Sadly, the America currently screening on our television sets, computers, and our phones, is not new to me. It reminds me of the America first revealed through radio, newspapers and stories, way back in the 1950s and 60s.
Angry mobs running, rioting, looting, screaming at police and national guardsmen who sometimes shoot at, and kill them; these images are not new and should not be to others of my generation who were paying attention in the three decades from 1950s to 1970.
And now, in addition to the callous killing of George Floyd, there have more deaths, most of them also African Americans.
In 1970, perhaps the best remembered riots were on the Berkley Campus of the University of Southern California and the bloodiest of all, the Kent State massacre.
The Kent State shootings (also known as the May 4 massacre or the Kent State massacre), were the shootings of 13 unarmed Kent State University students in Kent, Ohio by the Ohio National Guard on May 4, 1970. The killings took place during a peace rally against the expanding involvement of the Vietnam War into neutral Cambodia by United States military forces as well as the National Guard presence on campus. The incident marked the first time that a student had been slain in an anti-war gathering in United States history. [Wikipedia]
Wikipedia records over 60 race, social issue and anti-Vietnam War riots between 1960 and 1970, the busiest years between 1965 and 1970. JFK was assassinated in 1963, Martin Luther King in 1968 and, recently, a grandson has been reported as saying that nothing much has changed since his grandfather fought for African American rights.
Back in the 1960s, when we lived with our grandparents, there were two evil empires often mentioned. The Soviet Union and communist China did not make the list, neither did the crushed and defeated Germany or Japan.
They were, in order, the United states of America, and the Australian state of Victoria.
What? How could that be?
My grandparents never fully fleshed out their reasons for their listings, but I believe at the heart of it was their disgust at perceived greed and monopolistic tendencies.
Victoria, in their view, was the financial capital of Australia. All Australian banks had their headquarters in Melbourne and most of the manufacturing was in that state. Thus, most money earnt then spent in the west, went east. In addition, they took all our finest and brightest brains and, in winter, more importantly, our best Australian Rules footballers.
As for America, it was full of crass, greedy, and corrupt braggards. It could not control itself, it assassinated its Presidents, its Presidents’ brothers, its civil rights leaders, and was full of murdering, drug dealing Mafia and other criminal elements. Not to forget the streets littered with the poor and homeless and sneaky, murdering junkies.
You only had to look at the television and listen to the news. And we did.
In our house, news was sacred. At 7.45am every morning, we did not need to be reminded, the ABC news came on, the volume went up, and we fell into a revered silence.
The news, of course, was mostly bad.
The first war we knew was the Korean War, then the Malayan Emergency against the filthy communists and, in no time at all, we were fighting communists on all fronts – the Cold War, Vietnam War. There were, of course, other wars, which seemed mere skirmishes by comparison – Suez Criss, Civil War in Belgian Congo, Mau Mau Rebellion in Kenya.
There seemed to be plenty of evidence to suggest our greatest enemies were the communists, on several fronts, but, for my grandparents, America remained first and foremost the world’s greatest obstacle to peace and calm.
Television arrived in our holiday house south of Perth about 1959 and we watched plenty of contrived comedies and sitcoms, but it was the dramas that had out attention.
For their attitudes, in part, I blame The Untouchables, that television series with the tough and clean Robert Stack as Elliot Ness. It did not matter how often Ness and his team cleaned up Chicago, when they woke up the next day it was as just as filthy, grimy, seedy, and disgusting, as it had been the day before.
The there was The Fugitive, the tale of a man wrongly convicted for the murder of his wife. He was clearly innocent but in keeping with our view of America, he was hounded the length and breadth of the country by corrupt and evil authorities.
And Sidney Poitier, the handsome, clean, educated black man who could never get through the racism, the victimisation, even when he was the smartest man in every room and even when he moved to London to teach a mob of ratbag school students. We loved Sydney and hated what America put him through.
In the eyes of my grandparents, the clearly un-United States was full of madness, corruption, hatred, greed and evil, and they, like Martin Luther King’s grandson, would say, if they were still with us: “Well, nothing much has changed, has it.”
Footnote 1: As a result of my grandparent’s influence, I had difficulty with Americans until a young, feeble and ill boy arrived at my private boys’ school. He was bullied by the unkindest among us, including a physical education teacher of Hungarian origins who hated Americans because they once imprisoned him in a camp, after capturing him with his cohort, all fully paid soldiers in the German Army. Ronald D was a sad and frightened boy and I did my best to protect him.
Footnote 2: In the 1970s I lived for three years on kibbutzim in Israel and there I met Americans I still love to this day. My fondest memory of my comrades is travelling north with them on a bus when the news of President Nixon’s resignation was broadcast. The bus driver, an Israeli, stopped suddenly on the side of the road and yelled for us to shut up. With the radio turned up loud, the American voice described Nixon leaving the White House and as he did entire bus rose as one to clap, cheer and hug. About 85 percent of us were US citizens and I remember thinking: “If only my grandparents could see this.”