The Eve of Destruction: How 1965 Transformed America
2012 nonfiction book by James T. Patterson
At the beginning of 1965, the U.S. seemed on the cusp of a golden age. Although Americans had been shocked by the assassination in 1963 of President Kennedy, they exuded a sense of consensus and optimism that showed no signs of abating. Indeed, political … see full wiki
As the year 1965 dawned the American people were feeling pretty good about themselves and the nation at large. They had begun to put the horrific events of November 22, 1963 behind them and looked forward to a peaceful and prosperous year ahead. On the surface at least all appeared to be copacetic. Lyndon Johnson was at the peak of his popularity and declared that the nation that he led had "no irreconcilable differences". It was his intention to continue to advocate for the progressive agenda he so firmly believed in. But in the first few weeks of 1965 a series of unforeseen events would begin to spiral out of control that would eventually cut into to Johnson's popularity and ultimately cost him his Presidency. The noted historian and author James T. Patterson believes that 1965 was a watershed year in American history and has documented all of the major events of that tumultuous year in his sterling new book "The Eve of Destruction: How 1965 Transformed America". For those of us who lived through it "The Eve of Destruction" serves as a stark reminder of just how transformative 1965 turned out to be.
No one can argue that Lyndon Johnson was a savvy politician who knew how to get things done. His legislative agenda for 1965 was ambitious to say the least. Over the course of the year the largely Democratic Congress would pass a host of important bills including the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Voting Rights Act, immigration reform, Medicare and Medicaid, the Higher Education Act while also creating the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. But despite all of his successes racial divisions were beginning to rear their ugly heads. On March 7 a protest by civil rights activists in Selma, Alabama turned violent when police attacked the demonstrators. What would become known as "Bloody Sunday" would unleash bottled-up racial tensions and resentment in cities all across America. Black Americans were becoming impatient and with very good reason. Later on in the year race riots would break out in the Watts section of Los Angeles. And then there was the escalating conflict in Vietnam. Patterson recalls the events that would ultimately cause the President to decide to commit more and more troops to the conflict in Southeast Asia. Ever concerned with his legacy Johnson did not want to be brandished as the "President who lost Vietnam". He reluctantly and very quietly escalated this nation's involvement in the conflict and did so with a minimum of consultation. By April an estimated 15000-25000 people would come to Washington to protest the war. It was at the time the largest peace demonstration in American history. Clearly, it was LBJ's lack of candor with the American people that spawned the anti-war movement in the spring of 1965. Patterson introduces us to all of the major players who were advising the President in 1965 including Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, Secretary of State Robert McNamara and General William Westmoreland and the influence that each of them had on the decisions that were made.
Meanwhile, major changes were beginning to take place in the culture as well. According to Patterson "The spread of social programs in the Johnson years, stimulating ever grander popular expectations had the unintended consequence of intensifying the demands of rights-conscious interest groups in America". Yes, the genie was finally out of the bottle and many might argue that these developments would serve to divide the country in innumerable ways in the decades that followed. 1965 was also the year that American popular music began to evolve as evidenced by Barry McGuire's #1 hit "Eve of Destruction" and The Byrds "Turn, Turn, Turn". By the end of the year it was becoming abundantly clear to most observers that the mood of the country had darkened considerably and that there was no turning back. For better or worse America would never be the same again.
In retrospect, until you stop and focus on a year like 1965 you simply cannot comprehend the monumental impact the events that such a watershed year can have on a society. I found "The Eve of Destruction: How 1965 Transformed America" to be a compelling and fast-moving read that attempts to tie all of these disparate events together and to make sense of it all. Frankly, in some cases you can while in others it is simply not possible. In any event, I will never think of that year in quite the same way again. As it all turned out what transpired during 1965 not only had implications for LBJ's liberal agenda. Indeed, after the tremendous shellacking that Barry Goldwater took in the 1964 Presidential election many would argue that the events of 1965 would help to spawn a conservative renaissance in America. "The Eve of Destruction" would be a great choice for history buffs and general readers alike. There is an awful lot to chew on here. James T. Patterson has certainly succeeded in making history come alive for his readers. Highly recommended!
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