It was the summer of love: in 1969 a half a million people gathered together to listen to music, take drugs, have sex, roll around in the mud, and share a densely populated area for one long weekend.
And guess what? The whole thing happened during a health pandemic.
In 1968 the H3N2 pandemic came to the US from Hong Kong. It killed more than 100,000 Americans, mostly over the age of 65, which was more combined fatalities than both the Vietnam and Korean Wars.
Schools, movie theaters, bars, tattoo parlors, restaurants, and, of course, concerts venues stayed open. The stock market didn't crash, Congress didn't issue a lock down order, the Federal reserve had no involvement, there was no spike in the suicide rate, violent criminals weren't freed from jail, and nobody arrested surfers or hair stylists.
The only actions governments took was to collect data, watch and wait, encourage testing and vaccines, and so on. The medical community took the primary responsibility for disease mitigation, as one might expect. It was widely assumed that diseases require medical not political responses.
It’s not as if we had governments unwilling to intervene in other matters. We had the Vietnam War, social welfare, public housing, urban renewal, and the rise of Medicare and Medicaid. We had a president swearing to cure all poverty, illiteracy, and disease. Government was as intrusive as it had ever been in history. But for some reason, there was no thought given to shutdowns.
Which raises the question: why was this different? We will be trying to figure this one out for decades.
WHITE LAKE, NY - AUGUST 17: The crowd is pictured at the Woodstock Music Festival in White Lake, NY on Aug. 17, 1969. (Photo by Daniel Wolf/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)