Woodstock rose like a phoenix out the ashes of a fallen world – out of the angst of Vietnam and racial inequality. Like the counterculture of the beats in the fifties trying to escape that staid, cookie-cutter world, Woodstock represented a natural progression upward in collective consciousness. We keep falling, though, after we near the apex. We can’t quite reach the top. What goes up must come down. The politicians call this progress. I wonder. Can’t we climb higher? When will we ever learn?
We in the peace movement didn’t want to follow in the footsteps of our fathers. We didn’t want to live in the same tired, old world again. Didn’t want the conquerors dictating to the vanquished. Didn’t want the racism, the bigotry, the wars. We wanted change our way, not theirs, didn’t want wait for it, because waiting for it meant you died a slow death until you became part of the status quo, which would eat you for breakfast before you could even understand you were being swallowed whole. Then you became like the rest of them. Carbon copies of your parents. Woodstock put distance between the old world and the new.
Vietnam came at us like a coiled snake striking – out of the wreckage of World War Two. As much as those in power want you to think, wars never solve problems. They just create more. Adventurism makes life miserable for those under the gun and those pointing the gun. At the end of World War One, the allies got together and partitioned off the Middle East. They might as well have been ripping the cultures represented on these maps to shreds. Ripped apart, divided, conquered. The seethe of Time festers, though. Smoldering. To come alive again in the winds of change, a conflagration reaching for the throats of those who had torn them asunder. Return to Korea, return to Vietnam. Iran. Iraq. Syria. The list is exhaustive to the mind and body and soul. We need to eat, drink, and smoke more pot instead of making more war. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.
When will we ever learn? When will we elect responsible men and women to run this country or any country? Elect these clowns and we become these clowns. It’s on us and no one else. It happened in Germany. You gotta blame the people who let Hitler come to power as much as Hitler himself. Here, in the United States, we have become a culture smudged with crass commercialism stuck so far up our asses we can’t see the world for what it is, for what we’ve made of it.
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Vietnam was Eisenhower’s war, Kennedy’s, Johnson’s and Nixon’s. Each one had his prints smudged all over it. Whoever was president at the time, it was their war and their war only. Each inherited the other’s mischief from the other before him. Each prolonged it, each bought into the domino theory that the South East Asian countries were going to fall one by one, tipping the dominoes over to communism.
But our involvement in Vietnam didn’t just begin with these four presidents. For all-intensive purposes it surfaced in 1946 and lasted until the French were defeated at the end of The First Indochina War in 1954. Again, the powers that be took a map and partitioned Vietnam into a south democratic country and a north communist country. The United States propped the South Vietnamese government, a corrupt mafia of thugs, until the country and its rampant corruption became ours to wear around our neck like an exploding torc taking our collective heads off. Ho Chi Minh or Uncle Ho, as Pete Seeger called him, wasn’t any rose either, but he was far more ethical than those manning the den of thieves in the south. Ho Chi Minh had to do what he had to do. He took a higher road, with the goal of unifying his country. An honorable cause. Trying to overcome the obstacles of a map drawn up many years before by the politicians and generals. It was a bloody business.
When will we ever learn? Where have all the flowers gone? We all went to Woodstock and, decades later, in a few lucky states, the flowers have gone to buds. So, not all is lost. Since the late sixties when the feds classified marijuana as a level 1 drug, we have been fighting to legalize it, state by state. Still, last I heard, it is a federal offense punishable by prison time. If they want to come and catch you they will. We haven’t quite reached the top of this mountain, either.
For many of us, Woodstock was the catalyst and the high point of the sixties, marrying pot and other wondrous drugs with the soaring music that still soars when I listen to it today. Add a dash of the idealism of perfection and we thought mistakenly that we were well on our way to a better world. Woodstock and the music and the pot represented what we wanted our world to be. A higher high than high. Where maybe we could live together in harmony. That’s what we believed and strove for. The idea that we can create a better place out of the ashes of the old keeps us going. You have to believe (even though it often seems we are going the wrong direction), that something better lies ahead; otherwise, why bother? We have to commit to steer a course for these new lands and, when we reach our destination, grab the shores, hold on, and not let go. The idealism of the sixties didn’t fail, nor was it shortsighted. It gave us a glimmer of what life could be and, therefore, worth the struggle, even though it always feels like we’re falling back into the abyss over and over again. When will we ever learn? When will we take that collective step that propels us higher? I hope it’s soon for the sake of all.