June 12, 1970 – Stephen Hess – Commonwealth Club Of California Lecture – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
As the tide of opposition to the ongoing Vietnam War grew larger, and in 1970 more lethal, the issue of Youth Culture; Americas Youth, Youth in protest, youth and drugs, youth and alienation were at the forefront of a rapidly fracturing national conversation.
This Commonwealth Club lecture from June 1970 comes a month after the shootings at Kent and Jackson State when outrage was high and answers were few – the fingers were being pointed at the war in Vietnam as the source of alienation and the spiraling of Americas youth into a rabbit hole of addiction and alienation. Somewhere things were going very-very wrong and this generation of youth, coming of age in the 1960s, the largest and most vocal, were demanding a solution or at least some answers. And it started with an end to the Vietnam War.
Those answers weren’t forthcoming – there was handwringing and finger pointing and general dismay – the kids were out of control; they were loud and they were outraged. Parents, educators and politicians; those in positions of authority whose power and influence were waning in the wake of this “youthquake” were throwing their hands up in frustration and anger.
A lot of mis-communication (or non-communication) – a lot of myths, generated by news media and misconceptions brought about by misunderstanding. There were also a lot of expectations; expectations that, once the war in Southeast Asia was over all would return to the days before Tonkin. That the alienation would disappear. That drugs would suddenly vanish from college campuses and the Crew-Cut would be back in vogue.
If only. But fifty+ years later the divide, or a form of it, still exists – the myths, the expectations the misconceptions and the lack of communication – it’s all there. Only the demographics and the circumstances have changed. Certainly the political playing field – at the time, not all Republicans were hawks and not all Democrats were doves – not all was in stark contrast to each other.
The lecturer, Stephen Hess was a figure in the GOP, going back to Eisenhower. He would later (in 1972) join the Brookings Institution. He was also opposed to the war, but like many of his generation, was in that uncomfortable place of being one of “them”. He was however, looking for a solution, an answer and his was a growing voice of dissatisfaction and protest to the way society was turning out.
Questions from the audience during the Q&A session give more evidence of the “us versus them” stance at the time. But it’s an interesting glimpse into the climate of the period – that questions were being asked and that a solution was being sought, even in the midst of a powerful and divisive social climate.
And so it goes.
Here is that lecture, as given by Stephen Hess at The Commonwealth Club of California, broadcast on June 12, 1970.