When I returned to the States from Berlin in 1969, one of the most distressing developments I discovered was that America had become so polarized by the tactics of President Nixon and Vice President Agnew that it couldn’t embrace intelligent debate and disagreement. The law of the land, as proclaimed through signs, bumper stickers and prevailing attitudes, was “America: love it or leave it.” Agnew went around the country whipping up anger against Vietnam war protestors while New York City police stood by as hard hat construction workers beat up people whose views they felt unacceptable.
It was a scary time to be living in America. It showed what a fear monger like Agnew could do. And it culminated in the Kent State Massacre on May 7, 1970, when Ohio State National Guardsmen confronted a group of students protesting the Vietnam War. Firing 67 rounds over a period of 13 seconds, they killed four students and wounded nine others, one of whom suffered permanent paralysis.
I was stationed in Washington, DC, at the time. Even though I was an active duty soldier, I participated in a number of protests, facing off with armed military personnel at one time and on another occasion circling the White House, placing candles all along the wall surrounding it.
I felt then and have over the some 40 years since that a country that quashes dissent is a country in decline. The policy of “love it or leave it” is a policy that is best left to South American dictators.