Remembering the 1960’s


John Scales Avery – TRANSCEND Media Service

Lessons for today from the 1960’s

Everyone agrees that the 1960’s were very special. Those of us who lived through that era remember it as a time when the danger of a nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union was very real indeed. The world came extremely close to disaster during the Cuban Missile Crisis. In response to the threat of nuclear destruction, there were massive public protests against nuclear weapons. Millions of people all over the world took to the streets.

Where is that passion and engagement today? When the Cold War supposedly ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall, everyone heaved a sigh of relief, and decided that the threat of global nuclear annihilation had gone away. But it has not gone away. It is still with us, and is perhaps greater today than ever before. Why do we not protest? Where are the millions of protesters that we saw in the 1960’s?

A time of change; a time of hope

The 1960’s were characterized by revolutionary conflicts, often suppressed with great violence, and by great hopes for change. The Civil Rights Movement in the United States was opposed by forces using vicious dogs, violent beatings and jailings of protesters, and even assassinations. At the same time there was hope that equal rights under the law would eventually be won.

Enthusiasm and dedication in protests

The great protest movements of the 1960’s can inspire us today. We can remember Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger and Joan Baez. We can remember the protests against the Vietnam War. We can remember Woodstock and the musical, “Hair”. We can remember the women of Greenham Common in England, who were ultimately victorious in their protests against the Greenham nuclear weapons base.

Renunciation of wars

We can learn much by remembering in detail the horrors of the Vietnam War. If we had learned our lessons properly, we might have been spared the destruction and the terrible loss of life that has characterized recent wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan, not to mention trillions of dollars wasted. The Vietnam War was based on governmental lies, and a close examination of recent wars shows that they too were also based on lies.

Awareness of nuclear dangers

In the 1960’s, everyone was acutely aware of the danger of an all-destroying thermonuclear war. The massive anti-nuclear protests of the 1960’s are proof of this awareness. Then, when the Cold War supposedly ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall, people falsely concluded that the danger had gone away. But it has not gone away. Despite the recent Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, the arsenals and missiles are still there. They have spread to nine nations and are still spreading. There is a black market in fissionable materials, and it is possible that subnational criminal or terrorist organizations may acquire nuclear weapons. There is a danger that a nuclear weapons state with an unstable government may undergo a revolutions which will put nuclear weapons into terrorist hands. All in all, the danger of a cataclysmic nuclear war is perhaps even greater today than it was in the 1960’s. We need to make the younger generation more aware of these dangers. We need to revive the anti-nuclear protest movements of the 1960’s.

Awareness of the history of racism

Recently the murder of George Floyd by police officers, as well as the similar police murders of many other people of color, sparked world-wide protests. In the United States, Donald Trump was elected on an overtly racist platform, and he continues to be a racist in both word and deed. Thus the issue of racism is very much in our minds today. Against this backdrop, it is useful to remember the passion and dedication of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s. The protests of that era, as well as the non-violent methods used, can inspire us today.


The 1960’s can inspire us today because as well as being a period of change, the decade was characterized by hope and optimism. We need hope. We need optimism. Without hope, all is lost. As 15-year-old Greta Thunberg said in her Stockholm Tedx talk,

 And yes, we do need hope, of course we do. But the one thing we need more than hope is action. Once we start to act, hope is everywhere. So instead of looking for hope, look for action. Then, and only then, hope will come.”

A new freely downloadable book

I would like to announce the publication of a new book, which discusses the most important events of the 1960’s. The book may be downloaded free of charge and circulated from the following link:

Other books and articles about global problems are on these links:

I hope that you will circulate the links in this article to friends and contacts who might be interested.


John Scales Avery, Ph.D., who was part of a group that shared the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize for their work in organizing the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, is a member of the TRANSCEND Network and Associate Professor Emeritus at the H.C. Ørsted Institute, University of Copenhagen, Denmark. He is chairman of both the Danish National Pugwash Group and the Danish Peace Academy and received his training in theoretical physics and theoretical chemistry at M.I.T., the University of Chicago and the University of London. He is the author of numerous books and articles both on scientific topics and on broader social questions. His most recent books are Information Theory and Evolution and Civilization’s Crisis in the 21st Century (pdf).

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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 14 Sep 2020.

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