A New World Somewhere
My husband and I got married May 1, 1965. I was 18, he was 20. Around that time one of the top songs on the pop charts was a cheery folk-style song titled “I’ll Never Find Another You” by the Australian group The Seekers.
For many years we considered it “our song.” Yes, first of all because it had heart-warming romantic lyrics. But we had a secondary reason that not many other fans probably shared. For although the chorus repeated “I’ll never find another you,” the song started out with these words:
There’s a New World somewhere they call the Promised Land
And I’ll be there some day if you will hold my hand…
Within a few months of our marriage, we had become part of a religious movement—well, yes…we eventually came to understand it was a cult—that was predicting that a New World was indeed coming soon: the Return of Christ to set up a 1000-year kingdom on Earth (“The Millennium”) would happen by 1975. AFTER a cataclysmic period of terrible “Tribulation.” Here’s a pic of one of the group’s main booklets that proclaimed this warning—
So we were indeed expecting a New World in the almost immediate future that would be akin to the biblical “Promised Land.” And one of the primary reasons we were persuaded to accept this declaration was that it sure looked like this present world…even in the affluent and powerful United States…was in a horrible mess. We needed Christ to come back and Fix It.
Although President Johnson had declared his plans for a “Great Society” during his State of the Union Address in January that year, many folks, including us, were not persuaded his plans were more than political hype. The Current World we lived in at that point in time certainly could not have been called “The Promised Land.” For instance, if you are old enough, you might remember it as the year of the ORIGINAL “march from Selma.”
On February 18, white segregationists attacked a group of peaceful demonstrators in the nearby town of Marion. In the ensuing chaos, an Alabama state trooper fatally shot Jimmie Lee Jackson, a young African-American demonstrator. In response to Jackson’s death, [Martin Luther] King and the SCLC planned a massive protest march from Selma to the state capitol of Montgomery, 54 miles away. A group of 600 people set out on Sunday, March 7, but didn’t get far before Alabama state troopers wielding whips, nightsticks and tear gas rushed the group at the Edmund Pettis Bridge and beat them back to Selma. The brutal scene was captured on television, enraging many Americans and drawing civil rights and religious leaders of all faiths to Selma in protest.
King himself led another attempt on March 9, but turned the marchers around when state troopers again blocked the road.
That night, a group of segregationists beat another protester, the young white minister James Reeb, to death. Alabama state officials (led by [Governer] Wallace) tried to prevent the march from going forward, but a U.S. district court judge ordered them to permit it. President Lyndon Johnson also backed the marchers, going on national television to pledge his support and lobby for passage of new voting rights legislation he was introducing in Congress.
Some 2,000 people set out from Selma on March 21, protected by U.S. Army troops and Alabama National Guard forces that Johnson had ordered under federal control.
Nearly 50,000 supporters–black and white–met the marchers in Montgomery, where they gathered in front of the state capitol to hear King and other speakers including Ralph Bunche (winner of the 1950 Nobel Peace Prize) address the crowd. “No tide of racism can stop us,” King proclaimed from the building’s steps, as viewers from around the world watched the historic moment on television.
The Civil Rights movement was on the march, and the country was heating up with both non-violent and violent protests:
On August 11, a riot breaks out in Watts, an African-American suburb of Los Angeles, California, after a fight erupts between a white traffic officer and an African-American man accused of drinking and driving. The officer arrests the man and some of his family members who had arrived at the scene. Rumors of police brutality, however, result in six days of rioting in Watts. Thirty-four people, mostly African Americans, die during the riot. [Over 1,000 were injured, almost 3,500 arrested.]
Also heating up was the Vietnam war:
January 27: “In response to the coup in South Vietnam, National Security Council director McGeorge Bundy and Secretary of State Robert McNamara wrote a memo to President Johnson. They gave the President two options: use American military power to defeat the insurgency or negotiate thus attempting to “salvage what little can be preserved.” McBundy and McNamara favored the first option; Secretary of State Dean Rusk disagreed. Johnson accepted the military option and sent a telegram to Ambassador Taylor in Saigon saying “the U.S. will spare no effort and no sacrifice in doing its full part to turn back the Communists in Vietnam.” President Johnson had crossed the Rubicon.
July 28: “US orders 50,000 troops to Vietnam
President Johnson has committed a further 50,000 US troops to the conflict in Vietnam. Monthly draft calls will increase from 17,000 to 35,000 – the highest level since the Korean War, when between 50,000 and 80,000 men were called up each month.
It will take the US force in Vietnam up to 125,000 but officials say at this stage demands should be met by conscription, without calling upon the reserves.
…Mrs Johnson and her daughter looked close to tears as Mr. Johnson admitted: “I do not find it easy to send the flower of our youth, our finest young men, into battle.”
But send them, he did. During the year over 230,000 men were drafted. By the end of the year, the US forces in Vietnam totaled almost 185,000, and almost 2,000 US military personnel had died in the conflict.
By that fall, my George had applied for 1-W Conscientious Objector status, and volunteered to do 2 years “alternate service,” rather than wait to be called up for the draft. He was the first CO applicant that his draft board in Lansing, Michigan, had ever dealt with. They approved his application, perhaps in part because they were glad he had come forward to volunteer, rather than joining the growing ranks of draft card burners:
Draft-card burning was a symbol of protest performed by thousands of young American men as part of the opposition to the involvement of the United States in the Vietnam War. Beginning in May 1964, some activists burned their draft cards at anti-war rallies and demonstrations. By May 1965 it was happening with greater frequency. To limit this kind of protest, in August 1965, the United States Congress enacted a law to broaden draft card violations to punish anyone who “knowingly destroys, knowingly mutilates” his draft card.
(George spent the next two years working in a local hospital in the maintenance department, starting out at $1.35 an hour or so, to fulfill his obligation.)
Even the weather in 1965 was chaotic on a level seldom seen:
The devastation is terrible. “Ohio looks like it’s been bombed,” exclaimed Governor James A. Rhodes, surveying the tornado-torn northwestern section of Ohio. Such was the “Palm Sunday Disaster.” Viewing the twisted mass of wreckage around the Toledo area, Governor Rhodes termed the ruin “fantastic … unbelievable. There is nothing you can compare it with.”
But his area wasn’t alone. Catastrophic storms hammered the six-state midwestern region of Michigan,
Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin. The rumbling juggernaut of tornados—at least 37 in number—left in their wake a death toll of 242 and property damage totaling in the multimillions.
Not since 1925 has such a devastating tornado onslaught pummeled the United States. For Indiana alone, it was the greatest disaster in the state’s history.
For towns and crossroads communities such as Russiaville, Indiana, and Pittsfield Center, Ohio, destruction was nearly total! The only thing left standing in Pittsfield Center is an old Civil War monument.
As if tornados were not enough, America’s agricultural and industrial heartland has had to brace itself for yet another natural disaster—flooding. The worst floods on record in the upper Mississippi River region have poured their ice-jammed waters into dozens of communities in Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois. Evacuees have numbered 60,000 so far in what has been claimed the wettest Easter weekend in U. S. history. [See the pic of Dubuque, Iowa, below, at the height of the flooding.]
Then, of course, there was the never-ending nerve-wracking reality of the Cold War. By the time we got married, it had been less than three years since the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, when John F Kennedy had declared to the nation on national TV that the world was on the edge of the “Abyss of Destruction.”
That crisis was headed off in the nick of time, but less than two years before we got married, Kennedy had been the victim of an assassination.
And all this was just the tip of the iceberg. Even without the Internet to pummel one with negative news 24 hours a day, we were inundated with gloom and doom news continually in 1965 via magazines, newspapers, TV, and radio. Yes, we wanted that New World to come very soon.
And the publications of Ambassador College, an outreach of the “Radio Church of God” (name changed to Worldwide Church of God in 1968), fed our yearning for that solution to all the darkness. Thus the Seekers’ cheery song became our personal anthem to remind ourselves that there was soon going to be a Wonderful World Tomorrow. And since we were In The Know as part of a specially-selected group of people that God was using to spread this good news, we had inside information on What It Will Be Like!
Fast-forward to 2015. It’s hard to believe that this year is the 50th anniversary of both that March on Selma (with a movie memorializing the events recently in the theaters) and the Palm Sunday Disaster tornados in Indiana. It’s also hard to believe it is our Golden Anniversary year, 50 years of marriage. It’s also forty years after the promised beginning of the Wonderful World Tomorrow which never panned out as had been dogmatically predicted in the preaching and literature of the Radio/Worldwide Church of God.
That, however, is not hard for me to believe. I long ago came to understand that the organization and its founder were just part of a long line of “false prophets” who didn’t really have the inside lowdown on God’s Future Plans. I haven’t stopped believing that some day God really will step into history and usher in a beautiful New World. But I’m convinced that (1) no one has a clue when that will be, and (2) many who claim to know What It Will Be Like are full of hooey.
This blog series, “The Wonderful World Tomorrow—What It Won’t Be Like!” will be exploring, examining, and evaluating what a variety of influential American thinkers, both secular and religious, have promoted over the past 200+ years as visions of that New World.
Join me on this journey, with the next installment:
But before you go, enjoy this clip of my favorite Seekers song.