In 1971, the United States was deeply immersed in war in foreign lands, regular antiwar protests were being staged, a devastating earthquake uprooted thousands and publication of leaked government papers was headed for a Supreme Court showdown.
I’m reminded of the French novelist’s observation: The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Of course, the war and the protests 40 years ago involved Vietnam, the earthquake was in Turkey, and it was not Wikileaks, but The New York Times’ publication of the Pentagon Papers that was up for review by the top court.
What’s put me in this retrospective frame of mind is the coming 40th anniversary of the Open Door Bookstore and Gift Gallery in Schenectady. Janet Hutchinson and her staff sent out letters asking people for their recollections of 1971.
As they plan the celebration, they’re researching historical events, names in the news and the cultural milieu of 1971 and asking their customers to participate by providing vignettes, anecdotes and photos to demonstrate “how lives have changed, grown and developed.”
I can’t share any personal anecdotes about Schenectady in 1971 because my first experiences here were in 1972 when I spent the summer covering City Hall in Frank Duci’s inaugural year as mayor..
Before that I was a young reporter working for my hometown newspaper. Nixon was in the White House, and the nation was deeply divided over the war in Vietnam.
Some of the stories I wrote in those days were about young men who died in far-off Asia. Some of them were friends.
I also covered antiwar protests in my hometown. I tried hard not to let my personal feelings show in my reporting.
A year before, the Ohio National Guard had opened fire on protesters and others at Kent State University in Ohio, killing four young people and wounding nine. The tragedy is still vivid in the memories of many Americans.
In May 1971, the Harris Poll reported that 60 percent of Americans were opposed to the war in Southeast Asia.
In June, the Times began publishing the leaked Pentagon Papers, top-secret Department of Defense documents on the United States’ decades of involvement in Vietnam. They contained explosive revelations of the deceptions of the Johnson administration, which had lied not only to the American people but to Congress about the U.S. role in Vietnam.
The Supreme Court, citing the First Amendment, rebuffed the Nixon administration’s efforts to block publication of the Pentagon Papers.
In some ways, the cultural landscape of 1971 was far different from today’s. I wrote stories then on a typewriter. Computers were not in everyday use. Cellphones, as we know them today, were a futuristic concept. The Internet was more than a decade away.
Amtrak began inter-city rail service in the United States that year. In July, Reggie Jackson smacked a powerful home run that took out a transformer on the roof of Tiger Stadium as the American League beat the National League 6-4 in the All-Star game in Detroit.
Jim Morrison of the Doors was found dead in a bathtub in Paris in 1971. The Supreme Court ruled it was all right to bus children to schools away from their neighborhoods to achieve racial balance.
In May 1971, the month the Open Door Bookstore greeted its first customers, Americans huddled around their TV sets to watch the final episode of Jackie Gleason’s “The Honeymooners.”
Irv Dean is the Gazette's city editor. Reach him by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.