To what extent did the role of the Johnson Administration play in the manifestation and growth of the counterculture?

Part A: Plan of Investigation

In the 1960-70s after World War II, a new youth culture emerged in America that focused on ideals of protest and rebellion, leading to a creation of the culture phenomenon known as counterculture. This post-war ‘baby-boomer’ generation is recognized for having changed the path of American politics to create the new liberal society. To what extent did the role of the Johnson administration play in the manifestation and growth of the counterculture? In order to evaluate the American government’s significance, the investigation evaluates characteristics of counterculture, the role that the Lyndon B. Johnson administration played in fostering and further developing such characteristics, as well as the administrations response to protests and uprisings. Two important sources used in the investigation are What They Didn’t Tell You About the 60’s by Mike Wright and 1968 in America: Music, Politics, Chaos, Counterculture, and the Shaping of a Generation by Charles Kaiser.


Part B: Summary of Evidence

Characteristics of the beginnings of Counterculture

Much of the inspiration of American Counterculture was found in the Czechoslovakian Prague Spring, a movement that showcased how people anywhere could change their country’s leader overnight (Kaiser 152). With the Bay of Pigs scandal and the Cuban Missile Crisis under Kennedy, the youth already started questioning the government. “College campuses became centers of debate and scenes of protests as the country became more involved in the Vietnam War” (Wright 20). The value of human life was the main concern of these anti-war groups, they chanted things such as “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids have you killed today?” (Wright, 35). Young Americans took on a stage of rebellion as new morals, lifestyles, thinking and music replaced the consumer society of before (Wright 40). Drug culture grew after the war baby boomers grew into the hip generation of the 1960’s. “LSD was the countercultural sacrament, the ritual communion for and evolving consciousness and community” (Farrell 210). In 1967, a period known as the Summer of Love was in full swing on Haight-Ashbury Street in San Francisco, hippies had demolished gender roles by this time and everything was peace and love (Bawer 43). Later, rock and roll increased in popularity and was considered by many historians as to not only bring the people out of the depression after the Vietnam War, but also have far-reaching political influence. (Kaiser 191). Radio of the old days faded as the television gained popularity, spreading the same music and icons across the country. “On FM [radio], people heard what AM radio wouldn’t play: albums and long tracks, songs too controversial to pass the AM censors, and music too political for the programming of commercial radio” (Farrell 211).

Uprisings and Government Involvement

The first major riot of the decade was in 1965 in Los Angeles’ black ghetto of Watts. Twenty-five carloads of officers were eventually on the scene. After 5 days and 34 deaths, 41 people had been arrested, and property damages totaled $45 million (McKay 45). 1966 marked violence in Chicago, San Francisco, Cleveland, Atlanta, Omaha, Brooklyn, Lansing, Jacksonville, Baltimore, and Grenada. In 1967, 4000 people were injured and at least 90 died in more than 120 riots (Wright 45). In another instance in 1967, a Detroit illegal pub was raided which eventually turned into a full out riot and after a lot of petty political drama, President Lyndon Johnson replied with 47 more paratroopers (Wright 45). The best-known protest was at Columbia University in 1968, a protest for civil rights that led to 722 arrests and 148 injuries. Columbia University was again occupied a couple weeks later as 300 took over Hamilton Hall. The police were sent by Kirk and led to 177 more arrests and 68 injuries, including some policemen (Kaiser 162).


During the Lyndon B Johnson Administration

Johnson’s Great Society was created in order to help the people, as the program was considered the start of the “War on Poverty” (Bawer 70). The programs spent only $53 dollars on the poor, spending $322,000 for each enemy killed, an action that Martin Luther King and thus, the counter culture movement didn’t support (Wright 47). Johnson’s Great Society programs also showed the scope and capability of the government (O’Neil, 74). 1968 was the most pivotal year in American history as it was nearly the end to the liberalism Johnson stood for (Kaiser 42). Later into 1968, Johnson gave up plans for and the nation continued on its rebellion—losing the optimism that the early 1960’s had (Kaiser 253).

Part C: Evaluation of Sources

Mike Wright’s What They Didn’t Teach You About the 60’s was published in 2001. A man who lived through the era, adding his own personal opinions throughout his book, Wright is an Emmy-winning television writer.. His purpose of the book was to tackles the decade in which America “changed forever, for better or for worse” (Wright). His book does provide a lot of value in accumulating research in that at many points throughout the book, he injects his own personal experiences with the events of history, making it not only easier and informative, but more entertaining for the reader. His bibliography is nearly eleven pages long, drawing from all types of media such as books, newspapers, wire service reports, magazines and more. He was able to easily write the details and sentiments of society in the 60’s and provides insight on more personal details that don’t appear elsewhere. However, although helpful in some aspects, Wright’s book did have limitations, as it didn’t focus much on Lyndon B Johnson or politics. As he wrote about the 60’s from the 60’s, his book didn’t provide any big picture connection or any relate to the grand scheme of the events he was discussing. His book also rounded its statistics, often distorting data to seem more or less dramatic.

1968 in America: Music, Politics, Chaos, Counterculture, and the Shaping of a Generation by Charles Kaiser was published in 1988. Kaiser has various different ties to the counter culture movement, having studied at Columbia University as a freshman in 1968 and serving as a volunteer in the McCarthy campaign in Connecticut. He was a former media editor of Newsweek, where he won a Silurian Award and also worked for the NY Times and Wall Street Journal. Kaiser’s purpose of writing this book was to “try to understand the impact of a single year when so many grew up so quickly” (Kaiser). The value of this book is incredible in that it provides specific statistics and quotes from a multitude of different opinions on the same topic, as well as his own very educated opinion on topics. Kaiser gets as many viewpoints as possible into his work and succeeded in giving the reader a holistic view of the chaos of 1968. The limitation of this book, however, is that although it mentions counterculture in its title; it fails to effectively touch on the topic, focusing far more on the politics of the year rather than the social movement.

Part D: Analysis

The counterculture movement, although not something unusual in its nature, was very unique in the fact that it was the first movement of its kind in the United States. The movement was inspired by the desire for change in America after seeing the pitiful and hopeless status of the Vietnam War. The people were angry at the inability of the government to be a voice of the people, because at the time, the draft pulled many of the youth off into the hopeless battle. Anger was directed at the government in the one way the people could fight—rebellion.

The 1960’s began peacefully with the rise of hippie culture. As mentioned before, drug culture grew, the “Summer of Love” (Grunenberg)was in full swing and promoting peace and love, and the radio, which was growing in popularity, now broadcast these same ideas through music and love across the country (Bawer 43). However, the start of 1960’s, also known as the counterculture era, was under the Kennedy Administration. After Lyndon B Johnson was inaugurated in 1963 and began his Great Society programs and ‘war on poverty’ in 1965, is when the American society began to deter into rebellious counterculture (Johnson).

The Great Society programs involved improve the lives of all Americans, and focusing on security, opportunity, and cultural enrichment. Around this same time, youth activists in the budding counter culture movement chanted outside of the White House, “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids have you killed today?” (Wright 35) in response to the Vietnam war. The youth involved in the counterculture movement placed a huge value on human life, which is one of the reasons it vehemently protested the war and the many lost in the war’s casualties. Due to this high value on human life and thinking about the people, it would seem surprising that so many of the youth activists protested the Great Society, but research had shown that the programs spent only $53 dollars on the poor, spending $322,000 for each enemy killed (Wright 47). This was something that the counterculture movement did not support and thus made the entire Great Society program problematic for the youth of America to accept.

Along with that, the programs far-reaching efforts showed that the government under the Johnson administration wielded great scope, size, and power—another thing that the youth, and thus the counter culture movement, didn’t appreciate. The Great Society program became a focused issue that the youth movement could protest against to make some kind of a difference in the society and with the government, because the main purpose of the movement was to create change.

Although the Great Society programs seem to be an important catalyst for the changes in the 1960’s, many historians believe that it wasn’t solely Johnson’s Administration that led to the problems manifested in the counterculture movement. John C McWilliams mentioned in his book that he believes it was not just one event that sparked rebellion throughout the country but rather many that began even with Kennedy (McWilliams 97). The mistrust in the government brought on by scandals like the Bay of Pigs and tense situations such as the Cuban Missile Crisis changed the way that Americans felt about the government, and in turn made them even less receptive and optimistic about new problems and ideas.

In the end, the counterculture movement happened to create a change in the government and in society from the way that it was being, because the people were not happy with it. It showed the possibility for the common people to inflict some kind of change in their democracy and shows how a government can push its people to the edge.

Part E: Conclusion

The Johnson administration and the Great Society programs implemented under it were important to the manifestation and growth of counterculture; however, it was not the sole thing to bring on the movement. The roots of the counterculture movement began with the desire to bring change, and change was something needed in American society even before Lyndon B Johnson stepped into office. The government’s closed off nature and the effects of the Vietnam War on the everyday society is what brought the desire for change and that is what contributed to the growth of counterculture. Thus, the role Johnson administration affected the manifestation and growth of the counterculture to a minimal extent.



Part F: Sources and Word Limit

Bawer, Bruce. The Victims’ Revolution: The Rise of Identity Studies and the Closing of the Liberal Mind. New York: Broadside, 2012. Print.
Farrell, James J. The Spirit of the Sixties: Making Postwar Radicalism. New York: Routledge, 1997. Print.
Grunenberg, Christoph, and Jonathan Harris. Summer of Love: Psychedelic Art, Social Crisis and Counterculture in the 1960s. Liverpool: Liverpool UP, 2005. Print.
Johnson, Lyndon B. Lyndon B. Johnson: Containing the Public Messages, Speeches, and Statements of the President, 1963-64. Washington: U.S. Govt. Printing Office, 1965. Print.
Kaiser, Charles. 1968 in America: Music, Politics, Chaos, Counterculture, and the     Shaping of a Generation. New York: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1988. Print.
McKay, George. The Social and (counter)cultural 1960s in the USA, Transatlantically. Publication. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.
McWilliams, John C. The 1960s Cultural Revolution. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2000. Print.
O’Neill, William L. The New Left: A History. Wheeling, IL: Harlan Davidson, 2001.Print.
Singleton, Carl, and Rowena Wildin. The Sixties in America. Pasadena, CA: Salem, 1999. Print.
Wright, Mike. What They Didn’t Teach You about the 60s. Novato, CA: Presidio, 2001. Print.


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