the best explanation of the 70's I have seen in years.

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