When Marvin Gaye wrote and sang the lyrics to "What's Going On," released in 1971, the U.S. was finally making its decision to withdraw its troops from Vietnam. U.S. troops went from a high of 549,000 in 1969 to 69,000 in 1972. More than 58,220 U.S. troops died during our country's involvement in the conflict. The average age of those who died was 21.
It is said that Gaye made the song his own through expressing his brother's experience in Vietnam, and his own distress at racial strife and personal pain in his life at the time. Through his lyrics, Gaye expressed his desire to emphasize humanity and our ability to love, rather than point out the more obvious and bleak pictures of destruction during those embattled times of the 1960s and 70s. He implored: "You know, we've got to find a way...to bring some loving here today..." And, later in the song: "For only love can conquer hate..."
Now, during this coronavirus pandemic, the song lyrics rise again in the psyches of those of us of a certain age, as we look around in bewilderment while the toll on human lives continues to swell and leave behind unfathomable destruction. But more than that, I see many in my boomer generation, in particular, asking whether the forced "unity" that coming together in a crisis like this will change the way we treat one another...later. Or, if ever?
Granted, the sudden and unplanned impacts of a pandemic are not the same as the willful destruction of human lives through war (or any of the myriad of social and economic injustices that are perpetrated), but the pandemic is having a similar affect on our lives.
Artists, writers, thinkers, entrepreneurs and others are responding in positive ways, even as I type the question. I don't mean to discount the importance of the generosity and ingenuity that so many have demonstrated in the past month or more. The human spirit will continue to rise, amidst the collective pain and suffering of so many of our brothers and sisters.
Meanwhile, the death toll in the U.S. mounts: as of this minute, the number of lives lost to the pandemic just in our country is 14,622.
While the words "what's going on" reverberate in our heads and hearts, more questions will continue to be raised about where this leaves us, and where we will find ourselves when we confront again the ugliness of our political and social divisiveness as a nation..."on the other side" of this.