1968. It was the height of the Vietnam War, the year of My Lai and the Tet offensive. Student riots in Paris nearly brought down the French government. Soviet tanks put a premature end to Czechoslovakia's Prague Spring.
In the United States, the streets were teeming with antiwar protesters and civil rights demonstrators. Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated within two months of each other. The Democratic convention in Chicago dissolved into chaos. And by the summer, America's cities were in flames.
The world was seething, and for good reason. There was a lot to be angry about. It was a lousy year, 1968.
I was in high school then. I quit the baseball team because, frankly, sports seemed frivolous. In 1968, there were more important things to worry about than perfecting a curveball. All very high-minded and, in retrospect, more than a little pompous. But nearly 40 years down the road I don't regret having done it. My political consciousness was awakened and I was actively engaged in the world around me.
But as bad as things were then, they seem infinitely worse now.
So why aren't the streets clogged with angry Americans demanding to know why their president lied and deceived them so he could attack a country that had absolutely nothing to do with his so-called war on terror? To an extent, we got suckered into Vietnam. We can't make that claim about Iraq. Iraq was the premeditated, willful invasion of a sovereign nation that was threatening nobody. "Saddam Hussein is a prick who treats the Kurds miserably" is no justification. By the principles established by the Nuremberg Tribunal and international law, our president is a war criminal.
Why aren't we marching to demand an end to the illegal surveillance of American citizens by their own government, again under the pretext of waging war on terror? Why do we so blithely surrender our civil liberties -- the very thing that supposedly separates us from other societies -- to the illusion of security? All the high-tech snooping in the world won't stop a determined terrorist from striking. If it could, Israel would be the safest country on earth.
Why aren't irate Americans camping out in the lobby of every newspaper and TV station from coast to coast, demanding that the press reassert the right to perform its single most important function, that of government watchdog? The ghost of Richard Nixon, and a very corporeal Bill Clinton, must be cursing their rotten luck.
Why aren't enraged college students occupying their campus administration buildings, demanding that the United States sign the Kyoto Protocol? Hell, it might already be too late, but is the luxury of driving your mom's SUV really worth the coming dystopian world that you, more than I, will inherit?
Why aren't we storming the battlements of every filthy oil company in America, demanding that their executives be tossed into fetid dungeons for cynically manipulating gas prices while raking in obscene profits?
Why aren't we demanding that religion return to the pulpit, where it belongs, and keep out of the White House and the courts?
In short, where the hell is everybody?
I'll tell you where they are. They're at home, tuning in to root for the next "American idol." They're plugged into their iPods, utterly self-involved and disconnected from what lies just outside their doors. They're spending 25 hours a week playing video games in virtual worlds instead of fighting to save the only world that really matters. They're surfing porn. They're text messaging and e-mailing and scheming to close that next big deal. They're flogging their useless crap on eBay.
All that technology at their fingertips, and they're completely blind. Two terms for George W. Bush? They're deaf and dumb, too.
Bread and circuses. The government and the corporations are giving us bread and circuses to keep us sufficiently distracted so the powers that be can pursue their agendas. Television (flat screens only, please) serves up Donald Trump and Paris Hilton as role models, and gives us the abomination of Fox News, which is more a wolf in sheep's clothing than any Vulpes vulpes you're likely to encounter.
Hollywood only cares about blockbusters, chick flicks and inane buddy movies. Tiresome reality doesn't make for good escapism and, more importantly, it doesn't fill coffers. And George Clooney can't be expected to produce every movie.
Whither the press? Forget it. Britney Spears gets more ink -- and better play -- than global warming does.
Tony Long is copy chief at Wired News.
© 2006 Wired News