By way of background to what follows, I wondered this morning jotting a diary entry how I would view this election day if I were thirty-five rather that double that number plus. To check on this I looked back to 1971, the year when I was that age. Nixon was President and Vietnamization was then in full swing. Vietnamization? The word stopped me for a minute before memories stirred. Oh, yes. There had been that disastrous North Vietnamese offensive, back in 1968—the Tet. It shook the U.S. Government enough so that Nixon launched Vietnamization as a consequence. The word meant that Vietnamese, rather than U.S. forces, should take over the war effort there. We’d engage in training them. Ah, perspective. When a war begins to fail, turn it over to the locals. We’d learned to do that for the first time ever in the Vietnam War. I don’t recall Europeanization ending either of two world wars, nor Koreanization during Truman’s “police action,” so called, that came later.
No elections took place in 1971, so I checked back to 1970. In the midterm elections of that year, the Democrats gained nine seats in the House and lost one in the Senate. Before the elections they’d dominated both houses of Congress; after it, they still did. The GOP gain of a seat in the Senate was the first sign of Nixon’s “Southern Strategy.” Did Democratic victories signal Nixon’s doom in 1972? They did not. The Southern Strategy came of age two years later, and Nixon won by a landslide. He carried every state but Massachusetts and the District of Columbia; the U.S. map was a uniform red.
Still, it was a different sort of time, at least as I recall it. Neither government nor public had as yet become as sharply divided in ideology. We were active in space. Apollo 14, the third successful lunar mission, landed on the Moon in 1971. The Cold War was still a reality. Vietnam was issue One. Unknown to all but a handful of the 208 million inhabitants of the United States then, the first e-mail message ever sent passed between two computers that were part of the Internet’s precursor, the ARPA-NET.
After a while, staring at screens, I came to the conclusion that, at thirty-five, I was very actively engaged in the world, then living in Washington, DC and by the hour that my diary jottings were taking place today I would have been in very thick traffic making my way downtown. World and current affairs were much more in the background then for me, forced out of view by things to mind and lists to work. I had virtually no time to contemplate the times. But the seeds of today, back then still the future, were already sprouting.