The Great Society, Vietnam, and Central Virginia

In the 1960s, while American citizens quarreled and clashed on the home front, American soldiers were fighting a real war in the jungles of Southeast Asia. Their stories—firsthand accounts by Central Virginia’s Vietnam veterans—offer insight into the battles they fought over there and the struggles they sometimes encountered upon their return.

For most of its history, the United States seemed to be characterized by a consensus of opinion about the fundamental principles for which the country stood. Liberty, democracy, and prosperity were hallmarks of a nation founded by upstart colonists who demanded nothing less than freedom from British tyranny and taxation. That is not to say that the American Dream was accessible to everyone. One need only consider the plight of African Americans and other minorities, or of women. Still, throughout American history, the various groups that made up the nation seemed to agree on the fundamental ideals upon which it was founded, and even those who had been marginalized aspired to the same rights and opportunities that were routinely enjoyed by white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant American males. This way of thinking even impacted foreign policy. When the country went to war, it was usually—at least rhetorically—to defend or spread democracy. Despite its faults, most Americans agreed that the United States was the greatest nation on earth.

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About the writer: Michael W. Santos is a professor of history at Lynchburg College and the founding director of its Center for the History and Culture of Central Virginia. This article, which has been edited for Lynch’s Ferry readers, was originally published in the source book for the Center’s six-part public history series, “A Loss of Innocence: America and Central Virginia in the 1960s.” Santos is both an editorial board member and a regular contributor to Lynch’s Ferry. Selections from his recently completed book, A Beacon Through the Years: A History of Lynchburg College, 1903-2003, have appeared in past issues of the magazine. Santos received his B.A. in history from Stonehill College and his master’s degree and doctorate from Carnegie-Melon University.

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