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Indeed, it is one thing to be given an account of historical developments that materialized in a certain epoch, and another thing altogether, to be told about the same, by an active participant who effected that particular development. That this book makes a compelling read is a fact which is well underscored by Terry Anderson's profile. Terry Anderson writes this book, not just as a history professor at the Texas A & M University and a seasoned writer with many articles and books to his name, but also as a Vietnam War veteran. Conversely, apart from teaching in Malaysia and Japan, Anderson taught in China as a Fulbright professor, and then in Dublin as the Mary Ball Washington Professor at the American History at University College. Among many other unmentioned qualities, these few attest to the wide grasp that Anderson had in matters that took place in America in the sixties. These are the very qualities which give his writing, The Sixties, the compelling, expansive scope and the effective cause and effect style and streak.
Summary of The Sixties
In The Sixties, Anderson takes to delineate the causes, forces and movements which led to the emergence of activism. Some of these had to do with the major events that took place in the US with the American participation in Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movements which had their vehemence strengthened as the participation of the college students especially in the south became a common phenomenon. For instance, that it is the two developments (the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movements) that catalyzed activism, is a matter which is shown by Anderson to be true, as he cites the phenomenal or unprecedented instance in which for the first time in the US history, White college students left he safe confines of their campuses to travel down south on Freedom Rides inn order to help them fight alongside the African Americans, against the inequalities that had been brought about by the Jim Crow laws.
As such, in The Sixties, Anderson waxes polemical that activism in America did not only have its genesis in the 1960s, but that it is directly responsible for the improvement of the rights of the minorities. That the 1960s played a pivotal role for activism is a matter which is well underscored by the fact that at the time: different movement organizations were not well organized, being derelict of the membership lists for instance; and relied on small underground newspapers to have activists' views expressed or publicized. To this extent, according to Anderson, the present civil rights movement can look back to the 1960s and see much good.
Themes in the book
The major themes put forth by the author as already stated in the summary is that the 1960s and all that happened within the epoch, served as the genesis for activism in the US. This thematic standpoint in return provides ground for the second theme that the present day civil rights movements and the observation and consolidation of the rights and freedoms of the minority can be traced back to the Civil Rights Movement era of the 1960s. To a large extent, it is agreeable that that the 1960s serves as the epoch that led to the birth of the civil rights movements and activism in the US. The veracity of this standpoint that has been advanced by Anderson shall be expounded on forthwith.
That the standpoint above as is held by Anderson is true, is a matter which is confirmed and strengthened by the fact that the it is in the wake of the Vietnam War as one of the milestones of the 1960s that for the first time in the history of the US, the government was subjected to criticism and lampoonery. This especially took place as Americans took to the streets to protest government action. At the time, the policies and actions by the government were seen to be largely clandestine and incorrect (in the sense that people were only superficially informed about the need to stop the spread of communism at the expense of capitalism). At the same time, the government had kept the American society in the dark concerning he actual situation in Vietnam, as it wanted to see the triumph of the Vietnam North materialize at all cost. The last straw in this case was when hundreds of young American men started arriving in the US in body bags- a situation which the government was trying to conceal.
The corollary to the above development was the shifting of trust from the American government to the media. This happened as news items began to show the actual happenings in Vietnam which was totally different from the reports being issued by the government. This is important in that, for the first time, the media and the civil rights activism began to be aligned towards the cause of keeping the government in check. That this development was crucial is well confirmed by the fact that in order for vibrant activism to be realized, the support of the media is always instrumental.
At the same time, the idea that it is the 1960s which saw the steady rise of activism take shape is a matter which is clearly shown to be true when the push for the actual transparency in government businesses and transactions and accountability for the actions taken by the senior-most public servants and politicians. The case of Richard Nixon as the 37th President of the US epitomizes the extent of the success of activism. Following the Watergate Scandal of the 1970s; the infamous speech Nixon made at Nikita Khrushchev's kitchen table (also known as the "Checkers" speech"); the controversial China policy; The Red Baiting of Gahagan Douglass in the 1950 Senate Campaign; President Nixon's involvement in the Alger Hiss perjury case; and the controversial smearing of Jerry Voorhis who was vying for the Californian Congressional seat of a Democratic ticket, as Nixon's opponent, for the first time ever in American history, a United States president was compelled to resign.
At the same time, to show that the activism of the 1960s had come of age enough to bear fruit, in the 1970s, for the first time, the US President was being lampooned and his image caricatured. Although an analyst of an average mind may dismiss the same as one of the results of the liberalization of the media, yet it must be remembered that it is the presence of the vibrant civil society and civil rights activism that there can be the realization of a strong and independent media. It must also be remembered that as a former colony of the United Kingdom, America had primordially taken liberalism in its constitutional and policy framework yet right from 1776 to the end of the 1950s, such vibrant and string media had not been realized. The situation only changed when civil rights activism took the center stage.
Another factor which clearly validates the standpoint that it is the 1960s that served as starting of activism in the US as is advanced by the author is that of civil rights activism which was at the time being advanced by Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr., and others. At the heart of these concerted efforts, was racism. The question of racism brought about great significance to activism as it posed a problem which was totally needful of the solution. Herein, that activism of the 1960s was inevitable, is a matter which is clearly underpinned by the fact that although the Declaration of the American Independence had in letter killed racism, yet the spirit of racism was still alive, as was witnessed in the distribution of social amenities; the dispensation of justice; and the distribution of economic values. It was activism which could successfully banish the spirit of racism into the abyss.
Conversely, not only did racism serve as a need for the realization of the civil rights activism in the 1960s, but the same also made the American society conscious of other covert manifestations of discrimination, with the minority groups later on shifting from matters of the biological constructs such as race and eugenics, to social and cultural constructs such as sexual orientation and preference, religion and religious beliefs.
Criticizing the Themes
It cannot be gainsaid that the 1960s in the American history remains as a period which heralded the emergence of activism and civil rights movement. However, one cannot help gainsay the advances that Anderson makes that the rise of activism can solely be attributed to events that related to civil rights movements and the Vietnam War. This is because at the time of the civil rights activism, the Cold War that pitted the USSR and the US against each other was on. Thus, the place of Cold War cannot be repudiated as having had a role in the emergence of a vibrant civil rights movement and activism. As a matter of fact, an analyst in the field of political science, sociology or any other social science discipline must not treat the emergence of civil rights activism as running alongside the Cold War as a development that was fortuitous. On the contrary, the civil rights activists such as Martin Luther King Jr. knew the implications of the Cold War and used the same to usher in the usefulness of the activism. Particularly, if America was claiming to fight to stop communism from suffusing into the entire Eastern Europe, Western Europe, the Orient and the rest of the world so that democracy (and capitalism) can triumph, it is obviously expedient that the rest of the world was watching how the American government was going to treat the minority (who were at the time, African Americans) and the movers and shakers of the civil rights movement.
Conclusion and Opinion on the Book
The book remains important, as it traces the paths that America has taken towards the realization of a strong civil rights activism or movements. Some of the milestones which Anderson makes mention of include the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movements which were led by Martin Luther King Jr. To Anderson, it is these events which sparked the clamor for the realization of social and economic egalitarianism. Nevertheless, Anderson falls for the fallacious thinking of linking sexual preference as homosexuality and same sex marriage as part of the minority. As a matter of fact, Anderson makes the mistake of not acknowledging the fact that the ideals that the 1960s activism harbored were totally different from the ones that are being vouched for in the US at the moment. Thus, the linking of the1960s activism to the clamoring for socially and preferentially defined constructs such as homosexuality, abortion and the legislation of adoption by homosexual parents limits the scope of Anderson's work, for it robs him of the opportunity to clearly analyze the traces, emergence and underpinnings for these socially and preferentially defined constructs.