Monday, May 9, 2011

Summer of Love

Glassboro, New Jersey

Diplomatic contact with the Soviet Union increased sharply after the Six-Day War between Israel and the Arab states began on June 5, 1967. During the Cold War, the two superpowers eased strained relations at critical moments by engaging in an on-going process called détente, marked by summit meetings and treaties. On this occasion, President Lyndon Johnson proposed to meet with Chairman Aleksei Kosygin of the Soviet Union during his counterpart's upcoming trip to the United Nations in New York. In addition to the situation in the Middle East, there were other issues to discuss, such as disarmament, nuclear arms control (China announced the explosion of its first hydrogen bomb on June 17) and the Vietnam War. With the U.S. gradually losing ground, Johnson was looking for ways to end the conflict in southeast Asia, having pledged to “seek peace, any time, any place.” In fact, the first issue that had to be resolved was where to hold the summit. Kosygin wanted to meet in New York; Johnson preferred Washington where there was less chance of anti-war demonstrations. In the end, they agreed on Glassboro State College (now Rowan University) in Glassboro, New Jersey, a small town roughly equidistant between the two cities.

Beginning on Friday, June 23, the two leaders met intermittently over a three-day weekend at Hollybush Mansion, then home of the college president. Situated on the rolling, tree-studded grounds of the campus, the 22-room gingerbread brownstone built in 1850 turned out to be a good choice. For one thing Kosygin admired it, saying to Johnson as he stepped out of his limousine, “You chose a nice place.” Johnson, who had been delighted to learn that two other presidents—Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft—had visited the mansion, liked its homey atmosphere which complemented his unpretentious style.

Shortly before the meeting concluded on Sunday, the president hosted a late lunch in the dining room. At 1:50 PM, twenty summiteers, including Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and Secretary of State Dean Rusk, were seated around the cloth-covered, raw-wood table that had been hammered together by the White House kitchen staff. Menus bearing the presidential seal were positioned by each place setting.

The luncheon was prepared by executive chef Henry Haller, the unflappable Swiss-born chef hired the previous year to bring home-style cooking back to the White House.1 This menu features one of President Johnson’s favorite dishesStuffed Eggplant. The straightforward name represented a departure from the Kennedy years when this dish might have been described on a presidential menu in French, possibly as Aubergines à la Niçoise. The change in tone reflected Johnson’s desire to appear less ostentatious when entertaining, creating what he viewed as a warmer and friendlier atmosphere.

Although no formal agreement was signed, Johnson declared the summit meeting to have been a success, dubbing the constructive discussions as “the Spirit of Hollybush.” On that positive note the two sides parted company, for the Soviet delegation had to depart promptly at 5:45 PM so the helicopter taking them back to New York could avoid thunderstorms in the area.

Indeed, the cold late spring of 1967 turned into a long, hot summer, for in addition to the searing heat, race riots were setting many U.S. cities aflame.2 And there were other societal forces playing out that summer. The world was shrinking. A few hours after the summit ended on Sunday evening, four-hundred million people watched the first worldwide satellite telecast. Titled “Our World,” the live TV show featured the debut of the Beatles’ song “All You Need is Love.” It was also at about this time that 100,000 people converged on the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, fomenting a cultural and political rebellion called the “Summer of Love.” However, neither the Smalltown Summit (as the press christened the summit meeting), nor the youthful goings-on in the Bay Area, changed the direction of the Vietnam War. In July, General William Westmoreland requested 200,000 more troops in addition to the 475,000 soldiers already authorized for Vietnam. Having found no way out during his discussions with the Soviets in Glassboro, President Johnson agreed to deploy another 45,000 reinforcements.

1. Chef Henry Haller worked at the White House for twenty-one years, successfully accommodating the tastes of five first families.
2. “It was the United States of America in the cold late spring of 1967, and the market was steady and the G.N.P. high and a great many articulate people seemed to have a sense of high social purpose and it might have been a spring of brave hopes and national promise, but it was not, and more and more people had the uneasy apprehension that it was not.” Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem


victualling said...

Henry, I like how you build up to the summer of love. Good context!

jeanne said...

Context is everything. Bravo!