In Part 1 of this continuing post, I wrote about—in addition to the fact that book 5 of The Strongbow Saga is still a good ways from being finished—the problems that we are all now facing and will face in the future due to climate change. As I explained, some dangerous times are coming, and we truly need to pull together—in this country, and also across the world—and help each other in order to face them.
The fact that, in the United States at least, we are currently not doing a good job at all of pulling together and one reason why, plus a bit of history to put our current times within a larger context, is the subject of this installment.
I am 66 years old. There has only been one other period during my life when I have seen this country as divided as it is now. But here’s a little reassurance—as bad as things may seem today, they were far worse then. Here’s a quick overview of that period, the 1960s through the early 1970s, before I discuss our present situation:
The troubles of that period grew mostly out of two ongoing events: the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War, which to some extent was an outgrowth of the Cold War. Although the Civil Rights Movement, in which black Americans began protesting their unequal treatment under the law and in practice in the United States, began in the late 1950s, it gained momentum and public attention during the 1960s as protests grew more frequent and larger, and—particularly in the south—opposition to the movement by the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacists became violent, including by murders of civil rights protestors and bombings of black churches. The violence against blacks led to the creation of the Black Power Movement, which espoused a more aggressive approach than the peaceful Civil Rights Movement, and ultimately led to the rise of armed groups such as the Black Panther Party, who sought to prevent mistreatment of blacks, particularly by the police, through their own threats of armed retaliatory violence.
The most prominent leader of the nonviolent Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King, was assassinated by a white supremacist in 1968. In reaction to the assassination, large scale violent race riots broke out in over 100 U.S. cities. Shocked by the extent of the violence, President Johnson and the U.S. Congress quickly passed the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1968, which added to protections of the earlier Civil Rights Act of 1964.
This period of the country’s history was scarred by other assassinations, as well: President John Kennedy in 1963, and Senator Robert Kennedy, a presidential candidate, in 1968.
The Vietnam War also had its origins during the 1950s, but the major involvement of U.S. forces did not begin until the early 1960s, a period when the tensions between Cold War opponents the United States and the Soviet Union were at a high level, peaking with the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 which brought the two countries perilously close to nuclear war. Initially “sold” to the U.S. public as a necessary fight to stop the global spread of communism, the war in Vietnam was in its early years not unpopular among the American public. However, as the level of U.S. troop involvement—and of casualties—grew, public support for the war began to wane. A turning point occurred in 1968, when the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong launched the bloody Tet Offensive, aimed at overthrowing the South Vietnamese government. Although the offensive ultimately was defeated, U.S. forces suffered heavy casualties, and for a time control of some urban areas was challenged.
Back in the United States, the Tet Offensive, which received heavy coverage by U.S. news outlets, was taken by many as proving that the government’s rosy forecasts about how America was winning the war were false. Widespread protests against the war became more and more common, and at times violent. A low point occurred at peaceful student protest in 1970 at Kent State University in Ohio, during which responding National Guard troops, frightened by the protestors, shot and killed four unarmed students.
Opposition to the war gave rise to a wave domestic terrorism in the U.S., through the formation in 1969 of the radical group known as the Weathermen or the Weather Underground, who conducted a series of bombings, including of the U.S. Capitol in 1971 and the Pentagon in 1972, to protest the war. A similar, but much more violent, wave of domestic terrorism involving murders, bank robberies, kidnappings, and bombings also swept across Italy and Germany during the 1970s, after the formation in 1970 of the left-wing terrorist groups the Red Brigades in Italy and the Baader-Meinhof Gang in Germany.
A major turning of the tide of public opinion against the war occurred in 1971, when a secret Department of Defense history of the Vietnam War was leaked to the New York Times, which began publishing it. The history, which came to be known as the Pentagon Papers, laid out in detail the extent to which the government had been lying to the American people, and even to Congress, about its conduct of the war. The Nixon administration quickly obtained a court order blocking the Times from releasing any more of the Pentagon Papers after their initial articles. In response, the Washington Post then began printing summaries of them. Shortly thereafter, the U.S. Supreme Court threw out the lower court’s order, stating in part that “only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government.”
With the full release of the Pentagon Papers, what remained of the American public’s support for the Vietnam War collapsed. In 1973 the United States pulled the last of its troops out of South Vietnam, which fell very soon thereafter to the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong’s advancing forces.
To culminate the tumultuous period, in 1974 the Watergate Scandal broke, exposing corruption and illegal acts by the Nixon administration, and President Nixon resigned as president to avoid being impeached. As a historical side note, prior to his resignation, Nixon became so enraged and unstable due to the pressures of the unfolding scandal and investigation that many of his top aides, including Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, feared he lacked the sanity to be in charge of the country’s nuclear arsenal, and that he might recklessly start a nuclear war, and made contingency plans to try to block him if he did.
Why, I suspect some may by now be asking, am I telling you this? Why is any of this past history relevant to today? Two reasons. First, as I stated up front, although our country is presently very badly divided and many of our citizens are polarized against each other, things for the most part were much worse during the 60s and 70s than they are today, and we managed to come out of it okay—although we are currently, frighteningly, more in danger of a nuclear war than we have been at any other time in history since the early 1960s, thanks to the dangerously reckless approach our current president has taken to North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons. But second, there is a troubling difference between that period of our history and today, and it is one we all need to be very aware of and concerned about.
Back during the 1960s and 70s, everyone in the United States was, for the most part, operating off of the same set of facts. Many people were still polarized to a very strong degree back then because of differing beliefs, of course, including the white supremacists versus the blacks and their supporters who were fighting for civil rights, and supporters of the Vietnam War versus protestors against it. Opinions differed, at times violently, but what constituted “facts” were generally agreed upon. Back then, we all got our knowledge of the facts from the same news sources: local and national newspapers and the news reports by the three television networks, NBC, CBS, and ABC. For many years, of course, the entire country was misled about the true facts of the war, and those falsities were dutifully repeated by the major news outlets because they believed and trusted the government’s reports. But once the government’s deception began to be revealed, the major news sources all worked to dig out the truth.
This is no longer true today. There are at least two major and widely divergent versions of the facts, of what constitutes reality itself in this country, at play. One version is that presented by all of the major traditional news outlets—those same news sources that existed during the 1960s and 70s, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, the three television networks’ news services, plus CNN, a cable news station founded in 1980—who for the most part agree on what constitutes reality and truth. The other version, the other “reality,” is put forward by various pseudo news outlets, including (and I have no doubt that this will anger, perhaps even enrage, some who read it) the Fox News network, owned by conservative Australian billionaire Rupert Murdoch, plus many conservative commentators on radio, television, and the internet.
I am trying to write this post in as nonpolitical tone as possible, although it is to some extent a politically charged topic. My hope is not to provoke anger or hostility, it is to hopefully stimulate thought and concern. The people of this country cannot learn to pull together again as a nation if the different factions that currently exist cannot even agree on what reality is. Facts are facts. The truth is the truth. There is a reason that long-established newspapers such as the Washington Post and the New York Times have repeatedly won journalism awards such as the Pulitzer Prize. They are devoted to uncovering and disseminating the truth, as they did in 1971 when they exposed the government’s lies about the Vietnam War. And there is a reason the Fox News network does not win major journalism awards: it is devoted to pushing a conservative agenda, including by often slanting the news or, in the case of many of its “editorial commentators” such as Fox and Friends or Sean Hannity, flat-out making things up.
The major news outlets are often accused by conservatives of having a liberal slant to their news presentations. Is it true? I read a very interesting article about a recent study conducted of several major news sources to test that accusation. It found that actually most of the news stories reported by the major outlets, including CNN, the Washington Post, and the New York Times, have a very high level of factual accuracy—and moreover, when these news sources do make mistakes, they are scrupulous at issuing corrections. What this study found is that it is often the facts—i.e., the truth–that have what conservatives would claim is a liberal bias. In other words, when, for example, the major news sources report about global warming, and the overwhelming consensus of scientists around the world that global warming is real, worsening, and is caused by human activity, that is not liberally biased reporting—it’s just the truth. When they report that Republican sponsored legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act would cause tens of millions of our citizens to lose health care coverage, that’s not liberal bias, it’s the truth. And when they report that the recent Republican tax bill, touted as a big gift to the middle class, actually gives huge financial benefits to wealthy, again, that’s the truth.
Believing in separate realities often seems to give rise to tremendous anger. As an example, after my first post in this series, I received an email from a clearly furious individual who identified herself as a long-time, but now former, fan of my novels. The email, which was written with lots of CAPITAL LETTERS for emphasis, railed against me for spreading the “False Narrative” of global warming, and its writer went on to say that she was one of the only 25% of people in this country who actually hold down a job (a very questionable statistic), that she was “Sick and tired of working and supporting the people that don’t work, will never work and expect me…to support them,” and that as to the person I referred to in my post as “ONE IGNORANT MAN…That Man Has and IS SUPPORTED by thousands of hard working people like me AND NOTHING you or the FAKE NEWS say about him will EVER change that fact.” That’s a pretty strong, angry, and far-ranging reaction to a post about the dangers of global warming and our need to pull together to deal with its threats. But her anger stems from this existence of belief in two separate realities. From her perspective, I was not just expressing views contrary to her own, I was questioning the very reality which she chooses to believe in.
How can we ever reach common ground with others who live, or at least believe they live, in a world that is totally different from the world we live in? How can we reach common ground, and pull together, with others who wholeheartedly believe in a reality that actually does not exist, and who believe that the world we live in is a lie, is “fake news”? This is a major challenge we are facing today, one that did not exist during the 1960s and 70s.
To borrow a line from the television show the X Files, the truth is out there. And to again quote the U.S. Supreme Court in the Pentagon Papers case, “only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government,” a problem we are once again facing in the United States. It is important that we all know what the truth is. If you do not already regularly follow the news, please start to do so—and from reliable sources. It is dangerous to make important decisions, such as choosing whom to elect to public office to run our country, based on a reality that actually does not exist. If you are a fan of the Fox News network, please at least also regularly get news from some other sources, such as any of the network news shows, CNN, or the major newspapers. Question why the stories presented are so different. And if you get the majority of your news from Facebook, please just don’t! Facebook itself manipulates the stories you see—you are not in charge. But even more importantly, all of the intelligence services in the United States government agree that Russia has made, and continues to make, widespread use of Facebook and Twitter to circulate false news stories as a means of attacking the U.S., purposely trying to create factions and stir up anger among the American people. The Russians understand that a divided populace makes a country much weaker than a united one, so that is their goal—to weaken the U.S. We need to find common ground and work together, because we are all Americans, and we are all in this together.
To be continued.