Lyndon Johnson was elected in a landslide in 1964 and was selected by Time as "Man of the Year." GDP growth was an astounding 25% as unemployment dropped to 4% and inflation hovered at 1%. During the National Christmas Tree lighting ceremony on 12/18, the President reflected the expansive mood in the US when he said, "These are the most hopeful times in all the years since Christ was born in Bethlehem." The country was united, prosperous and at peace.
Yet by September, American troops were fighting an offensive, undeclared war in Vietnam. LBJ had launched Operation Rolling Thunder on March 2 which would ultimately drop more explosive tonnage on Vietnam than had been unleashed on all of Europe in World War II. The largest peace demonstration in US history had been held in April. South American countries were protesting American military intervention in the Dominican Republic. The press was angered at the administration's evasiveness. Blacks felt that civil rights legislation was moving too slowly while conservatives were angered by Great Society initiatives.
In September, singer Barry Maguire released "Eve of Destruction" which reached the number one spot on 9/25 and stayed in the top 20 for 8 weeks. The song struck a raw nerve as Maguire asked, "Can't you feel the fear that I'm feelin' today?" Time Magazine observed that youth's rallying cry had changed from "I want to hold your hand" to "I want to change the world." Todd Gitlin suggested that the song "seemed to certify that a mass movement of American young was upon us."
Author James Patterson has written a convincing description of a year that seemed to transform America from an Age of Camelot to Days of Rage. He argues that while the iconic events of the sixties occurred at the end of the decade, their basis was established in 1965. He quotes journalist Nicholas Lemann who observed in 1991 that "the 1960s turned as if on a hinge" in the summer of 65.
Patterson traces the impact of the war in Vietnam, Great Society legislation, the civil rights movement and changes in popular culture in charting this remarkable transition from an era of good feelings to the eve of destruction. He remains focused on the giant and ultimately tragic figure of Lyndon Baines Johnson.
Eve of Destruction is a concise, compelling read. The book moves quickly between facts, avoiding value-laden arguments while demonstrating how quickly the mood in the country shifted as LBJ's political capital eroded. Patterson meets the challenge of distinguishing between what was known at the time and what we have come to believe in retrospect, as with the development of youth as a specific generation with a shared consciousness. The author is aware that the events he describes have implications for today's political scene but wisely leaves most of these conclusions for the reader to draw. The resulting history manages to elucidate without trying to influence unduly.
I enjoyed this book and recommend it to both history buffs and to persons with interest in current affairs.
on November 24, 2012
Patterson's look back at 1965 primarily focuses on three issues: Vietnam, LBJ's "Great Society" and civil rights. He brings these issues together into his main thesis which is that 1965 was both the peak of the Great Society -- and of our belief in government -- and the year that set the stage for what we think of as the turbulent 60's.
1965 began with about 23,000 "military advisors" in Vietnam and ended with 185,000 combat troops on the ground. Even though President Johnson privately acknowledged that a military victory was unlikely, he escalated the war and did so while being untruthful with the American people. 1965 sowed the seeds for the "credibility gap" that helped disenchant many people with government.
In part, LBJ tried to keep his actions in Vietnam quiet because he was afraid the truth would upset his ambitious and expensive legislative agenda. Viewing Congress today, it's hard to believe the incredible quantity of significant legislation that was passed in 1965: Medicare/Medicaid, education reform (ESEA), immigration reform, the "War on Poverty" and, of course, the Voting Rights Act -- just to name a few!
As a political pro, Johnson knew he had limited time to get his bills passed before he would become "Lame Duck Lyndon", but this lead to hasty action. Legislation was passed quickly, but some of the new initiatives were flawed and the flood of bills created administrative overload and confusion. Johnson over promised and then under delivered, building disappointment and frustration among people who were becoming more and more rights-conscious.
It was in the area of civil rights that Johnson achieved greatness. Patterson traces events from March's "Bloody Sunday" at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma to signing of the Voting Rights Act in August. He shows that despite progress, the civil rights movement was starting to fragment as the continued value of non-violence was being questioned and civil rights leaders began to address the impact of both poverty and the war in Vietnam. Specifically, events such as the Watts Riots (just 5 days after the Voting Rights Act was signed) made it clear that economic opportunity was as important as the right to vote.
The only weak points in the book are where Patterson looks at pop culture in an effort to illustrate the changes taking place in society. Despite naming his book after "Eve of Destruction", the great song performed by Barry McGuire, Patterson's comments about pop culture feel a bit forced. He is on much firmer ground when discussing the political & military arenas.
Overall I enjoyed this very informative, well written and thoughtful book.
As the year 1965 dawned the American people were feeling pretty good about themselves and the nation at large. They had begun to put the horrific events of November 22, 1963 behind them and looked forward to a peaceful and prosperous year ahead. On the surface at least all appeared to be copacetic. Lyndon Johnson was at the peak of his popularity and declared that the nation that he led had "no irreconcilable differences". It was his intention to continue to advocate for the progressive agenda he so firmly believed in. But in the first few weeks of 1965 a series of unforeseen events would begin to spiral out of control that would eventually cut into to Johnson's popularity and ultimately cost him his Presidency. The noted historian and author James T. Patterson believes that 1965 was a watershed year in American history and has documented all of the major events of that tumultuous year in his sterling new book "The Eve of Destruction: How 1965 Transformed America". For those of us who lived through it "The Eve of Destruction" serves as a stark reminder of just how transformative 1965 turned out to be.
No one can argue that Lyndon Johnson was a savvy politician who knew how to get things done. His legislative agenda for 1965 was ambitious to say the least. Over the course of the year the largely Democratic Congress would pass a host of important bills including the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Voting Rights Act, immigration reform, Medicare and Medicaid, the Higher Education Act while also creating the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. But despite all of his successes racial divisions were beginning to rear their ugly heads. On March 7 a protest by civil rights activists in Selma, Alabama turned violent when police attacked the demonstrators. What would become known as "Bloody Sunday" would unleash bottled-up racial tensions and resentment in cities all across America. Black Americans were becoming impatient and with very good reason. Later on in the year race riots would break out in the Watts section of Los Angeles. And then there was the escalating conflict in Vietnam. Patterson recalls the events that would ultimately cause the President to decide to commit more and more troops to the conflict in Southeast Asia. Ever concerned with his legacy Johnson did not want to be brandished as "the President who lost Vietnam". He reluctantly and very quietly escalated this nation's involvement in the conflict and did so with a minimum of consultation. By April an estimated 15000-25000 people would come to Washington to protest the war. It was at the time the largest peace demonstration in American history. Clearly, it was LBJ's lack of candor with the American people that spawned the anti-war movement in the spring of 1965. Patterson introduces us to all of the major players who were advising the President in 1965 including Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, Secretary of State Robert McNamara and General William Westmoreland and the influence that each of them had on the decisions that were made.
Meanwhile, major changes were beginning to take place in the culture as well. According to Patterson "The spread of social programs in the Johnson years, stimulating ever grander popular expectations had the unintended consequence of intensifying the demands of rights-conscious interest groups in America". Yes, the genie was finally out of the bottle and many might argue that these developments would serve to divide the country in innumerable ways in the decades that followed. 1965 was also the year that American popular music began to evolve as evidenced by Barry McGuire's #1 hit "Eve of Destruction" and The Byrds "Turn, Turn, Turn". By the end of the year it was becoming abundantly clear to most observers that the mood of the country had darkened considerably and that there was no turning back. For better or worse America would never be the same again.
In retrospect, until you stop and focus on a year like 1965 you simply cannot comprehend the monumental impact the events that such a watershed year can have on a society. I found "The Eve of Destruction: How 1965 Transformed America" to be a compelling and fast-moving read that attempts to tie all of these disparate events together and to make sense of it all. Frankly, in some cases you can while in others it is simply not possible. In any event, I will never think of that year in quite the same way again. As it all turned out what transpired during 1965 not only had implications for LBJ's liberal agenda. Indeed, after the tremendous shellacking that Barry Goldwater took in the 1964 Presidential election many would argue that the events of 1965 would help to spawn a conservative renaissance in America. "The Eve of Destruction" would be a great choice for history buffs and general readers alike. There is an awful lot to chew on here. James T. Patterson has certainly succeeded in making history come alive for his readers. Highly recommended!
on January 31, 2013
I found this book interesting, but flawed. If was well researched and readable, and provided many policy insights. I think Dr.Patterson does a very good job of discussing the major issues of the day - Vietnam and (particularly) race relations and the anti-poverty policies of the Johnson administration. The flaw was in the central hypothesis - that the year 1965 was in and of itself a fulcrum for the 1960's. It certainly was a critical year; but so were 1964 and 1966. I think that the author demonstrates that it was an era of much turmoil; and putting it into a year is really kind of a false distinction. And like many graduate papers I have read (and written, unfortunately), it appears that the author tries to squeeze the facts to fit the hypothesis. It might have been a bit more useful to expand on some of the arguments and talk about the mid 60's overall, or the Johnson Presidency as an era.
The other issue is that I thought the treatment of culture was gratuitous. It is mentioned, but only feels in passing. With the title - "Eve of Destruction" - named after a popular protest song, I guess my expectation was that the book would deal with the interaction of popular culture and changing society in a more convincing manner. But it always felt like an afterthought here. I think that a much more effective analysis - albeit about another era - was Halberstam's The 1950's. He managed to give a cultural history which is only mentioned in passing here.
Net Net, an interesting and worthwhile read. But could have been so much more.
on January 17, 2016
A detail-packed short account of a momentous year, a major hinge of U.S. history. A vivid snapshot of a nation shaped and shaken by deep-rooted racism and militarism. If you lived through it, you have forgotten much of it and will be enriched by reading this. If you were born in 1965 (like my daughter) or after, you need to read it to get insight into the dreams & demons that have made our society. And to understand how Lyndon Johnson was both one of our greatest, and most tragic, presidents. Patterson makes good use of the explosion of pop culture as the huge baby-boom generation comes of age -- The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Jefferson Airplane, Barry McGuire ("Eve of Destruction" is iconic of the mood of the period), Phil Ochs, Judy Collins, The Supremes.
on April 13, 2016
This book is for those who were not yet born. It's easy to read, informative and soft. It conveys the lighter side of a fraught, tumultuous, dangerous and lethal time when government conservatives used international murder tactics to achieve domestic control.
on January 28, 2013
I headed two SDS chapters from 1964-1967 while in college and graduate school as a history major, and remember vividly many of the events touched on in the book. So it's especially sad that I found this work to be little more than a superficial review of the watershed events of a year that set the United States on the disturbing and dangerous course towards polarization that we've lived with from the late 60's to today. There doesn't appear to be any original research, with most of the information coming from newspaper clips and a few other secondary sources. No revelations, no brilliant insights. The impact of the drug revolution, which was profound, is hardly noted. And the small but important involvement of the very real and sophisticated communist party propaganda apparatus, both home grown and international, is barely mentioned and, when it is, is simply dismissed as fantasy. The read was especially disappointing, coming as it does from such a distinguished historian.
on February 15, 2015
The 1960’s, for most Americans, have faded into the distant past. But they contained the seeds of so much that is today’s American society and had so many early warning signals of trouble ahead for the American democracy.
James Patterson tackles a wide-ranging view of this epochal era, particularly focusing on one year, 1965, the year that made all the difference to America’s history. This was the second full year of Lyndon Johnson’s presidency, the start of student unrest, rising demands for racial equality, and, most sadly, the entrance of American military forces into Vietnam, a war that would eventually cause the deaths of almost four million humans, including close to 60,000 Americans.
Regrettably, I found this brief book to be of little help in one major respect. American society is quite different today than it was in the 1950’s: arguably more diverse, far more divergent in opportunity and income levels, more inventive, less racially divided (although far more ground on this must be covered), politically less productive, and increasingly less assured in its international position. Each of these changes has a long history and it was with the expectation that Professor Patterson’s approach to this turning point would throw a stronger light on understanding the changes that America is in the midst of today.
I found little of this here. Rather, I had the feeling that Eve of Destruction is a breezy, top of the barrel outline of a tumultuous year taken largely from the pages of popular news magazines of the times, mainly Newsweek and Time. Little solid interpretation of what happened then seems to have few implications for what happened next and next again. This does not strike me as history but rather a digest of news events. The camera seems to focus on events as they were happening and then bounces to the next series of events, largely without a decent pause to reflect on the meaning of all this.
The Eve of Destruction is enjoyable and well written but I wanted more from Professor Patterson who is the winner of the Bancroft Prize, awarded annually for the best work of American history, for his Grand Expectations, a history of America from 1945-74. This is a fine work of summarizing key events in one action-packed year but it is not entirely satisfying as a blueprint for the earliest days of the major changes in America since then.
on January 4, 2013
Patterson does a masterful job of weaving facts and figures about the time and events that significantly eroded America's faith in government with snapshots of a rapidly and radically changing culture. For those of us who came of age in the turbulent '60's, this is a well-written, well researched description on events that shook the country and still reverberate in today's politics and life styles.
on January 10, 2013
This book gave me a new perspective of the turbulent 60's and how society and government changed. The premise that America changed from a rules based to a rights based society was right on. The book gave a clear perspective of the "Great Society" and how it has affected us to this day.