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Sundays With The Christianists: U.S. History Textbooks To Keep Your Homeschooled Darlings From Becoming Hippies
This week, we'll continue our look at the 1960s as viewed through the reality distortion goggles of rightwing Christian textbooks. If you find yourself getting dizzy, go read Rick Perlstein's Nixonland until you can see straight again. (And if you haven't read Nixonland, what is wrong with you?)
We left off last week with this carefully-constructed assertion, from our 8th-grade text, America: Land I Love (A Beka, 1994, 2006): "Some conservatives felt that Communist sympathizers in high-ranking government positions were deliberately hindering the U.S. military’s ability to achieve a victory in Vietnam." It's definitely a factual statement, since some conservatives definitely felt that, but let's not bother too much with whether their feelings were connected to reality. And that's pretty much where Land I Love ends its discussion of Vietnam, apart from some other brief mentions.
Our 11/12th-grade textbook, United States History for Christian Schools (Bob Jones University Press, 2001), discusses Vietnam a bit further, but largely in the context of the domestic reaction to it. Of the two texts, only U.S. History devotes significant space to the antiwar movement, campus radicalism, and the youth counterculture of the '60s -- Land I Love dismisses the dirty hippies with three paragraphs about how the '60s were a time when "patriotism hit an all-time low." U.S History goes into slightly more detail, attributing some of the youth movement to demographics -- "By the late 1960s fully half of the population of the United States was under the age of twenty-five" -- and to disillusionment at the emptiness of consumer culture and materialism. However, the textbook laments, "the means that the young used to satisfy themselves often turned out to be worse than their parents’ materialism."
We get a couple of sentences about "anti-war radicals" who "seized control of college buildings ... and dared police to come after them," and of course we learn about draft dodgers, but there's no sense that these actions were motivated by principled opposition to the war. Instead, U.S History explains that at least part of the opposition to the war was stirred up by dangerous commies:
One force behind the antiwar movement was the "New Left," radical groups which hoped to use resentment of the war as a means of overthrowing established American institutions. The Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) was the largest New Left group, with a total of over five thousand members on more than two hundred campuses. An even more radical group, the Weathermen, actually engaged in terrorist bombings of buildings in order to "bring the war home."
But obviously, there had to be more to all that anti-war sentiment, since "Left-wing sympathies were not sufficiently powerful to motivate" the entire movement. Nope, it basically came down to -- no, not idealism, silly! It was all motivated by humanity's sinful nature, just like Eve in the Garden couldn't leave well enough alone:
Much of the energy for the movement came from the resistance to authority that is always present in unregenerate man. The New Left merely harnessed this discontent. The antiwar movement directed its rage at the president, the ultimate symbol of authority. Johnson suffered cruel and vicious attacks, such as thousands of demonstrators in Washington chanting, "Hey! Hey! LBJ! How many kids did you kill today?" Antiwar sentiment began to spread to older age groups, and the number of protesters multiplied. By the end of Johnson’s term, military bases were the only places the president could speak without being heckled.
Again, there's never any mention of the possibility that Vietnam was unpopular because it was a terrible war fought for dubious reasons to support a corrupt dictatorship whose only "merit" -- as U.S History even noted earlier in the chapter -- was that it was allegedly "better than the Communists.” We're pretty sure this textbook was pieced together by different editors who didn't necessarily talk to each other.
U.S History also gives attention to the wider youth counterculture of the '60s, and it's not especially happy with those young folks and their crazy nonconformity:
More an attitude than an ideology, the counterculture of the 1960s and early 1970s had its roots in rebellion, specifically a rejection of the materialism as well as the morals and values of the previous generation. Proponents of the counterculture believed that the solution to society’s problems included self-expression and espousing a philosophy of love and sharing. “Do your own thing" and "All you need is love" (the title of a popular rock song) were simplistic expressions of the counterculture creed. Counterculture also praised youth as having the answers to society’s problems, as illustrated by the popular saying "Don’t trust anyone over thirty.”
Somehow, the text manages not to actually use Tom Wolfe's phrase "The 'Me' Generation" -- perhaps they're saving it for the section on the '70s. And finally, we get to the ultimate symbol of the counterculture, the hippies, a term which the book helpfully explains was "derived from the slang term hip, being aware of current tastes and attitudes":
Hippies made a virtue of nonconformity. In place of the neat clothing and appearance of their parents, they wore jeans and t-shirts that were dirty, patched, and garishly colored. Young men grew their hair and beards long as a sign of protest. Rejecting traditional standards, hippies repudiated marriage and advocated unrestricted sexual activity. They embraced rock music, which, with its provocative lyrics and heavy beat, symbolized their rebellion. Hippies were also leaders in the drug culture. They experimented with numerous illegal hallucinogenic drugs, notably LSD. The most popular drug was marijuana, a product of the hemp plant that is smoked like tobacco.
Accurate enough, we suppose, although we would pay a generous stipend to hear George Carlin or Hunter S. Thompson to read that passage aloud, with commentary. Needless to say, U.S History provides a slightly different explanation of these young troublemakers:
The Christian quickly recognizes that much within the counterculture was completely ungodly -- the illicit sex, drug use, and other immoral behavior. Indeed, many hippies embraced the counterculture lifestyle simply so that they could live a carefree life without assuming any responsibility for their actions; it was a philosophy which provided a license to sin. Even when they were sincere, however, the hippies were wrong. Their belief that expressing "love" was the answer to man’s problems was naïve and simplistic; they did not realize that genuine love requires sacrifice and discipline. Furthermore they believed that material possessions and moral restrictions corrupted man. The Bible teaches that man is born corrupt (Ps. 58: 3; Rom. 5:12), and forsaking possessions or breaking restrictions does nothing to free man from the power of sin. "Curing man’s ills" requires changing his sinful nature through the power of God in salvation.
Yeah, you stupid hippies! And look how you all turned out in The Big Chill, just a bunch of sellouts and burnouts profaning a funeral service with your damned Rolling Stones music. Oddly, neither textbook makes any mention of the Jesus Freaks, who attempted (successfully or not) to fuse the hippies' idealism with the peace-love-and-understanding message they saw in the Gospels. Still, you'd think they'd at least get a mention, if only for the sake of reminding young readers that Jesus Christ is a savior, not a Superstar.
In a two-page text box, U.S History even gives us a brief history of rock music as a barometer of the '60s counterculture, starting with the suggestive hip-wigglin' of Elvis Presley and moving on to the Beatles, who despite early "innocent-sounding titles as 'I Want to Hold Your Hand" to
more poetically accomplished songs that reflected their experimentation with drugs and sex. In 1967 the group released Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, a milestone in the open glorification of the drug culture. It contained songs such as "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" (a play on the letters LSD) and lyrics such as "I get high with a little help from my friends."
And from there, we move on to "Head Music" which was "designed to enhance the effects of marijuana" and "Acid rock” which "attempted to reproduce the effects of LSD (nicknamed 'acid') and was often composed by writers under the influence of the drug." (Again, what we wouldn't give for a dramatic reading of this section.) Then, on to Woodstock, where despite the overflow crowds (and overflowing latrines), "the festival succeeded only because the huge crowds were able to work together to overcome their problems." Just in case anyone might get the impression this was a good thing, we are reminded that
Two people died (one of a drug overdose and one who was crushed by a tractor as he slept), and hundreds were arrested or suffered adverse effects from the rampant drug abuse.
Sadly, there is no mention of the brown acid, man, and the text completely overlooks the chance to tell kids how Jimi Hendrix raped the National Anthem.
The section ends with a discussion of the Rolling Stones' disastrous concert at Altamont, which gives the book the chance to provide a closing Lord Of the Flies moral about the inevitable destructiveness of rock music:
Again there was widespread drug use and immorality, but this time there was no sugar-coating of "love" and cooperation. To serve as security guards, the concert’s promoters hired a motorcycle gang known as "Hell’s Angels.” In "policing" the concert, the "Angels" indulged in acts of violence, climaxing during one of the performances when they beat and killed a young black who had pulled out a gun.
The Altamont experience so shattered the rock culture that within two years a folk rock singer referred to it simply as "the day the music died." Above all, the Altamont concert revealed a truth that undercut the main premise of the whole youth movement: when left to themselves, the young were just as prone to violence, corruption, and disorder as their parents were. It was a sobering lesson.
U.S. History's discussion of the antiwar movement closes with a section that at least tries to present a "some said... but others said..." attempt at balance on three major events in the late 60s and early '70s that "further divided the country over the war." We learn that in the My Lai massacre, Lt. William Calley and his men "killed over three hundred unarmed civilians who were suspected of supporting the Viet Cong" -- no mention of the gang rapes, or of the higher death estimates by other sources, and of course no mention at all of the heroic intervention by Hugh Thompson and his helicopter crew, who blocked soldiers from killing some of the civilians and reported the massacre to his superiors. Of the massacre and the subsequent courts-martial, U.S. History says,
Americans were appalled at such a slaughter by American troops, but a large segment of the nation sympathized with Calley. They believed either that he was being made a scapegoat by the army to cover up for other officers or that he was being persecuted by the antiwar movement in anger over the whole war effort. President Nixon reduced Calley’s life sentence to twenty years and then placed him under a mild form of house arrest.
On the other hand, that's more than Land I Love says about My Lai, which is not covered at all.
The 1970 killings at Kent State get a similarly "evenhanded" treatment; after a very general description of the event, we learn about Divided American Opinion:
Demonstrators protesting the invasion of Cambodia rioted on and near the campus and even burned an ROTC building at the university. The governor of Ohio called out the National Guard. On May 4 a group of protesters taunted the Guardsmen and hurled rocks at them. A few of the soldiers panicked and fired. Four students died, two of whom were simply walking to class and had nothing to do with the protest. The event revealed the deep divisions in the nation over the war. One faction considered the slain students martyrs for peace. Another faction, angered at what they considered a lack of patriotism by the antiwar movement, claimed that the students "had it coming to them." Peace seemed no closer at home than it did in Vietnam.
On the other hand, this is far better than the description we get in Land I Love, which tells us only that
Angry and violent demonstrations on college campuses led to the deaths of four students at Kent State University in Ohio and two students at Jackson State College in Mississippi.
Gosh, who did the killing? Probably those out-of-control demonstrators. ( U.S. History doesn't mention Jackson State at all, however.)
Finally, U.S. History has this surprisingly sympathetic reading of the publication of the Pentagon Papers:
Pentagon staff analyst Daniel Ellsberg stole a number of confidential documents concerning the progress of American involvement in Vietnam and released them to the New York Times. The Nixon administration tried vainly to block publication in the interests of "national security." The documents were more embarrassing to the government than they were dangerous to the nation, however. They revealed the blunders and deceptions of primarily the Kennedy and Johnson administrations in the conduct of the war. Readers learned, for example, that Johnson had drafted what became the Gulf of Tonkin resolution months before the actual incident in the Gulf of Tonkin took place. These revelations of government deceit prompted even more antiwar sentiment.
Considering the "balance" of the other two examples, it's a bit surprising that U.S. History doesn't include anything about those who wanted Ellsberg shot as a traitor. Again, Land I Love has nothing to say on the matter, because don't be ridiculous.
Next Week: Our big '60s wrap-up, in which the Civil Rights movement bred black riots, and Nixon arrived to preserve law and order.