The start of the flower child movement is often pegged to the year of 1967 when tens of thousands of young people gathered in San Francisco during the summer to begin a new era in American culture. Actually its beginnings go back to the 1950s with Jack Kerouac and his roving band of beatniks that began a sub-culture opposed to the corporate, statist, capitalist mindset that dominated the cultural mindset of American life. The flower children of the 1960s inherited the beatnik objectives and fine-tuned them. They got their label because many of them, especially the women, often wore floral wreaths, and would hand out flowers to strangers as a symbol of their kindness. Their objective was to create a new society based on peace, love, gentleness, and empathy, in contrast to the hardbitten, and often mean-spirited corporate and Wall Street life style that prevailed in those years.
The thrust of the flower children movement was to create and thrive on communes that would be self-providing. There would be no bosses or underlings in these communes. Instead each individual would put in the necessary effort to grow and harvest the crops, weave the clothes, and build the shelter that was necessary for their existences and that would make the communes self-sufficient. They would live on peace, on love, on pot or LSD, and on rock&roll or folk music. Mind altering drugs such as LSD were a big part of the scene. They were seen as a means to escape the ugliness of life in America at that time. In unison with the flower child movement of those days was a book written by Charles Reich called “The Greening of America” that sold millions of copies. The thrust of that best seller was that a new wave was being established in America that would replace the economic and social mores of those times. Instead of the prevailing ethic of a capitalistic meritocracy, which was based almost totally on a survival of the fittest mentality, a new society was being formed where everyone contributed to the best of their abilities and were then equally rewarded. There would be peace, love and harmony and wars would be a think of the past.
Lifestyles and customs changed in those days as a result of the flower child movement. People wore their hair much longer and clothing fashions were much more radical. Even yours truly had longer hair, a leisure suit with bell bottom trousers, and a belt with a large peace symbol as the buckle. For it was the anti-war thrust of the 1960s that actually created the flower child movement. As the U.S. became more and more involved during the 1960s in fighting the Viet-Cong in the hellhole jungles of Viet-Nam, the anti-war and the related flower child movements began gathering strength and numbers. In those days young men, 20 and older, were routinely subject to the military draft. A young man might be in school or working productively at job he enjoyed, when a draft notice could suddenly wind up in his mail. Report to Fort Dix for 6 months of basic training, and after that we’re going to ship your ass to Viet-Nam where you’ll probably step on a land mine in the jungle and be killed or maimed for life.
Not a very appetizing scenario. Some young men went AWOL to Canada, who was not at war with Viet-Nam, and they were branded as draft-dodgers. Most, however, complied with the draft, with the result that about 58,500 Americans died in those Viet-Namese jungles with thousands more being maimed for life. To say nothing of the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese deaths we caused. Today we are at peace with Viet-Nam with substantial economic trade between the two countries. But back in the late 1960s as more and more troops were being shipped to Viet-Nam, the anti-war and resultant flower child imperatives gained millions of followers. Massive anti-war protests were being held every weekend in Washington, where signs abounded saying “Make Love, Not War.” Ironically, it would take the election of Richard Nixon as president to end that nightmarish war, but also to suck the life out of flower child movement.
Nixon quickly realized that sending more American troops to Viet-Nam was fools gold. Instead he listened to the anti-war protesters and began drawing down the American presence there. It took four long years but Nixon was finally able to extricate the totality of U.S. forces. Of course, this led to a Viet-Cong victory and an American loss, but nobody really cared anymore. The entire country was just grateful that the U.S. was no longer involved. And, in a politically brilliant strategic move, Nixon ended the military draft. Young men (or women) would no longer have to worry that their lives would be enormously disrupted by being drafted into the Army. The U.S. would, henceforth, have an all-volunteer military. But with no war to protest, the anti-war/flower child movement began to wither on the vine. While their communes appeared to be productive for awhile, the entire concept began to seem naive and childish.
Young men and women began moving back into the corporate, dog-eat-dog world that America had known since the industrial revolution. People began cutting their hair back to what was considered normal length, bell-bottom trousers went out of style as did brilliantly colored clothing. The gray-flannel suit of corporate America was back in fashion. By 1980, when Ronald Reagan was elected president, it was like the flower children and the greening of America had never existed.
As for Richard Nixon, despite his huge accomplishments of ending the Viet-Nam war, and opening diplomatic relations with Communist China where none had previously existed, he would have to resign the presidency in disgrace, because of a minor burglary by some Republican thugs, in the Watergate apartment complex in Washington D.C. Strange how history can so vehemently and carelessly smite someone with total disregard for what they’ve accomplished for mankind.