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Few years in recent American history were as tumultuous as 1971. It was a period of political ferment and deep cultural schisms. The divides weren't just between young and old or black and white, but between dreamers and realists, between buttoned-down reformers and jaded young men and women who just wanted to be left alone. The fissures were reflected in the culture. For every socially conscious "Imagine," there was a headlong hedonistic romp like "Bang a Gong (Get It On)." Television reflected the zeitgeist in different ways, from All in the Family to Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In . In Washington, Richard Nixon was still aggressively pursuing the war in Vietnam--with an average of 200 American deaths a month--generating a ferocious antiwar movement and a backlash that tore America at the seams.
For two sons of privilege from storied American families, it was a year of testing, a formative time of change and challenge. George Walker Bush and John Forbes Kerry were both graduates of Yale, members of the elite and secretive Skull and Bones society, with Establishment credentials and family histories of public service.