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Prof. discusses racial conflicts, lasting national legacy of 1965

James Patterson analyzes the impact of 1965, from the Vietnam War to the civil rights movement

Students, faculty members and community members alike huddled in the corner of Brown Bookstore Monday evening to hear Professor Emeritus of History James T. Patterson discuss  his new book, “The Eve of Destruction: How 1965 Transformed America.”

Patterson began by playing a recording of “Eve of Destruction,” the 1965 song by Barry McGuire that inspired the title of the book. Patterson described the song as the first clearly topical anti-war and anti white racism song and as “an anthem for a young generation of rebels.”

Using the themes of the tune as a segue to the focus of his lecture, Patterson emphasized 1965 as the first of the tumultuous years that historians typically use to characterize “the 60s.”

Patterson centered his attention on the disparity between Americans’ hopeful expectations entering 1965 and the often-ignored events that foreshadowed disaster. Examining the contemporary spirit, Patterson read a statement delivered by President Lyndon Johnson at the 1964 Christmas Tree Lighting — “these are the most hopeful times in all the years since Christ was born in Bethlehem.”

Despite the passage of the Voting Rights Act, Medicare, Medicaid, Clean Air Act, the Water Quality Act and Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Patterson stressed that Johnson’s “Great Society” in 1965 had its flaws.

“All this legislation, Great Society legislation … led people to want more. This was particularly true of young people and those in the Civil Rights Movement,” Patterson said.

“Race relations was a problem” as well, Patterson said, noting riots erupting in Los Angeles ghettos and that a staggering 47 percent of blacks at the time lived in poverty according to federal standards.

In addition to domestic turmoil, Patterson highlighted developing conflicts on the global scene. As early as February and March of 1965, Johnson escalated American military involvement in Vietnam with Operation Rolling Thunder, beginning a bomb campaign in South Vietnam in retaliation for attacks on American soldiers. Americans remained mostly ignorant of Johnson’s foreign policy.

That same year, Johnson said “we are not about to send American boys 9 or 10,000 miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves.” But in 1969, more than 500,000 American troops were still in Vietnam.

Patterson said he felt sorry for Johnson. The president had a reputation for secrecy, he said, but “the thing about most presidents, you know, I feel very strongly about this — they don’t tell us anything.”


An previous version of this article incorrectly stated that in his Feb. 5 lecture at the Brown Bookstore, Professor Emeritus of History James Patterson said that “more than 500,000 Americans returned in caskets” from Vietnam and that columnist Art Buchwald wrote a piece “thanking God” Lyndon Johnson was president in 1965. In fact, Patterson said more than 500,000 U.S. troops were still in Vietnam when Johnson left office in early 1969. He also did not say Buchwald’s column thanked God for Johnson’s presidency. In fact, Patterson explained Buchwald’s column satirized Johnson and noted that his escalation of U.S. involvement in Vietnam was similar to a proposal advocated in 1964 by Johnson’s pro-war opponent, Sen. Barry Goldwater, R-AZ. The Herald regrets the error.



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