One of the seemingly innumerable culture wars going on in this nation is one over the meaning of the 1960s. In the last few days, we have had reminders of the enduring values of those years.
A few days ago, the Bush administration convinced a judge to lift defense analyst Ernest Fitzgerald’s protected whistleblower status. How he got that status in the first place is a forgotten tale.
On Nov. 13, 1968, Fitzgerald began testifying before the Joint Economic Subcommittee of Congress about cost overruns and technical problems with the C-5A transport plane—and about the conspiracy to conceal the whole mess. After he became president in 1969, Richard Nixon ordered that Fitzgerald be fired. Fitzgerald sued and won and was restored to his job where, for 35 years, he has continued saving the taxpayers’ dollars. He is now 79, and one of the genuine heroes of the 1960s.
The Bush administration, like the Nixon administration, wanted Fitzgerald out of the way, so it stripped him of his staff, removed him from his job, and is trying to shuttle him off to other jobs. The obedient establishment press has, with the exception of Time magazine, ignored the matter.
In a seemingly unrelated matter, this week in San Jose, a sculpture was unveiled to honor two athletes at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. John Carlos and Tommie Smith, who trained at Lake Tahoe for the high-altitude games, accepted their medals in bare feet (to bring attention to the persistence of poverty within the hard-working African-American community), wearing beads (to honor enslaved and murdered blacks), and holding black-gloved fists in the air.
Cowardly officials of the United States Olympic Committee yielded to pressure from the International Olympic Committee (which had failed to cancel the Olympics after the Mexican government had hundreds of students killed 10 days before the games began) and expelled Carlos and Smith. Chicago columnist Brent Musburger called them “black-skinned storm troopers.” Jesse Owens, whose magnificent performance at the Berlin Olympics had denied Hitler a show of Aryan racial superiority, was called in to try to tamp down protests among other African-American athletes in Mexico City.
The reprisals, however, didn’t stop the protests at the Olympics. Ralph Boston, Bob Beamon, Lee Evans, Larry James, and Ron Freeman of the United States and Vera Caslavska of Czechoslovakia all found ways to protest the conduct of their nations.
The London Times headlined its story about the San Jose unveiling, “America finally honours rebels as clenched fist becomes salute.” The story was in newspapers from the Pakistan Daily Times to the Seoul Times to the South Africa Star. A large nation was seen trying to redeem one of its mistakes.
The sculpture in San Jose will stand in stately nobility, a reminder of two gallant men. And with any kind of luck, Ernest Fitzgerald will best another arrogant president and continue serving us all. For those who look for the meaning of those years, here are powerful clues.