If I remember events, they’re modern history. Thus the 1960s, broadly defined. The class concentrates on a few issues by reading beyond the textbook.

The Right Stuff (also available as a movie) puts the Space Race in the context of an increasingly middle-class White America engaged in the Cold War. Tom Wolfe discerns the peculiarities of test pilots and military communities, the Life magazine image of America, the exaggerated fear of a Soviet Union in fact far behind the US, the desire for heroes.

James Baldwin thought America’s approach to civil rights was affected by the Cold War. It’s hard to advocate freedom and equality abroad while denying them at home. But The Fire Next Time is primarily a brief, beautiful, poignant consideration of the thoughts and feelings of Black people in America. It ends, however, with a warning drawn from an old song: “God gave Noah the rainbow sign, No more water, the fire next time!”

The travails and partial triumphs of the Civil Rights movement encouraged the political social and economic thought of other oppressed groups. Women, who seemed to be regressing from the progress made during World War II in education, employment, etc.,
protested. Gay life left the closet to an unprecedented degree.

Meanwhile, the efflorescence of suburbia and supermarkets, based on and furthering the predominance of the automobile, redefined American life.

After Korea, Viet Nam was where the Cold War got hot for America, as combat troops replaced advisors and the Air Force dropped more bombs than it had done in World War II.

As with the world wars, we look primarily at the home front, though the great devastation was elsewhere. Americans divided, and remained divided, to a degree not seen since the Civil War. For those particularly interested, I recommend (but do not require; it’s over 800 pages) Neil Sheehan’s A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam.

Too many issues worth discussing. Students will probably choose the ones that resonate with them today. Race, Space Race, Vietnam: Black Lives Matter, Bezos, winding down yet another Asian war. Women’s status, LGBTQ issues. A world of automobiles and suburbs (even of country towns). Subverting the Constitution: Nixon’s Watergate “plumbers”; Trump’s “Proud Boys”…

David R Jones has mixed, as well as imperfect, memories.

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