The Last Half of the 20th Century

The Last Half of the 20th Century

To have lived in the United States of America in the last half of the 20th century is a special gift from God.  The years, 1950 to 2000, saw some of the most incredible events, inventions, culture changes, religious experiences and just plain change in the history of the planet we call, “Earth.”  For those of us that saw all fifty years (mostly baby boomers), we have had a ring-side seat in the cosmic planetary cycle.

We witnessed the formative years of television.  The game show, Truth or Consequences, hosted by Ralph Edwards debuted on September 7, 1950.  On the show, people had to answer a trivia question correctly before “Beulah the Buzzer” was sounded.  If the contestant could not complete the “Truth” portion, there would be “Consequences,” usually a zany and embarrassing stunt. From the start, most contestants preferred to answer the question wrong in order to perform the stunt. Edwards commented, “Most of the American people are darned good sports!” The town of Hot Springs, New Mexico was renamed Truth or Consequences after the game show, when Edwards announced that he would do the program from the first town so renamed. You know they must have been good sports.  Apparently the theme, truth or consequences, however; failed to catch on with politicians in later years.

Television brought us the “immediate news-fix.”  No longer would we have to wait on Special Editions of the major newspapers to find out about a big event.  We all remember exactly where we were when Kennedy was assassinated, but many of us were actually watching TV “live” as Oswald was gunned down by Jack Ruby.  We stayed glued to the tube all weekend knowing that our lives would never be the same again.  Martin Luther King, Jr., Bobby, Woodstock; the times they were a changin’ was more than just a Dylan lyric.

We went to the Moon . . . man!  Engineering schools saw dramatic increases in enrollment.  The Taylor Tea Room at the University of Texas at Austin was crowded.  Students began using pocket calculators instead of slide rules, but of course still needed a pocket-protector for mechanical pencils and different colored pens.  “Geek” took on a whole new culture as everyone was scrambling to get in the space race.  We were confident that by the end of the century, each of us would have been to the Moon at least once.

Many took a different trip.  Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds was released by the Beatles on their Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band album in 1967.  Even though Lennon denied that the title referred to LSD, the growing disenfranchised youth rebellion took it as a mantra for experimentation.  Many never came back from their trip.  Fortunately, most young boomers simply grew out of this restlessness as reality set in on their shoulders in the form of a job, a family, and the inherited instinct to survive.  Others moved to New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco where they became career politicians!

Watergate opened our eyes.  Even though some believed that LBJ was “fudging” with the enemy casualty rates during the war, it was not until after Watergate that the public began to realize that Jack Kennedy had been cheating on Jackie during the entire administration!  Before Watergate, most Americans believed that the President limited his swearing to a good ”hell” or “damn” every now and then.  I vividly remember the first time I ever heard the four-letter-word used in a public place.  It was in a restaurant in 1985.  Apparently, I didn’t see many live comedy shows or attend any Rap concerts.  Watergate was big.  It made the unthinkable . . . thinkable!

With the invention of the integrated circuit by Jack Kilby at Texas Instruments, the magic of miniaturization took over progress in the 80’s and 90’s.  In addition to the transformation of the slide rule, home telephones became pocket cells, room-sized IBM computers became laptops and even the written word became digitized.  There is now more computing power in a smart cell phone than there was at NASA when we went to the Moon.  The Internet has put your cousin in Ireland right on the screen, not 12 inches from your face.  The globe has been miniaturized.  Thanks Jack, you are one of the greatest heroes in the last half of the 20th century.

There are others.  Billy Graham comes to mind. He has preached in person to more people around the world than any other Protestant in history.    As of 2008, Graham’s lifetime audience, including radio and television broadcasts, topped 2.2 billion, and I’ve never heard one credible piece of scandal or impropriety about the man.  In today’s culture, that is amazing.  My parents were heroes.  Not because of what they did or accomplished, but because they were there.  I had two parents that stayed together, loved me and did the best they could.  This may be the last century where such simple expectations exist.  I was one of the lucky ones.