Clara Bingham wasn’t old enough to join the protests against the Vietnam War, even those that took place in Central Park, her neighborhood green space. “I was born in 1963, so I just missed this era,” Bingham said. “But I was old enough to know that a lot of turmoil and change was going on. The ’60s was kind of the wallpaper of my childhood — it was ever-present but not always in focus.”
By the time Bingham graduated from college in 1985, she notes, it was “the height of the Reagan ’80s,” a period that only made her more curious about the era in which she’d grown up. For her latest book, “Witness to the Revolution: Radicals, Resisters, Vets, Hippies, and the Year America Lost Its Mind and Found Its Soul,” Bingham chose to focus on the academic year 1969-1970 as “a window through which to look at the whole decade of the ’60s.”
A veteran journalist who covered the White House for Newsweek, Bingham said she chose to approach the book as an oral-history narrative, interviewing dozens of key players in antiwar activism, because “I liked the idea of giving these people a voice in a larger chorus, that together describes the what happened in the late ’60s and the impact of those events on history and their own lives.”
The research left her both hopeful and saddened. “I was really shocked and disillusioned by a lot that I learned in researching the book,” Bingham said, “especially about the extent of the FBI’s dirty tricks, their completely illegal behavior in attacking the antiwar movement.” At the same time, she added, “I was really inspired by the level of commitment that so many of the people I interviewed had, to try to change America for the better. A lot of people stood up for their ideals. A lot of people sacrificed their careers, their educations, their personal comfort — and in some cases, their lives — for what they believed in.”
Bingham will read 7 p.m. Wednesday at Brookline Booksmith.