War, class conflict, racial tension, violent protest, urban unrest, Gestapo police tactics and assassinations were the hallmarks of 1968.
Presidential candidate Bobby Kennedy was shot by an assassin this week in 1968 and died the next day, joining in martyrdom Martin Luther King, Jr., who had died the very same way two months earlier.
For America, 1968 was a very bad year.
In its first month, January, the North Vietnamese army launched the Tet offensive, an all-out attack against South Vietnam that escalated the Vietnam War and initiated a massive anti-war protest movement that would haunt America’s policymakers, and divide the nation, for years.
That protest movement had its apex (or nadir) in August of 1968 with the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Thousands of student demonstrators invaded the Windy City to send a message to the Democratic presidential nominee, Hubert Humphrey, that getting America out of Vietnam should be his highest priority. But Chicago’s mayor, Richard Daley, had no intention of seeing his city disrupted by a bunch of long-haired hippies, so he instructed his police force to show them who was boss. The result was nonstop television coverage of Middle America’s sons and daughters being beaten senseless and shoved into police wagons night after night outside the convention center. The scene so disgusted most of America that Daley’s reputation never recovered, and Chicago’s barely did.
It also was an Olympic year, but black America’s anger over King’s assassination, the slow progress of the Civil Rights movement, and the appalling living conditions in the nation’s inner cities raised the possibility that black athletes would boycott the Mexico City Summer Games. Eventually, they agreed to compete, but in October of 1968, at the awards ceremony for the 200-meter dash, black Olympic medalists Tommie Smith and John Carlos turned their backs on the American flag as it was being raised and thrust a black-gloved fist in the air, in a defiant salute to black power. They immediately were suspended and their medals were revoked, but the moment galvanized America’s blacks and breathed new life into what became an increasingly violent struggle between blacks, as symbolized by the Black Panther Party, and law enforcement.
Overseas, in late August of 1968, the Soviet Union finally crushed a budding freedom movement in Prague, Czechoslovakia — the “Prague Spring,” as it was called — thereby ignoring American warnings not to interfere, tightening Soviet control over Eastern Europe and signaling to America that the Cold War was far from over.
Fortunately, the year almost was. War, class conflict, racial tension, violent protest, urban unrest, Gestapo police tactics and assassinations were the hallmarks of 1968 — a year that will live in infamy. Perhaps fittingly, the most popular movie of 1968, “Rosemary’s Baby,” was about a woman who is impregnated by Satan and bears his son.