Even the mention of certain words conjures up powerful images for most members of the Baby Boomer generation like me. “Flower Child,” “Psychedelic,” “the Draft,” and especially “Vietnam” and “civil rights” all have a place burned deeply into the psyche of Baby Boomers.
That is especially true, when someone grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area like I did.
Tourist buses would pour into San Francisco in the late 60s to take visitors on a drive through Haight-Ashbury which is a intersection which came to symbolize the era.
An illustration of just how central the Haight was to become to the era, consider these events which occurred in just few blocks of that neighborhood.
The “safe house” where Patty Hearst was held captive after her kidnapping was on Masonic Street and just around the corner on Lyon Street, was the house where Janis Joplin lived during her Haight-Ashbury days. Around the next corner at 710 Ashbury Street the famed psychedelic band, The Grateful Dead once lived. A stone’s throw from those three houses was a house at 1524 Haight Street where Jimi Hendrix lived for a time.
I witnessed first hand the sad and violent scenes in Oakland in 1968 in the wake of the assassination of Martin Luther King. I went to a movie with my friends in Oakland and when we left the theatre we saw a full scale riot and burning buildings by frustrated blacks who had lost their leader and temporarily their hope.
In my novel “Expiation” there is an argument between Dan and his father which probably occurred in many homes during this time period. Dan has just graduated high school and is pondering his future. His father is of the generation who fought in World War II. Dan not only wants to avoid the draft and fighting in Vietnam but he also is against the war altogether. This viewpoint was not understood by his father’s generation who’s patriotism was a key motivation in going to fight for their country in World War II.
Most Baby Boomers can instantly recall the names of friends who were killed or wounded in Vietnam. In the fictional account in “Expiation” Dan has just received word that a friend named John has died in the war. This conversation then ensued.
“Dad, I love my country and I respect very much what you and your generation did. You fought evil. You fought bad people who were trying to enslave everyone. I’m sure I can’t imagine all that you experienced Dad. You’re a hero. But your war is not the same as what’s going on in Vietnam. This is a civil war. We’re jumping in the middle of it and losing good young men like John, for what? This cause is not worth dying for. We ought to be careful about where we send our heroes—our good young men. Vietnam ain’t it.”
Now Dad was really angry, “We’re stopping Communism, that’s what we’re doing.”
“It’s not our right to go around the world killing every bad person. It’s just not our job! We have our own problems here. Big problems that need to get fixed.”
“This is the greatest country on the face of the earth,” Dad snorted.
“It depends on who you talk to. We have black people who don’t have freedom. They are met with billy clubs and fire hoses. We’ve got this stupid war which LBJ started for no good reason. Thousands of young guys, just like me, have had their hopes and dreams snuffed out forever, for what?”
Most Baby Boomers will have a real connection with the events and the flavor of the times in “Expiation.”