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These people aren't Hollywood-hatched ciphers à la Forrest Gump, trekking through each standard station of the '60s cross. These are lives that actual people actually led, each with its own eccentric detours. Even the well-known interviewees--Weatherman terrorist turned Democratic activist Bernardine Dohrn, libertarian folksinger turned conservative congressman Dana Rohrabacher --took unusual paths. If anything, their careers seem stranger than the rest.
None of this is to suggest that SDS and YAF weren't very different groups, or that they weren't generally opposed to one another. Klatch finds several clear distinctions between them--and, within YAF, between the libertarian and traditionalist factions. (Today the word traditionalist has an agrarian aura, but back then it simply denoted support for relatively free markets, the Cold War, and "ordered liberty.") Besides the obvious ideological differences, there are recurrent sociological patterns: Most of the interviewees came from privileged backgrounds, but the leftists tended to come from the highest crust, with the libertarians in turn enjoying more privileges than the trads. Younger radicals were more likely to join the hippie subculture than were those who joined the New Left in the early '60s; libertarians, similarly, were more likely to go psychedelic than traditionalists were.
But these are broad statements, more a background against which people can move than a set of rules that everyone is obliged to follow. And even these generalizations were no doubt fuzzier among '60s youth than Klatch's book implies. Her sample, after all, consists of committed activists, people who were far more ideological than their peers. What about the freshman who flirts with socialism, reads Ayn Rand, and joins a bowdlerized Buddhist group, without committing to any particular vision? What about the hard-working community college student who plans to be a nurse, usually votes Republican--and experiments with LSD? What about the vaguely liberal 20-year-old who goes to peace marches to pick up women? The activists Klatch interviewed helped launch the sweeping social transformations of the past 35 years, putting such notions as cohabitation and gay rights onto the agenda. But it was these other people--less visible and more eclectic--who integrated those changes into everyday life. (And it was they who let other ideas of the era, from rural communes to geodesic domes, rot in history's dustbin.)
There are other inevitable distortions, characteristics that distinguish this book's activists from most of their peers. Most, as I mentioned, came from relatively privileged backgrounds: For more than half, both parents had completed at least some college. Many were raised by people who cared deeply about politics. Only three of the SDSers and one of the YAFers are black. This may be a fair sample of those two organizations, but it does not represent a whole generation.
I don't fault Klatch for this--despite A Generation Divided's sweeping title, most Americans who reached adulthood in the '60s simply lay outside her study's boundaries. But her book opens the door to those other stories, to a near-infinite range of events and intersections that our historical stereotypes ignore. Klatch's book might inspire another scholar to explore those other strains of '60s youth. Or perhaps stories such as Decker's and Tyler's will inspire someone to look for more ideological border crossers of the era--and not just among young people. For instance: It's well established, though rarely remembered, that many of the most militant labor dissidents of the '60s--angry rank-and-filers who thought their unions were too supine--voted for George Wallace.
Pacifism and the Cold War, traditional families and feminism, Reaganism and the counterculture: Klatch's book doesn't dissolve these seeming opposites, but it does force us to consider the unpredictable ways they've influenced each other. The categories we impose on the past aren't as stable as we sometimes assume. History, after all, is not the sum of our theories; it is the sum of our chaotic lives.
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