Bandwidth Comics history: the 1960s

The 1960s were marked by massive shifts in technology, culture, and politics. The Cold War and Space Race reached a fever pitch, and war continued to rage in Southeast Asia. Superhuman populations continued to grow worldwide, to mixed reactions by various world governments.

In 1960, summit diplomacy, which had been promoted by Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, collapsed when the Soviet Union shot down an American U-2 spy plane. A few days later, at a planned summit held in Paris between the United States and the Soviet Union, Khrushchev demanded that U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower stop the spy flights, apologize, and punish those behind the idea. Eisenhower flatly refused, and Khrushchev left the summit. In mid-March, the Soviet Union selected its first group of cosmonauts, known as the Star City Twelve: Pavel I. Belyayev, Valeri F. Bykovsky, Yuri A. Gagarin, Viktor V. Gorbatko, Yevgeny V. Khrunov, Vladimir M. Komarov, Alexei A. Leonov, Andrian G. Nikolayev, Pavel R. Popovich, Georgi S. Shonin, Gherman S. Titov, and Boris V. Volynov. A few months later, the Soviet Union established the Red Legion, a unit of superpowered soldiers loosely attached to the Soviet Army. Also that year, a dispute began between the Soviet Union and China due to the “revisionist” Khrushchev. In November, John F. Kennedy was elected to the presidency of the United States, becoming the first Catholic president.

In his farewell address before Kennedy took office in January 1961, outgoing President Eisenhower, who had developed reservations about the arms buildup he had presided over, warned against the overwhelming power of the military-industrial complex. The newly-elected President Kennedy would quickly create the Alliance for Progress, an aid program for the economic development of Latin American nations, but his good intentions were soon undermined by the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, in which 1,500 CIA-trained and -armed Cuban expatriates were sent to the island nation. On 12 April, Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space, completing one orbit of Earth. That was soon followed by the United States’ space program, which sent Astronaut Alan Shephard on a 15 minute 22 second suborbital flight on 5 May. Less than three weeks later, on 25 May, President Kennedy, in a speech on “Urgent National Needs” to a joint session of Congress, pledged to send astronauts to the Moon by the end of the decade. August saw the closing of the border between East and West Berlin by the Soviet Union and the literal overnight construction of the Berlin Wall, which surrounded West Berlin in an attempt to halt the exodus from East Germany. September saw the death of Nucleus, the first superhero, who was led into a trap by a New York mob boss whose operations had been hampered by the hero. Nucleus was bound and shot execution-style, and his body dumped into the bay. He was survived by his wife and three children, including a newborn daughter who would never know him growing up. Also in 1961, scientist Marshall Nirenberg read one of the “letters” of the genetic code for the first time, physicist Murray Gell-Mann and others developed a method of classifying subatomic particles, and the 23rd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, guaranteeing voting rights in presidential elections for residents of the District of Columbia, was ratified.

On 20 February 1962, Astronaut John Glenn, Jr., became the first American to orbit the Earth. During his flight, Glenn observed luminous yellow-green particles drifting past his window during the flight, noting that it were “as if I were walking through a field of fireflies.” The particles remained a mystery until Astronaut Scott Carpenter, during his orbital flight on 24 May, determined that the particles were actually frost flaking off the outside of the capsule. The granola bar, originally called “bone-bones,” was invented by Nestle for use by astronauts as a food source during their missions. The Cuban Missile Crisis occurred in 1962 when the Soviet Union began secretly building missile-launching sites in Cuba, bringing the world to the brink of war over the course of the two-week event. President Kennedy demanded the removal of the missiles and imposed a naval blockade of the island, and at the last moment, the Soviet freighters turned back from delivering supplies. Khrushchev promised to remove the missiles, and in exchange, the United States offered to remove obsolete missiles from positions in Turkey. In the wake of the crisis, Congress quickly and overwhelmingly passed the Superhuman Induction Act, which established provisions for the drafting of superhumans into the military, separate from the regular draft established by the Selective Service Act, which in effect created a military superhuman operations command not unlike the Soviets’ Red Legion. On the other side of the world, U.S. troops assigned to a military assistance command in Vietnam were instructed to fire back if fired upon.

In 1963, the United States, Soviet Union, and United Kingdom signed a Limited Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty, which barred all above-ground testing of nuclear weapons. South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem, who had held onto power for a decade and refused to hold elections for fear of a communist takeover, was overthrown. The United Nations established a commission in 1963 to study superhumans and related issues in the wake of the United States’ and Soviet Union’s growing militarization of superhumans. In the United States, the first liver transplant was performed by surgeon Thomas Starzl, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech to a crowd of 250,000 during the March on Washington, and on 22 November, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Following the assassination, Vice-President Lyndon Baines Johnson was sworn in as Kennedy’s successor, and the Warren Commission, charged with investigating the assassination, found that there was no conspiracy and that Lee Harvey Oswald was the sole assassin; the report was greeted skeptically by many.

The United States became directly involved in the Vietnam War in 1964 following the Gulf of Tonkin Incident. President Johnson asked Congress “to join [him] in affirming … that the United States will continue its basic policy of assisting the free nations of the area to defend their freedom.” Congress responded with the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which provided the legal basis for the escalation of the war. That year, Congress also passed the Civil Rights Act and ratified the 24th Amendment, which prohibited poll taxes. In November, President Johnson was elected to a full term as president, but he would decline to run for a second term in 1968.

In February 1965, the Viet Cong, South Vietnamese communist rebels, attacked the U.S. military compound at Pleiku and killed eight Americans. President Johnson responded with Operation Rolling Thunder – air raids in North Vietnam. By the end of 1965, 184 thousand troops were in Vietnam. Draft quotas rose automatically during the escalation of the war, quadrupling over the course of two years. Draftees made up 16% of the army in 1965, but constituted 88% of the troops in Vietnam. Despite the escalation, President Johnson still declined to involve superhuman troops in the war, believing that doing so would only provoke the Soviets, who were supporting the North Vietnamese, to send in the Red Legion in response, possibly even escalating to the point of a nuclear exchange. Back in the United States, the Watts Riots left 34 dead and $200 million in property damage. The Voting Rights Act, a major piece of civil rights legislation, made the federal government responsible for ensuring that all citizens were able to vote, and President Johnson introduced his “Great Society,” which was intended to improve the quality of life of all Americans; it included such programs as Medicare, which paid the healthcare expenses of senior citizens, the Water Quality Act, the Higher Education Act, and also involved the creation of the Department of Housing an Urban Development. Also in 1965, China began to undergo the “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution,” though it would be some time before China would halt the executions of anyone discovered to have superhuman powers, which were believed to be impure and an abomination. The Second Vatican Council, also held in 1965, would introduce a number of major reforms to the Catholic Church, including a shift from holding masses in Latin to holding them in the native language of the area where each church was located and a reassessment of whether non-Catholics could, in fact, enter Heaven.

By 1966, the United States had 385 thousand soldiers in Vietnam, and the bombing of North Vietnamese targets continued; Hanoi and Haiphong were heavily bombed, and the U.S. also began to bomb communist strongholds in Cambodia. Meanwhile, heart surgeon Michael De Bakey implanted the first artificial heart in a human, and the Department of Transportation was created.

The American space program suffered a severe blow on 27 January 1967 when astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee were killed by a fire that broke out inside the Apollo 1 capsule during a simulated countdown at Cape Canaveral, Florida. The investigations stemming from the fire would delay the manned space program for nearly two years. President Johnson restricted, but did not halt, the bombing of North Vietnam so that peace talks could take place, but escalated the bombing once again when the talks broke down. He again prohibited the use of superhuman soldiers in Southeast Asia. Riots and protests began to erupt in the United States over the war in Vietnam. The Reverent Martin Luther King, Jr., a critic of the war, described the United States as “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” In response to the escalation of antiwar criticism, the CIA launched Operation Chaos: a massive effort to catalog antiwar protesters and interfere with their activities. More than a thousand organizations and 200 thousand individuals were logged in files, and CIA informants penetrated most antiwar groups. 1967 also saw the “long, hot summer” of the Detroit riots; the ratification of the 25th Amendment, which provided for presidential disability; the first heart transplant; and the signing of a treaty by the United States, Soviet Union, and 57 other nations which banned the use of nuclear weapons in space and established principles for the peaceful exploration of space.

The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated outside his motel room in Memphis, Tennessee, on 4 April 1968, while the war in Vietnam reached a turning point with a massive North Vietnamese assault, known as the Tet Offensive. In three weeks of intense fighting, the United States held its own militarily, but sustained severe public relations losses at home, with American public opinion making it difficult to conduct the war. With 536 thousand troops in Vietnam, U.S. manpower reached its highest level. In what would become another blow to the public’s opinion of the military, the My Lai massacre saw U.S. troops, on a search-and-destroy mission, kill nearly 500 South Vietnamese civilians – men, women, and children – in a single village. The troops involved would later be charged with war crimes and tried for murder, with one conviction, but the damage had been done. To fund the Vietnam War, President Johnson requested a 10% personal income tax, which no doubt added to its existing unpopularity. Senator Robert Kennedy, presidential candidate and brother of President John Kennedy, was assassinated hours after a California primary victory, and even after protesters disrupted the televised Democratic National Convention, revealing the deep divisions within the party, Richard Nixon, a Republican, would have a difficult time winning the election in November. Also in 1968, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was signed by 115 nations, including the United States; the nuclear-capable nations agreed not to transfer nuclear power, while non-nuclear signers agreed not to build or develop nuclear weapons. Eventually, 140 nations would sign the treaty. The year concluded on a high note, however, as on 21 December, Astronauts Borman, Lovell, and Anders orbited the Moon in Apollo 8. On Christmas Eve, during a telecast to Earth from 250 thousand miles away, the astronauts read from the Bible’s Book of Genesis.

On 20 July 1969, the world watched in awe as Apollo 11 landed on the Moon, and Astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on another world. Many conspiracy theories would eventually surround the event, ranging from the belief that the event was staged to the assertion that the astronauts saw alien spacecraft surrounding them at the landing site in the Sea of Tranquility. A few weeks later, a concert was held in Woodstock, New York, which would become the stuff of legend, and when peace talks failed once again, President Richard Nixon ordered the bombing of communist strongholds in Cambodia. The Nixon Doctrine signaled a new direction in American foreign policy when President Nixon stated that the United States would consider its vital interests first, rather than trying to solve the problems of other nations. On 14 November, Apollo 12 landed on the Moon, continuing the success of Kennedy’s dream.

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