Working on a nonfiction book has allowed me to reexamine a period in history that I actually lived through. The setting of this book is 1969 to 1972, a time that I remember vividly and thought I understood. In 1968 as a sixteen year old high school junior, I had gone to the Maine Democratic Convention as one of the McCarthy Children and cried when he was pushed aside by Humphrey. I thought I was aware of what was going on with the Vietnam War in 1969 as I watched reports of body counts and failed peace negotiations on the evening news. In 1972, I watched some POWs disembark from a plane at Kennedy Airport and hoped the event heralded a big move toward peace. A half a century later, I am dumbfounded by how much I didn’t know about what was actually happening. I wonder if others feel the same as more is now being written, or dealt with in films, about this time in our history. Books and films are still being made about World War II that tell us new things about it. It worries me how little we as average people really know what is happening politically now in our country.
Do many of us really understand that things are happening at a federal, or sometimes local, level behind closed doors that are only open to a chosen few? Politics is about competition, and many things are done to win elections. Once presidential papers have been made public years later, we learn moves were made secretly, not to help bring a war to an end or bring aid to a certain group of people, but to grab a presidential election. We have come to accept the fact that prominent people often say one thing in public and do the opposite in private.
Media spin is now a commonly accepted fact of life. Has it always been, and no one talked about it? If you have personally never been misquoted in some form of media, you are fortunate. I attended a conference in the mid-1970s as a head teacher of a Head Start program. I was in a group discussing methods of safety restraints and which ones perhaps went too far. Another teacher talked about a mother tying one hand of her preschooler to a counter to keep her away from a hot stove where she was canning. The rope used was long enough for the child to play with toys around her. Teachers in the circle had mixed feelings about the example. I said anything can be detrimental to a child if done for too long. I cited an example of a mother who put her young child in a playpen for hours every day. People seemed to agree that common sense was always needed, and we went on to a different example. A day later in the Sunday edition of the local newspaper, the conference was reported with the headline, “Local Head Start Head Teacher Says Playpens Are Abusive.” It then went on to name me. I had some explaining to do to the county director of the Head Start Program the next day. Since then, I questioned media quotes of well-known people.
Along with recognizing the influence of friends and coworkers, I am old and wise enough now to realize that my perspective about a period of time is affected by my experiences, socio-economic status, and political persuasion. For example, what is happening to one social-economic group sometimes has no effect on other groups. Many people are beginning to examine the fact that inequities abound in our country in many facets of life. In the last presidential campaign, I read the phrase “evidentiary truth” in many different places. I immediately thought whose evidence and from what political persuasion and socio-economic strata was this person or people who attained this evidence? Even firsthand accounts of the same event can be witnessed very differently. With the hindsight of fifty years after the Vietnam War, I am reliving three years writing this book with new eyes and different views of notable people of that time. It’s compelling albeit somewhat disconcerting.