I am one of three boys, but I occupied the most versatile of birth order positions. For the first 10 years of my life, I was the youngest, my older brother being eight years older than I was. Then my older brother left home, and I was the oldest for the next 11 years until I graduated from college. When my mother was 38 and my father 45, they had my younger brother. Yes, that’s right, there’s 18 years between my older and younger brothers.
Our births spanned three decades -- the 1940s, the 1950s and the 1960s. Musically, it meant that one of us was an Elvis Presley fan, one of us was a Beatles fan, and one of us was an Eagles fan. (I would like to proudly point out, however, that when my older brother was getting ready to leave for a high school dance called the Cornucopia Hop, he was embarrassed because he didn’t know the latest dance, the Twist. So I, all of 9 years old, taught him both the Twist and the Peppermint Twist. I was precocious, at least when it came to dancing.)
My father called us the three generations. I don’t recall how he described my two brothers, but I was the family’s “peace generation.” No, I didn’t do the long-haired hippie thing, but there was some truth to my father’s labeling. You couldn’t come of age in the 1960s without being affected in some way by the cultural and social upheavals of the decade – the civil rights movement, Vietnam, riots at universities, the assassinations of John F. and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, the evaporation of trust in authority of all kinds, the “free love” movement, widespread use of drugs, and R- and X-rated movies. For older people, it appeared that society had become unhinged. And, it a sense, it had.
The concept of the “peace generation” eventually died, with T.S. Eliot’s proverbial whimper, morphing into the “Me Generation” when the news media and punditry class got bored and looked for something else to write and talk about.
What wasn’t often remarked upon at the time, however, was how close the “peace generation” actually was to violence. It was almost too easy for “make love, not war” protests against the war in Vietnam to turn into violent confrontations and episodes of property destruction, especially on college campuses – Berkeley, Kent State, Columbia, seemingly lots of other places, although that could have been the result of media amplification. (My own college campus existed in a time warp – the closest we ever came to violence was the annual panty raid before the football game with the arch-rival university. A time warp wasn’t a bad place to be back then.)
But a phrase sticks in my mind, likely forever: “All we are saying, is give peace a chance.” Millions sang that phrase at protest rallies all over the United States at the time.
Peace wasn’t a bad idea; much of what went on sprang from some of the best, most idealistic impulses of the human heart. But that was exactly the problem, and the possible explanation for the violence. The human heart harbors both good and bad impulses, and often intertwined, so that a burning desire for peace can turn into the burning of automobiles, administration buildings and military draft induction centers.
Such contradictions are part of the human condition, because they are part of the human heart. Mine included.
This post is part of the one-word blog carnival held twice a month and sponsored by Peter Pollock and Bridget Chumbley. To see more posts on "peace," visit Bridget's web site.