The Beatles were banned from Israel 43 years ago because it was thought that they might corrupt the morals of young people. News today of Israel’s decision to invite the surviving members of The Beatles to its Sixtieth Anniversary celebrations reinforces the belief that the 1960s were the years of social revolution that brought us to where we are now.
Did one pop group really provide the catalyst for a social revolution, or should the real question be as to what produced that pop group? The world changed not in the 1960s, but in the 1940s.
Contemporary accounts of Britain in the war years suggest that the spirit of solidarity and “stiff upper lip” was not the only sentiment of the time; casual relationships were facilitated by the chaos and traditional morality broke down. The weakening of social norms in Britain was accelerated by the arrival of hundreds of thousands of American service personnel with music, dances and attitudes that would have scandalized polite English society.
The war was the revolution that created a world where The Beatles could thrive. The 1945 General Election was a mark of the desire for a different world, those born into revolutionary times could not escape being influenced.
Wars always bring change. The First World War brought women the vote; the millions of women involved in the war effort making an irrefutable case, one far stronger than any pre-war suffragette rally. The Second World War brought a welfare state, universal free education, the end of empire, and the emergence of our current international economic order. It brought a wave of teens and twenties for whom The Beatles would capture the mood of the time.
Wars continue to change the world. Vietnam destroyed the myth of the invincibility of the West and the continuing Gulf conflicts strengthen the position of Islamist leaders. The adage remains that the only thing that we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.
A celebrity-obsessed age will see a pop group as revolutionary. To see the real beginnings of the current world, look at the end of the old world on the beaches at Dunkirk in 1940, and the beginning of the new in the summer of 1945.