The Sixties (1960’s)

Preface: The Meaning of Periods, Personal & National

Every historical period, of whatever duration, has its own distinctive flavor, fingerprints & soundtracks. Like sunspot cycles, they don’t follow a precise calendar that divides time into more or less arbitrary chunks. Days, moons and years at least have some astronomical basis, whereas weeks, months, decades & “reigns” are human inventions, relatively untethered to anything natural. They can become quite real even so, in the sense of taking on objective existence, with characteristic effects on human activity.

Weeks and months are useful for “planners,” organizing our time-dependent experience going forward. When it comes to history, we usually organize in larger chunks–events, decades, centuries (e.g., Civil War, 60’s, 20th C.), as well as (eventually, looking back from far enough away) the large eras & movements crossing log periods of cultural & social change (e.g., Dark Ages, Renaissance, Romantic tradition), all the way to those vast changes in planetary conditions (e.g., Ice Ages).

Considering decades lived, the associated events, conditions, political & cultural shifts may or may not correlate with the precise 10 years involved. To paraphrase Maya meditations on time, things have roots  before they begin, & continue after they’re done. Still, when we talk of the 60’s, it’s remarkable how close the historical & cultural phenomena followed the decade’s arc, starting with that turning-point year, 1960 itself.

Our day-by-day experience may not have changed that much or seemed that different from, say, October of 1959 to March of 1960. By October 1960, however, my days did indeed seem radically different from those a year earlier. The year brought dramatic changes in both personal & national life. For one thing, halfway through brought my high school graduation, after a spring vacation road trip with 3 friends through the deep south to New Orleans; for another, there was the year long political campaign & election of a president running on “the new frontier.”

These two domains of history, personal & national, intersected for me that year as never before, or since, starting with the delivery of the keynote at my school’s “Mock” Democratic Convention (at which we nominated favorite-son JFK to the band’s rendition of “Fair Harvard”). That same year JFK Himself & I even “crossed paths” twice, first when I Got to attend his nomination acceptance speech in the L.A. Coliseum at the convention that summer, and again in Harvard Yard, where I watched from above as he was thronged by students while making his way from an overseers meeting.

Some of these stories are told in on or more of the files below, as well as how my awareness & interpretations of what was going on have developed in the decades of reflection since. In most cases, the main focus of the material below isn’t so much on my personal experience, being personally so far out of the historical arena. I was barely even an observer on the periphery, a student just coming of age, yet increasingly aware & affected, even when out of the country for two contrasting periods–one in the early Sixties  with JFK in the White House, the other post-assassination, 1966-1968, which included a stint with Peace Corps–India 37, an agriculture focused village extension program.

By our arrival in December 1966, pictures of JFK frequently appeared next to ones of Gandhi in shops & households, though bilateral relations were rapidly turning south over the Vietnam war. Presumably with his usual style (an in-your-face arm-twisting with a scrub-Texas smile?) President Johnson had taken away foreign aid dollars in retaliation for Indira Gandhi’s vocal opposition to American policy in Southeast Asia, so with the other hand made a grand gesture of generosity, promising an extraordinary number of Peace Corps volunteers geared to improving food-production.

I don’t know for fact if this is how the program cam to be, but I do know that a very ;large number of applicants were funneled into the pipeline to fulfill the arrangement, mostly unprepared for the jobs described. Of the more than 100 trainees assigned to India 37, Virginia & I were in a very small minority of those who had applied specifically with India in mind, in our case specifically West Bengal, thanks to having discovered Tagore a few years before, plus films of Satyajit Ray & Ravi Shankar’s music.

Even so, no one had any experience with rice-production, and few had grown more than a houseplant or two, at least legally. I doubt that Indira Gandhi was overly impressed, and a few years later, India said, “Enough.” They were not only on their way to significantly greater rice production, but had also had enough of the Peace Corps, and went into along hiatus. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, in this case a Japanese rice-farm in rural West Bengal, the Peace Corps, in its eminent wisdom, decided it had had enough of us.

Here’s a personal account, an interesting story, all the more so perhaps, because of how well it illustrates the fractal nature of that intersection between individual and institutional histories, with a variable connection between a great idea & its associated reality, idea &  execution. Prominently featured, at least indirectly, is a character we might call “the PCV spirit.” We were probably at least a short step further out, personally–not so far from the PCV spirit, as we understood it, as from the institutional conceptions of management. We certainly weren’t the “junior A.I.D. experts” the program may have had in mind, as conceived in the Johnson White House & then put together to fulfill its directive.

[India 37 just had a mini-reunion at our first training camp, in Columbia Missouri, including linkable radio interview conducted Sept. 2015 for the program “Thinking Out Loud.” I’ve responded to these with an entry on the “Post” page (“Home”), as well as some additional personal  reflections, a short cut to which is here: PC-India 37-a personal account .]


Meanwhile, here I go on trying to understand the less visible aspects of what happened in the dramatic arc-shifts of the SIxties, looking for the inner meaning of it, the meat of it. There are overlapping yet sometimes separate worlds between the personal aspects experienced in time & the public aspects reflected in the policies and events of shared history. We live in the personal “now,” yet find our movements profoundly influenced by the lay of the land moved through, including political and cultural topographies.

For various reasons, I present my interpretation of the larger, shared history first, and tie my personal history in only by the by. Although experienced first & most directly, the personal history is not “the thing itself,” but part of how we know, think & believe whatever we do about the larger world witnessed. To leave it out entirely ignores the primary instrument by which the rest is processed and passed along in that larger mind shared across time. The larger mind of a time like the 60s is all over the place, in each & every person, emerging between individual parts, in the driving forces and relationships, as well as in the interactions parts have with larger wholes.

Forkings in the Black Hole of History–

coming of age in the era of assassinations & Vietnam

There are many more approaches & levels to history than there are ways to skin a cat. My coverage of the 60’s is therefore organized according to the following chapters:

I. A First Look, from 50th anniversary seminar of June 2010;

II. National Overview, by topic where the deeper reflection went, well beyond what would fit in the seminar itself, or any single presentation;

III. Footnotes Loop Trail, a more personal spinoff from the seminar look, with a few photos documenting the historical shift in the spring of 1960;

IV. More on the nature of history, including relations of personal & larger.

I. A First Look

The following file (which opens on clicking) comes from an NMH (Northfield Mount Hermon) Alumni College Seminar presented June 2010, 50th anniversary of the 1960 class graduation. It was offered by the author “in absentia,” as part of a program also featuring offerings from David Parker, Alan Skidgell, Sarah Buermann & Julian Pace (also absent). The roles of Pace & Bodner were played by Sarah, therefore, wearing a beret set at a beat angle for the latter. Along with the “Footnote Loop Trail,” it offers a personal introduction to a more detailed critical analysis of the period, trying to make sense of the forces, events and dynamics of what happened.

Forking Roads through the 1960s:  

  In, Out & Far Out (Forking Roads through the Sixties)

II. National Overview–

[Will locate & put up the text for particular topics on request.]

a.         On the way to what happened–the nature of history
b.         Methodologies of leadership 
c.         Ways of seeing, methods of inquiry
d.         Game routes to clearer perspective 
e.         More on Forking Points 
f.          Importance of imagination
g.         Belief systems in practice & profession
h.         Changing the order of magnitude
i.          Back to the wall 
j.          Schisms, schisms & more schisms   
k.         Cuban missile crisis:  more critical than we knew 
l.          Mount Hermon…to My Lai:  making a difference 
m.        Class distribution: the range of human experience
n.          Nadafication       
o.         Orientations: progressives & conservatives; radicals & reactionaries;
pragmatics, organics, & fanatics; independents, contrarians & unclassifiables
p.         Progressive movements of the time: the grass & acid revolution; sex, drugs, & rock’n roll
q.~~~~Dimensions of individual & social character: the developmental, dynamic, structural, & orientational…
r.~~~~Stages of reasoning: Piaget, Clark & Kohlberg (spiraling complimentary poles, transcending conflicting frameworks; integrating additional options across time)
s.~~~Synergy–its production & loss: how to enhance & detract
t.~~~ Making policy sausage: “New Frontier” challenges; the nature of the beast
u.~~~On the nature of historical forks: the forked & the integral
v.~~~More on odds: in favor of humility…
w.~~~A letter in need of redemption: learning from mistakes….
x. ~~~Order of magnitude issues: understanding systems;
y.~~~~Why & why not? big questions;
z. ~~~The big sleep…. 


The following footnotes tie in with the seminar text offered in “I. First Look,” above.


Here are a few photos that belonged in the footnotes, but didn’t make it in.

Waiters 1959 001Two rosy-cheeked waiters taking a break, 1959.

Spring 1960 001Starting out, spring 1960. Early in trip 001 Anacostia Invaders 001





Anacostia Invaders, starting to change at the fringe. Beret Bods2

After the gulf, sleeping on the beach, . New Orleans.

New Orleans 001


the vehicle 001

The vehicle, registration about to expire.
~~~Boys near the end of the trail….

Trail's end boys 001

Sometime later, Ricardo & Don Pedro (l. r., respectively) crossed paths & switched duds to become ersatz naval officer & neo-beat with bongos….

Uniform ExchangeD-P-S-I 001[Thanks to Pete H. for most of the photos above.]

Here’s a shot of the 4 road trippers more than 51trail years later (9/11/2011)–Ricardo, Pedro, Skidgell-on-Skype, & Ian up for air from down under.]


Personal History: Further footnotes exist on teaching Indian farmers how to grow rice (in Japanese); the nature of historical forks; Sangam (confluences, whirlpools & festivals)…, which may be added as time & attention allow.


IV. a personal relationship with history

[meaning of music & poetry, map & territory, experience & understanding, the history & history itself]

I did not find history especially interesting as a student compared with the wonders of nature & imagination. One exception stemmed from  playing young Abe Lincoln in a 5th grade skit, & subsequent love affair with the Chautauqua, a form of living history, leading to a quarter century as “Road Scholar” with the New Mexico Humanities Council.

During this time, my focus was only rarely on what’s usually called history, although starting with historical figures like Basho, Aldo Leopold & Ansel Adams. Each of these had both a personal history & a keen interest in history as well, but more important still, each also left a living legacy, the transmission of which was my main interest–what Basho, Aldo & Ansel had to show & tell us, in other words, meanings, insights, ways of seeing still being conveyed, processed & practiced.

[The next 4 pages in the long-winded version have been cut here, as they deal mostly with personal history, best available elsewhere, rather than the relationship of personal history with the larger.]

No one stays entirely separate from history for long, as much as we may try, & the Sixties engulfed me along with everyone else, then the 70s, 80s, 90s, etc. Every so often, however, we can’t help but look back in an effort to understand not just what happened, but what was still going on. Such inquiries begin over again in each new present, in other words, as we explore current & future events by looking at the past.

It has often seemed to me that schools usually had literary studies  backwards–presenting both abstracted overview of literary history & distant particular materials analytically to beginners, while saving the contemporary, dynamic, playful & enjoyable for recreational attention & more advanced scholars. Instead of the live pop of the stuff itself, students got a critical conceptual framework, a scaffolding of primarily mental interpretation, a conventionally top-heavy academic narrative, all dealing with material they had hardly experienced.

If music were taught like poetry in those days, I thought, no one would listen to it. General interest would not easily develop out of critical analysis of the musical scores in the absence of listening & playing, in other words. We need to hear all types of music besides, not just from certain places & periods, to experience these as music, not as score alone. Wallace Stevens may claim, “Music is feeling, then, not sound,” but as he almost above all shows, it is sound, too. Sound is its medium, without which it neither has nor produces feeling.

The experienced reader hears what is read, listening as the writer must. Hearing never goes out of style either, not matter how much listening experience one has–off & on the page. A beginner is less likely to hear from the page alone without practice. Such reading is a skill developed (like most skills) by its exercise. A good reader of poetry learns to “hear” the writer’s voice, its nuances of tone, mood, rhythm, emotion, thought, inspiration, movement, & implications.

As with much of the “meaning” derived from music, the differences made must be experienced directly, not solely as filtered through a critical or intellectual medium. The music is not the interpretation, which is a secondary matter with its own criteria for soundness. Nor is it just the same as the score that represents it. The map is not the same as the territory it represents, except when it represents only itself.

Poetry may be considered a little more ambiguous in this regard. On the one hand, it’s the score for what a reader may hear in the realm of that imagination where perception, sensation, thought, movement & feeling play together.  On the other hand, it can also be an artifact on the page, sometimes part of the “territory of a book.”

Just as the score is not the music, the map is not the territory–except where the territory is “mapping,” which may be said wherever  language, philosophy & science are involved. So history includes not just what happened, but the interpretations & representations thereof. Whether we are dealing with the history of science, geopolitical events, or literary expression, we are confronted by human thought, ways of thinking & acting, both in the particular & in patterns.

Just as we may say physical entities have two aspects, inner & outer (or wave & particle), social realities may be represented in terms of their particulars (individuals, situations, etc., ultimately unique), their larger patterns (forces, dynamics, ways of thinking & acting), or both–the intersection of persons, forces, institutions, & strategically unfolding events. There is no place where the particular & the pattern can be cut apart. We know the one from &/or in the other. Each derives meaning from the other, & loses it in isolation.

Particular & pattern are compliments, like yin & yang, not alternatives like one or the other. Nevertheless, there comes a time when one wants to understand the relation of both within a larger whole, to find meaning in the dynamics of the tao, or, in the current case, both “the history” & “history itself.”


For insights into the 1950s, see our “Richardson Archives,” a drop-down we’ll open when better organized. [That page is currently under construction, so password protected.]