In 1959, Frank Sinatra won a Grammy award, Charlton Heston starred in "Ben Hur," Alaska and Hawaii became states and President Eisenhower met with Nikita Khrushchev at Camp David. Fidel Castro also seized power in Cuba in 1959. And in the 50 years since, the United States has repeatedly tried to dislodge him.
It takes no particular insight, however, to notice that Fidel and his brother Raul are still in power. And it takes no great imagination to think that perhaps - after half a century of failure - the United States should try a different approach.
President Obama took a step in that direction Monday when he eased restrictions to allow Cuban-Americans to travel and send money to Cuba. It was a small step best looked at as a beginning. It should be followed by a broader action to allow unrestricted U.S. travel and trade with Cuba. After all, nothing promotes American values like Americans.
In recent decades, this country's anti-Castro efforts have been limited primarily to the U.S. embargo that forbids trade with Cuba and effectively bans Americans from visiting the island. The thought seems to be that denying the benefits of U.S. commerce and tourism will strangle the Communist regime and force Castro's ouster.
But it is an embargo, not a blockade, and Cuba interacts with the rest of the world to whatever extent the Castro brothers see fit. Tourists from Canada and Europe visit the island, and other countries looking to thumb their noses at the United States for one reason or another provide aid and assistance.
As a result, it is only American influence that is limited. That allows Castro to blame the United States for Cuba's problems, particularly its paltry economy, without confronting the jarring juxtaposition of American personal wealth and freedom.
What is worse, it puts the onus for denying contact on the wrong side. It is the Castro government that should - and probably does - fear contact with Americans. Why do its work for it by erecting the barrier in this country?
Why not encourage U.S. church groups, baseball teams and cruise liners to visit Cuba? The Castro government would then have to choose between allowing precisely the kind of contact it has been spared all these years or being seen turning away evangelicals' attention and tourists' dollars.
Freedom is contagious. American culture is corrosive to tyranny, and would be particularly insidious to a system that embraces stultifying poverty and lack of opportunity. The everyday wealth of ordinary Americans would be an ongoing affront to Castro's decades of misrule.
The Obama administration's easing of the restrictions will do some of that. Cubans cannot fail to notice that their relatives who got out of the county are able to send money back. Nor will they be unaffected by the U.S.-influenced culture of their visiting kin.
As to the provision to allow U.S. telecommunications companies to do business in Cuba, that too could help - if the Cubans allow it to. The Castro government could limit that in the same way modern upscale hotels opened to serve European tourists were long kept off limits to natives.
But if the U.S. government is serious about wanting to see Cuba turn toward democracy, civil liberties and individual freedom, it needs to drop the entire embargo. Fifty years attest to that.