The editor of the Veterans of Foreign Wars' national magazine thinks the media have been irresponsible to throw around the term "defining a generation" as we near the 40th anniversary of the Woodstock Music and Art Fair.
In an article titled "GIs Died While Woodstock Rocked," Richard K. Kolb challenges giving mythological status to the (in)famous concert held Aug. 15-18, 1969. He takes umbrage at concertgoers frolicking in mud while an equal number of soldiers (following in their fathers' footsteps) were crawling through mud to protect the celebrants' freedom to party.
Granted, Pete Townshend's guitar smashing, Country Joe's "We're-All-Gonna-Die Rag," and Jimi Hendrix's feedback-heavy rendition of the National Anthem are all cultural icons of the '60s. And the uninhibited Woodstock attendees did represent a large percentage of the nation's youth, but did everyone born between 1946 and 1964 really walk in lockstep where drugs, sex, and rock and roll were concerned? Mightn't some baby boomers have preferred getting high on life, saving themselves for marriage, and listening to country/classical/gospel/jazz music?
If profiling is bad, can any generation be treated as a single-minded entity? Tom Brokaw's "Greatest Generation" that fought WW II is generally considered to be made up of people who were patriotic, hard working, and loyal to family -- but it had its share of cowards, crooks, and cads.
TV brought the excesses of Woodstock into our homes, but were the questioning of authority, "letting it all hang out," and "telling it like it is" really such distinctive characteristics of a single generation? Socrates, who died in 399 B.C., wrote of children who contradicted their parents. The Roman orgies weren't exactly knitting circles. Courageous American colonists risked their lives to publish the truth.
Did the mellow "flower power" mood of Woodstock really become a permanent part of the psyche of a generation? I'll bet all of you can rattle off the names of people in their fifties and early sixties who could be accused of littering, road rage, and selling out to The Establishment.
Was the "Woodstock Nation" groundbreaking in its anti-war sentiments? Isolationists fought to keep the U.S. out of World War II. Every armed conflict has had its detractors. Jesus Christ and his early followers were pacifists as far as earthly conflicts were concerned.
Woodstock gave a (sporadic) platform to women's lib, ecology and other issues, but was it really unprecedented in its idealism and progressive thought? Many of the concertgoers were nurtured by professors born during the Warren G. Harding administration! Dwight Eisenhower (born 1890) warned of the military-industrial complex. Jackie Robinson (born 1919) broke color barriers when the first Baby Boomers were in diapers.
The American, French, and Russian revolutions all came and went without the boomers. The Voting Rights Act, child labor laws, women's suffrage, the national parks system, the United Nations, and campaigns for and against alcohol were all spearheaded by older generations. The ebb and flow of morality, political activism, and public modesty are part of mankind's entire history.
I come neither to canonize nor demonize Woodstock. I just want it kept in perspective. Although I do enjoy some of the mythology. Like the story about the giant wooden horse that was rolled into the compound so a strategically-placed Lawrence Welk could drop out under cover of night and...
Note: Danny Tyree, who was 9 years old at the time of Woodstock, welcomes e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.