Sunday, Sep 17, 2017
As a college student in 1967, “fifty years ago” meant 1917 and World War I, a time and event far from any direct connection with me. To young people today, 1967 must seem as distant and largely irrelevant.
Yet both years were profoundly important turning points in the life of this nation. 1917 marked the entry of the United States into World War I — perhaps the bloodiest, most pointless war in human history — and into a far more significant, militaristic global role.
While 1968 gets more attention from historians, 1967 saw important shifts in the nation’s politics that have shaped the world we live in today.
As the purveyors of public history, mass media reflections on 1967 typically emphasize popular culture and celebrities: Muhammed Ali stripped of his heavyweight title, the release of the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper,” the first rock festival at Monterey, the Summer of Love, the release of “The Graduate, etc.” These brief glimpses fail to convey the historical context that produced events like these.
Yet two new films, Ken Burns’ “The Vietnam War” and Kathryn Bigelow’s “Detroit,” remind us that there are still conversations we need to have and lessons we need to learn from this past. Both films remind us of the roots of today’s Black Lives Matter movement and the never-ending American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
1967 marked the fourth consecutive “long, hot summer” of urban uprisings, epitomized by the decade’s two most destructive riots, in Newark and Detroit. While the national media had ignored inner-city life prior to the riots, the nation watched in horror as saturation coverage provided staggering footage of the cities burning, residents gleefully looting, and federal troops and National Guard crushing these urban rebellions.