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Vietnam/The Sixties 2, Introduction

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The Vietnam War and the Sixties - A Catalog

        We have issued catalogs in this area before, and in doing so now I am again struck by how much of the significant material from that period falls outside the realm that we usually consider “literature.” To be sure, there have been serious literary efforts to capture essential elements of the Vietnam war or the experience of that time we refer to as “the Sixties.” But much of what conveys most effectively the spirit of those times does not fall easily between the covers of a book -- the music, the sounds, the sights. Accordingly, we’ve broadened the usual scope of our catalogs, to include material that in some significant way brings those times and places to life. There are records, posters, photographs, artwork, even a Laotian quilt, in this catalog.
        As much as the events of that time have been scrutinized, analyzed and judged by any and all, there remains an aspect of that period that seems to me deeply mysterious. There is something about the literature of the times that is always startling, almost shocking: contrary to what one would expect from the peace-and-love counterculture and the horrific military experience in Vietnam, the literature of the time often defies prediction. The Vietnam books, both novels and memoirs, are remarkably full of tenderness, love, loss; the counterculture volumes are often more strident, militant and angry than one expects. And, most interestingly, there seems to be a common ground where they intersect, in coincidences that have still not been fully understood or explored: the Buddhism and oriental mysticism that influenced the counterculture, and the Buddhism that was pervasive in Vietnam; the protests against the war, both from within the military and from outside it; the drugs that colored, and linked, experiences that were literally worlds apart.
        Much of this catalog amounts to an exploration of those areas. Where the literature of the time has left its mark, one can find the roots of our present-day attitudes, including some of the truths that today seem self-evident but were not always thus. It seems important not to attempt to sit in judgement on that era but rather to try to recognize and respect the perspectives that grew out of difficult times, and which now help inform our present views. The Sixties -- here taken to mean approximately the decade from the assassination of John F. Kennedy in November, 1963, to the resignation of Richard Nixon in August, 1974, and which coincides with the massive buildup of American troops in Vietnam and their ultimate withdrawal -- were a time of tremendous turmoil and upheaval, in American society and around the world. Much changed during those years, and while critics of various persuasions can argue about whether the changes were for the better or for the worse, they are nonetheless our legacy, and the events of those times helped shape and define the new world that we have entered since. A glimpse of that legacy is visible here, in the books and artifacts of the period. I hope you find it an interesting journey.

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