"please, allow me to introduce myself . . ."
1968 was a watershed year, the year when the 60s optimism with its utopian hippie dreams and hopes of social change for the better future started to turn sour. Nothing that came after that would ever be the same as what had come before. It was a year of deep tragedy, pain and anger, but also a year of remarkarble social upheaval.
Throughout 1967, The United States had been escalating the number of troops it had committed to the war in Viet Nam. Also throughout that year political leaders such as Lyndon Johnson and Vice-President Hubert Humphry as well as military leaders like William Westmoreland had been confidently assuring the American public of impending victory. The North Vietnamese and the National Liberation Front (Viet Cong) didn't quite see things that way. During the cease fire for the Lunar New Year (Tet), the North Vietnamese Army and its associated Viet Cong units struck in a massive offensive aimed at the south. There were risings in the cities of Hue, and Saigon and a major attack on the American base at Khe Sanh. The 1968 Tet Offensive was in fact a major setback for the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong who suffered major losses, but to the American public it seemed that the war their leaders had committed them to was unwinnable.
The political fallout from the Tet Offensive wasn't long in coming. 1968 was a presidential election year and in the New Hampshire primary, Lyndon Johnson suffered an unprecedented defeat. Between his loss in New Hampshire, and listening to the maddening chant of "Hey, Hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today," finally convinced Johnson to step out of the 1968 race in April throwing the race for the Democratic Party nomination wide open. Several candidates stepped in with peace in Southeast Asia as their major campaign promise, most notably Eugene McCarthy who had defeated Johnson in New Hampshire and the former Attorney General, Robert Kennedy.
"everywhere i hear the sound of marching, charging people . . ."
Political upheaval wasn't confined to the United States. In Paris, May 1968, university students and many of their teachers walked out of classes to protest the closing of a suburban branch of the university system. They were inspired by such philosophers as Guy Debord, from whom they approriated their famous slogan "Be reasonable, demand the impossible". The strike spread to include many workers who were also unhappy with the government. In the face of increased opposition, President Charles DeGaulle became defiant. Instead of resigning, he stated that he would continue, but he did dissolve the national assembly and call for new elections. DeGaulle's party won the elections handily, but failed in a subsequent referendum on social and university reforms.
At the same time in the Eastern Europe, Alexander Dubcek of Czechoslovakia put forward his vision of "socialism with a human face," that would predate Mikhail Gorbachev by 20 years. Censorship was lifted and workers were even allowed to go on strike. Dubcek's neighbors in Poland, Hungary and East Germany looked on nervously, as did the Soviet Union. Dubcek assured his Warsaw Pact allies that he had no intention of taking Czechoslovakia out of the Soviet fold. What had many leaders in the eastern bloc concerned was that if Czechoslovakia's reforms were allowed to continue, many of their own people would demand the same reforms which would seriously jeopardize their monopoly on power. When Dubcek and his colleagues refused to bow to Soviet pressure to stop the reforms, the Soviets took a page from the capitalist west and in August they sent in the tanks, thus crushing the Prague Spring of 1968.
"i shouted out: 'who killed the Kennedys if not you and me' . . ."
There were two notable assassinations in 1968. In April, Martin Luther King Jr. was asked to come to Memphis to help calm a strike by sanitation workers that had become violent. On the evening of April 4, he and several colleagues were standing on the balcony of King's motel room when he was shot one time in the neck. He was pronounced dead an hour and fifteen minutes later. The news of King's assassination set of riots in Washington DC and other American cities. In June, just after he had won the California primary, Robert Kennedy was being walked through the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel when Sirhan Sirhan stepped forward and shot him three times. Kennedy was pronounced dead the next morning.
The American presidential election of 1968 was a turbulent affair. The Democratic Convention in Chicago was marred by violence, which was later characterized as "A Police Riot." By contrast, the Republican convention in Miami Beach was a dignified coronation. The Democrats nominated Vice-president Hubert Humphrey, the Republicans nominated Richard Nixon and the Yippies, lead by Abbie Hoffman, nominated a pig. Alabama Governor George Wallace ran on a third party ticket. In a close election, Nixon won promising Law and Order and Peace in Southeast Asia.
"so if you meet me, have some courtesy, have some sympathy, have some taste . . ."
In popular music, The Rolling Stones were about to release their album Beggars Banquet, which was delayed because its controversial sleeve of graffiti on men's room's wall; the songs themselves, such as 'Street Fighting Man', were an accurate mirror of the coming down from the year 1967 and its Summer of Love; reflecting the shattered illusions and burnt-out minds in the aftermath of psychedelic revolution, and also the turbulence of times into something far more uglier. Also their increasing dark fascination with the occult could be heard from such tracks as 'Sympathy For The Devil'. The self-titled double album of The Beatles (a.k.a. 'The White Album') was a similar affair in the sense that one could already hear the famous band fragmenting into pieces as if as a result of an LSD-fuelled nervous breakdown, and would eventually inspire Charles Manson's infamous Family in their murderous rampage the following year. On the other hand, Switched-On Bach, Wendy Carlos' album of Johann Sebastian Bach arrangements for Moog synthesiser - released also in 1968 - would start a new, totally electronic era in pop music.
The most memorable film of 1968 was Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. Spanning the ages from prehistory to the near future, this film was unlike any science fiction or any other film before it. In many places it was ambiguous and never really laid out its plot directly, preferring to hint at the events rather than explain them. The most memorable character was the HAL 9000 computer, voiced by Douglas Rains. Also Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby shocked the audiences the same year with its Satanic themes. Obviously, something was in the air...
And talking about space, Apollo 8 was launched in mid-December. Frank Borman, James Lovell and Bill Anders would be the first humans to orbit the Moon.
1968 @ Wikipedia