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The extended interview spanning over two hours with Mrs. Betty Simpson painted a vivid picture of the last 74 years she has lived. Mrs. Simpson had seen it all in America, beginning with the Second World War up to the election of the first African American President in the U.S., and the recent coming into power of Donald Trump as the 45th American President who courts so much controversy. Through the conversation, I learnt that Mrs. Simpson’s life experience span through decades of events and occurrences that have shaped American cultures, political systems and foreign policy. It was at this point that I decided to target specific experiences. Thus, the interview settled on three major topics comprising of: Reagan presidency, Vietnam War and the 1950s American culture. However, even with the limits of the interview well demarcated into the three specified areas, there was no stopping Mrs. Simpson from drifting and touching on other experiences of America that have stood out in her life, which extends to over seven decades now. Born in 1943, Betty Simpson was just in for the worst period of the American history in the modern times, the Second World War. Although it occurred when she was just a child slightly over two-and-a-half years old, she later came to understand what disaster it was to the nation. Worse still, the end of the Second World War was to be followed by the onset of the Cold War, Vietnam War and many more Wars that America has fought, and Mrs. Simpson experienced them all. Nevertheless, some of her happy moments include the election of the first African American President, Barrack Obama, the vibrant culture of the 1950s, and Oh! Reagan’s term as President! The Vietnam War, however, made her heart sink the most.
The 1950s American Culture
Mrs. Simpson is excited and jovially willing to share her experiences of the American 1950s culture. This is because, she was right in the middle of these changes as they occurred and nothing in America’s history, according to her, can match the exciting memories. What makes Mrs. Simpson happy about the 1950s America? First, Mrs. Simpson believes that women in America became liberated during this period. It was the first time Mrs. Simpson saw women starting to work fulltime jobs just like men did, as opposed to spending all their times at home doing domestic chores. Since the late 1950s found Mrs. Simpson at the peak of her teenage life, nothing to her was as exciting as the TV, which had suddenly become America’s greatest love. Mrs. Simpson says that everybody loved TV, and not because it was a relatively new phenomenon at home, but because TV gave America all the varieties of entertainment the desired. Indeed, it is true that both the young and the old shared in the TV’s excitement in the 1950s.
Dance, music, theater and museums had also found great prominence in this decade. Therefore, life was especially exciting for teenagers like Mrs. Simpson, who always had a variety of life exciting moments. “If we were not at the theater, where classical music, jazz and orchestra locked, then the TV at home or a visit to the Museum was equally exciting”, Mrs. Simpson says. Therefore, this period is the hallmark of her and the rest of the baby-boomer generation in America enjoying life in its fullest. More fundamentally, Mrs. Simpson has a clear memory of the relatively stable and favorable economic conditions of the time, such that there was not much of a struggle for parents to give their children a good life, while it was also relatively easier for young people and the youth to find employment and other economically gainful engagements. Accessing good education at the time was also easier for students, considering that the education programs at the time were encouraging and incentivizing students to join schools.
The American music culture was also exciting in the 1950s, says Mrs. Simpson. Many genres emerged or broke out to popularity around this period and when they did, there was no turning back. Jazz, hip-hop orchestra and also largely pop culture broke out and also became popular during this season. Most importantly, Mrs. Simpson concludes by observing that the 1950s American culture was the best, since all races lived in relative uniformity. Mrs. Simpson’s observation of the lack of strongly divisive racism in the 1950s is supported by the University of Groningen’s account of America in the 1950s, which holds that “during the 1950s, a sense of uniformity pervaded American society”.
Responding to the question “how do you remember the Vietnam War?”, Mrs. Simpson would suddenly wear a gloomy face and say “It was the worst for us in America”. The Vietnam War occurred at the prime of Mrs. Simpson’s youth, when she was in her early 20s and in the middle of her college life. Mrs. Simpson and the rest of her college mates found themselves embroiled in the chaotic phase of anti-Vietnam War protests, which were sparked students across the most parts of the United States. Indeed, she remembers that her college life during that period would change for better, because spreading rumors that army conscriptions were targeting university and college students for forceful recruitment created much dread and fear among the students. History.com archive’s accounts of the war confirm Mrs. Simpson’s fears, by observing that “as many as 40,000 young men were called into service each month, adding fuel to the fire of the anti-war movement”. Sleeping became a nightmare for Mrs. Simpson and the rest of her college mates in New York, a city which was right at the heart of the student’s anti-war protests. Mrs. Simpson’s account is well supported by the historical facts documented in the archives of History.com, which affirms that the anti-war movement began mostly on college campuses.
It is not fear of conscription alone that characterized Mrs. Simpson’s experiences of the Vietnam War, the war was also dividing the student fraternity right down the middle, with some sections supporting the War, while the others were strongly opposed to it. For example, Mrs. Simpson formed a majority of those who supported the war during the early days of around 1965, but by the time the war had extended for far more years and its end was not on the offing, the opposing side grew stronger both in agitation and numbers, at around 1968. Still an impactful experience of the Vietnam War for Mrs. Simpson is the fact that; at around the peak of the Vietnam War, the baby-boomer generation, which was quite resistant to old order, cultural; norm and submission to authority had reached the prime age of the mid-20s.
This group was arrogantly resisting submission to authority, and had largely adopted an anti-government rule mentality, thus opting to express their opposition of the government policy on the war in very dissenting and critical voices, which threatened to cause chaos to erupt domestically. Mrs. Simpson’s major concern here was that one of his brothers was among this group, and she feared for his life, if the group would continue to poke the authority’s eyes through unruliness. The History.com accounts support this memory by Mrs. Simpson, The archive accounts observe that the opposition to the War in Vietnam was largely sparked and pushed by a minority constituting “many students… prominent artists and intellectuals and members of the hippie movement, a growing number of young people who rejected authority and embraced the drug culture”. The high costs of the war, the increasing number of American soldier casualties and the general political, social and economic disillusionment that was caused by the extended Vietnam War also cost Mrs. Simpson personally, because accessing a decent job around 1968 when she completed her college was a major difficulty. Mrs. Simpson’s memories of the Vietnam War are simply those of a war that should never have happened in the first place.
Nevertheless, flipping the pages and turning to the Reagan presidency memories, Mrs. Simpson found back her prior excitement, as was the case with the memories of the 1950s culture memories. The major memory Mrs. Simpson holds of President Reagan is that he saved the United States from a major war with Russia. She believes that were it not for Reagan’s approaches to toning down the heat characterizing the last decades of the Cold War, America would have inevitably gone into another war. Mrs. Simpson adds that “if the U.S. and Russia had gone to war this time around, very contrary to the Vietnam War, the war would have become lifetime regret for all Americans”.
The Reagan Presidency, observes Mrs. Simpson, was characterized by diplomacy and reaching out to the enemy, as opposed to the previous superpower mentality that had plunged the U.S. into previous wars. Mrs. Simpson cites President Reagan as soft-spoken, articulate and full of wisdom, and awards him the honors of having paved the war of The United States to win the Cold War. “The reports of his reach to the Russian premier were all over the news during his tenure and the fruits were evident when the animosity between the U.S. and USSR kept subsiding under his leadership”, said Mrs. Simpson. The University of Virginia’s Miller Center account of Reagan’s presidency agrees with Mrs. Simpson’s view, by holding that “the symbiotic relationship he forged with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev…set the stage for a peaceful resolution of the Cold War”.
Notwithstanding his wisdom towards ending the Cold War, Reagan made Mrs. Simpson happy in that he had the best of the American people’s interest at heart, and reformed many tax and economic policies to make life affordable for all people. Mrs. Simpson remembers that soon after President Reagan took office, the unemployment situation in the United States worsened, and by around his second year in Presidency, the unemployment problem became his major blemish. This memory by Mrs. Simpson is affirmed by the Washington Post report on Reagan’s Legacy, which holds that 1982 was the worst year of his presidency, during which “the national unemployment rate spiked above 10 percent, Reagan’s approval rating fell to 35 percent”. However, Mrs. Simpson concurs that Reagan committed to undertaking reforms that eventually improved the unemployment situation, and allowed him to remain among the memorable U.S. Presidents of the past.
In conclusion, the interview on historical experiences undertaken with Mrs. Simpson collected a lot of experiences that span the entire 74 years she has lived. The experiences Mrs. Simpson has had comprise of both happy and memorable events, as well as some occurrences that she wishes to forget completely. The 1950s experiences were particularly memorable for Mrs. Simpson, because it is the period during which she enjoyed the TV, theater, music and dance the most. Mrs. Simpson also remembers how President Reagan’s wisdom saved the United States from a major war with Russia. Nevertheless, if there is any experience that Mrs. Simpson wishes to forget forever, it is the Vietnam War experiences. Thus, the interview with Mrs. was indeed informative.
- Bunch, Will. “Five myths about Ronald Reagan’s legacy.” Washington Post, February 4, 2011. Cannon, Lou. Ronald Reagan: Impact and Legacy. University of Virginia: Miller Center. Last modified 2017. History.com. “Vietnam War Protests”.
- University of Groningen. “The Culture of the 1950s”. University of Groningen.