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8-10-2015, 15:54

Counter-cultures and the Cold War

Betty Friedan’s famous attack on domesticity was about more than feminism. Her words captured an emerging revolt against authority around the world. Unlike most prior resistance to the dominant Cold War ideas and policies, this rebellion came from within - from the universities, the literary circles, and even the bedrooms of mainstream society. This was Friedan’s central insight. Those who appeared to benefit most from the politics of the time were dissatisfied. They were empowered, because of their social centrality, to

Korea, USSR, box A6, Kissinger-Scowcroft Files, Gerald Ford Presidential Library, Ann Arbor, Michigan. See also memorandum of conversation between Leonid Brezhnev, Anatolii Dobrynin, Henry Kissinger, etal., Moscow, October 26,1974, 7:iopm-io:20 pm, ibid. These two documents are also reprinted in William Burr (ed.), The Kissinger Transcripts (New York: New Press, 1998), 327-55.

56  "Basic Principles of Relations between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics," May 29,1972, repr. in The U. S. Department of State of Bulletin 66 (June 26, 1972), 898-99.

57  See Jeremi Suri, Henry Kissinger and the American Century (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007), esp. i97-248.

Demand more. They were motivated, because of their rising expectations, to reject cultural limitations.

In the 1960s and 1970s, an international counter-culture, comprising countless local groups, exposed the problem that had no name. The counter-culture challenged not only existing authority, but also the basic assumptions about the "good life" that underpinned social order. The Cold War policies condemned for stagnating social change actually encouraged and legitimized this counter-culture. State leaders sponsored education and innovation for more effective competition against international adversaries. They also made broad ideological claims that they could not fulfill. Citizens, particularly privileged young citizens, now had the means and the motivation to challenge their leaders for failing to meet their stated goals. In nearly every major society, men and women asked why government policies did not produce the promised outcomes, why their country was falling short. A wide spectrum of citizens - from street protesters to members of the "Silent Maj ority" - questioned not just the competence of their leaders, but also their values.

This was the central contradiction of the Cold War between 1965 and 1975. The pressures for international competition inspired domestic contention. As states built external strength they diminished their internal cohesiveness. Observers frequently treat the social history of the counter-culture as something separate fTom the political history of the Cold War, but the two were, in fact, deeply intertwined. Cold War ideas, resources, and institutions made the counter-culture. The counter-culture, in turn, unmade these ideas, resources, and institutions. The backlash against the counter-culture furthered this process by contributing to widespread violence and division. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Cold War became more stable in traditional areas of great power conflict, but it grew more disruptive within societies.

Although the counter-culture did not revolutionize the world, it exerted a powerful influence on Cold War policies. Leaders abandoned grand ideological projects and turned to promises of "law and order." At home and abroad, they emphasized rationality and reasonableness. Detente rejected the old political assumptions as well as the radical calls for something new. The counter-culture was both a product of the Cold War and an agent in its transformation.