If, like me, you're a history buff, prepare yourself for the coming media orgy commemorating the 50th anniversary of one of the most eventful years in modern American history — 1968. The television networks and book publishers no doubt are busy these days preparing retrospectives on the happenings of that year — a feast […]
If, like me, you're a history buff, prepare yourself for the coming media orgy commemorating the 50th anniversary of one of the most eventful years in modern American history — 1968.
The television networks and book publishers no doubt are busy these days preparing retrospectives on the happenings of that year — a feast I keenly anticipate, especially from my perspective as a person who experienced much of it, in one way or another.
I was a political activist in my mid-20s in those days, which made me, even then, keenly aware that 1968 was a year like no other. Indeed, I got to where I almost questioned the humorous theory that time is God's way of preventing everything from happening at once. It sometimes seemed during 1968 that everything was, in fact, happening at once.
Stunning events followed one upon another at a disorienting pace. Just a few days after President Lyndon Johnson's surprise announcement in late March that he would not seek re-election, a gunman in Memphis shot and killed Martin Luther King Jr., touching off urban riots that killed more than 40 people. And then, before the end of spring, Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles by a deranged young man of Middle Eastern roots.
By then, many Americans were asking themselves why so many shocking events were happening in such short order. But the brisk pace of such happenings continued into the summer. Civil unrest on the streets of Chicago during the Democratic National Convention in late August triggered what a presidential commission subsequently labeled a “police riot” — and global television coverage of it all verified the chant among protesters that “the whole world is watching.”
All of this strife led to the election in November of Richard Nixon as president, an event that spawned its own dramatic history.
These and other major events in that fateful year distinguish 1968 as a year quite unlike most of those that preceded or followed it — at least in my lifetime. Accordingly, I look forward to the media retrospectives.
But, of course, I also fear that the effort will be screwed-up in some cases by narratives from people who have little or no real understanding of those times.