Monday, May 9, 2011

Summer of Love

Glassboro, New Jersey

During the Cold War, the two superpowers eased strained relations at critical moments by engaging in détente, an on-going process marked by summit meetings and treaties. One such crisis occurred in early June 1967, when war broke out between Israel and the Arab states. Shortly after the so-called Six-Day War, President Lyndon Johnson proposed to meet with Chairman Aleksei Kosygin of the Soviet Union, taking advantage of his counterpart's upcoming trip to address the United Nations. In addition to the Middle East, there were other issues for them to discuss, such as disarmament, nuclear arms control (China announced the explosion of its first hydrogen bomb on June 17) and the Vietnam War. Having pledged to “seek peace, any time, any place,” Johnson was looking for ways to end the conflict in Southeast Asia where the U.S. was gradually losing ground.  However, the first issue the leaders had to resolve was where to hold the summit. While Kosygin wanted to meet in New York, Johnson preferred Washington, believing 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 June 23, the two leaders met intermittently for three days at Hollybush Mansion.  Situated on the rolling, tree-studded grounds of the campus, the 22-room gingerbread brownstone built in 1850 was then being used as the home of the college president. It turned out to be a good choice. Johnson liked its homey atmosphere which complemented his unpretentious style. (He was also delighted to learn that two other presidents—Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft—had once visited the mansion.) Kosygin admired it too, saying to Johnson as he stepped out of his limousine, “You chose a nice place.”

Shortly before the meeting concluded, the president hosted a late lunch in the dining room. At 1:50 PM, twenty summiteers 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 of this dish represented a departure from the Kennedy years when it 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, creating what he viewed as a warmer and friendlier atmosphere when entertaining.

Although no formal agreement was signed, Johnson declared the summit meeting 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 spring in 1967 had turned into a long, hot summer, for in addition to the searing heat, race riots were setting many U.S. cities ablaze.2 And there were other social forces playing out as well. The world was shrinking. A few hours after the summit ended on Sunday evening, four-hundred million people watched Our World,” the first worldwide satellite telecast. 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.” In the end, neither the Smalltown Summit (as the press christened the 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 talks 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!