The Years of Billy Joel's 'We Didn't Start The Fire' - 1963
Created | Updated Mar 10, 2006
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Pope Paul, Malcolm X,
British Politician Sex
JFK Blown Away
What else do I have to say?
1963 is inevitably remembered for the tragic events in Dallas, Texas - the reason for Billy Joel's bitter outburst at the end of this verse. However, there was lots more going on around the world. The words 'I Have A Dream' prefixed one of the most famous speeches in history, Doctor Who hit British screens for the first time, and the world lost the enchanting singer, Edith Piaf.
Pope Paul VI was also known as Giovanni Battista Montini and was the son of a prominent newspaper editor. He spent his studies in Rome and entered the secretariat of state in 1922. He was also one of two prosecretaries to Pope Pius XII. From 1954 to 1963 he became Archbishop of Milan where he worked on social problems and tried to improve relations between workers and employers. In the year 1958, he became Cardinal and was elected as Pope on 22 June, 1963.
As Pope, Paul reconsidered the Second Vatican Council, and continued the reforms of John XXIII. Furthermore he supervised the implications of many of its reforms, such as the vernacularisation and reform of the liturgy. He heightened an international synod of bishops, who were ordered to set up councils of priests in their own dioceses. Powers of dispensation were handed over from the Roman Curia onto the bishops and rules on fasting and abstinence were made more lenient. There was also the establishment of a commission to revise canon law revision.
In 1964, Paul became the first pope in over 150 years to leave Italy when he made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. This was followed by a trip to India in 1964 and a trip to the United States in 1965, where he addressed the United Nations. He also visited Africa in 1969 and Southeast Asia in 1970. The Vatican worked out better relations with Russia, and Communist leaders visited the Vatican for the first time. Pope Paul also met with other church leaders and in 1969 addressed the World Council of Churches where limited doctrinal agreements were reached with the Anglicans and Lutherans. Paul issued frequent reassertions of papal primacy in the face of growing dissent within the Roman Catholic Church itself and he enlarged the College of Cardinals by adding more people from Third World countries.
In the 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, Paul upset many liberals as he reaffirmed the church's ban on contraception. This led to many protests and many national hierarchies openly modified the statement. Liberals asked questions about priestly celibacy, divorce, and the women's role in the church, but Paul - as were ever his fundamental beliefs - held to traditional church positions.
Pope Paul VI died in August 1978.
Most people are familiar with the black civil rights campaigns in America led by Martin Luther King Jr. However, at the same time, there was another black rights activist, the rather more extreme Malcolm X, so called because he considered his true surname, 'Little' to be a slave name, and adopted the surname 'X' to represent his lost tribe.
Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little, a Baptist on 19 May, 1925, and converted to Islam in around 1952. America at the time practised a policy known as 'segregation' whereby blacks and whites were kept separate. For example, whites sat at the front of buses and blacks at the back; blacks could not use lunch counters in diners; there were separate public lavatories for blacks and whites, and so on. Also, in the southern states, where blacks were far more numerous, they were frequently beaten, abused, and killed by the ruling white minority, and the most common perpetrators of this act were the Ku Klux Klan1. Malcolm X also seemed to have his own counterpart to the Ku Klux Klan, known as the Black Panthers.
While Dr Martin Luther King Jr desired a non-violent, peaceful solution leading to the eventual unification and equality for blacks and whites, Malcolm X was in favour of segregation - as long as it helped blacks. This meant that whites would be free to control the northern states and blacks would get the southern part of the Union. Both these areas would presumably practise segregation in favour of the ruling race. Also unlike Dr King, Malcolm X was fully prepared to use violence to achieve his aims. However, in 1964, a wondrous thing happened.
In that year, Malcolm X went on a pilgrimage to Mecca, the place where Mohammed was born. As part of the ceremony, all the gatherers walked around the main monument for hours on end. What struck Malcolm X was that here, black, whites, Arabs, Asians, and all other races were capable of coexisting in perfect harmony, brought together by the power of their faith.
Malcolm X returned to America a changed man. He now saw the value of getting along with one another, and indeed became rather like Dr King. However, he had along the way made some enemies, and he was assassinated by Muslim extremists on 7 February, 1965. Though not remembered by anywhere near as many as remember Dr King, Malcolm X remains as an example of the power of faith to heal all wounds.
A much more detailed life story can be found here.
British Politician Sex
John Profumo was charming: Harrow and Oxford educated and a star of Harold MacMillan's Conservative government. And married.
Christine Keeler had run away from home at 16, became a showgirl in London clubs and was befriended by Stephen Ward, who was alleged to be a Soviet spy. He also 'looked after' a number of girls in London, including Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies.
In 1961 Profumo and Keeler met at a weekend party at Lord Astor's house in Berkshire. Ward was a frequent visitor there. The couple subsequently had a passionate, but brief, affair.
It would have remained obscure had it not been for Keeler's complex relationships and affairs. She also had an affair with Ivanov, a Muscovite Naval attaché and Soviet spy. She alleged that Ward stole sensitive documents from his British 'friends' which were received by Ivanov to pass onto his chiefs in Moscow.
When the story broke in 1962, that a Cabinet Minister had been sleeping with the mistress of a spy, Profumo made the crucial mistake of denying it. He told the House of Commons:
Miss Keeler and I were on friendly terms. There was no impropriety whatsoever in my acquaintanceship with Miss Keeler.
10 weeks later he appeared in the Commons again and admitted that he had misled the House in order to protect his family, and he resigned.
The Profumo Affair attracted the attention of the FBI due to the involvement of Soviet spies. Ward was never charged with spying, but was charged and prosecuted with living off immoral earnings. He denied the charge, but committed suicide on the last day of his trial.
Lord Denning undertook an official report on the Affair, at the behest of the Government. It was published in 1963 and concluded that the Government had not acted quickly enough to deal with the Affair, but that there had been no breach of national security.
John Profumo kept a low profile from then onwards, occupying himself with charitable work until his death in 2006. Ivanov was recalled to Moscow and never heard of again. Keeler lives quietly in north London.
A photograph of Keeler, naked across a chair, which was publicised when the story broke, became iconic of the start of the swinging Sixties. The scandal seemed to mark the start of an age of increased sexual liberation. Such a story would barely be out of the ordinary today.
JFK Blown Away
There seems to be very little that has not been put down in print about this most shocking but memorable of events. This entry put the issue into a much greater perspective than Billy Joel ever could.