“Blame it on ’68” is the title of an article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune by Stephen B Young. The first paragraph sets it off. “When the complete history of the decline and fall of the American nation comes to be written, the turning point toward failure will not be recorded as the election of Donald Trump in 2016. It will be found among the events of 1968 (Star Tribune).” If that is the case, then let us take a look at what happened in 1968. By the way, if you are not well over 60 years old, this will be a lesson in history.
The year started off in late January with the Tet Offensive in South Vietnam and from there the battle for Vietnam went downhill. Although the Tet Offensive was a massive military defeat for the communists, it was declared a failure for American forces. Walter Cronkite, the famed and popular newscaster, declared that the war was unwinnable and should be abandoned (NPR). President Johnson would hear the cry, “Hey Hey LBJ, How many kids did you kill today?” The end result was that he chose not to run for president again. 1968 was a crucial year for the war in Vietnam.
1968 was marked by two assassinations, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy.
In April 1968, Martin Luther King Jr, the great catalyst for civil rights was assassinated. King, an American Baptist minister and the leader of the civil rights movement, had advocated nonviolence and civil disobedience. Two of his messages live on to this day. His civil rights manifesto “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” and the message he gave at the March on Washington in 1963. Standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, King had shared a vision for the future with his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. In 1964, he received the Nobel Peace Prize. Then four years later in 1968, after he was assassinated while standing on a balcony of a motel in Memphis, Tenessee, waves of riots swept across major cities around the country. Despair was acute, particularly among African Americans.
Robert Kennedy’s brother President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated in 1963 while in Dallas, Texas. On March 16, 1968, Robert Kennedy threw his hat into the ring with a run for President of the United States. Eighty-two days after announcing his candidacy, he was dead. After winning California’s Democratic primary and celebrating the victory at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, “he was assassinated in front of news cameras and screaming supporters.” Thomas Clark, the author of ‘The Last Campaign and 82 Days that Inspired America,’ states, “I heard again and again that they felt the loss of Bobby Kennedy more keenly even than the loss of John F. Kennedy,” Mr. Clarke said. “That they felt the country would have been even more different had Robert Kennedy been president than if John F. Kennedy had lived (NY Times).”
DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION
As Young puts it in his article, ‘Blame it on ’68,’ “The 1968 Democratic National Convention turned into a violent shambles unlike anything experienced since the founding of the country.” The Democratic nominee was the former Vice President Hubert Humphrey. The convention marked the take over of the Democratic Party by the young cultural rebels, who would later get their way with the Democratic nomination of McGovern in 1972, turning “it toward what we have today – a party of the left espousing an entitlement society of “safe spaces” for its client constituencies and marginalization for the rest – the Democratic Party of Barack Obama, and still more of Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Keith Ellison (Star Tribune).” 1968 brought changes to the DFL Party.
NIXON AND THE REPUBLICANS
Meanwhile, Richard Nixon “moved to exploit the fissures among the Democrats and the anxieties of the white middle class. Under his so-called Southern strategy, Nixon successfully brought Southern whites into the Republican Party. He also began to lure northern blue-collar whites away from the Democrats and so laid the cultural foundation for today’s Republican Party in Southern and Western states, small towns, and rural areas (Star Tribune).” Watergate, however, became his downfall and society was losing its trust in the framework of society and our leaders.
A different perspective is given by John Phelan in the article ‘The Real Legacy of 1968’ (The American Experiment), when he writes, “1968 may indeed have been the historical lynchpin in which the ‘Age of Aquarius’ transformed American culture, but not in the way retro celebrations want us to believe. The real-world impact of 1968 was the birth of the Reagan Revolution.”
CULTURAL SEXUAL REVOLUTION
‘The Protestant Ethic’ of self-discipline and personal responsibility was rejected by many boomers. In its place was thrust toward a culture of entitlement and self-actualization. Duty to family and country was now old-fashioned; not hip, and ‘if it feels good, do it’ become a norm for progressive minds to embrace. A cultural revolution came of age that embraced sexual freedom, women’s liberty, drugs and the full blast of rock music.
1968 was also the year the Pope spoke out against artificial birth contraception (BBC). Although ignored by most Catholics, in retrospect it was prophetic in recognizing the effect of separating physical pleasure from procreation. 1968 was bookended by the ‘Summer of Love’ in 1967, centered in Haight Ashbury in San Francisco, when as many as 100,000 people, mostly young people, sported hippie fashions of dress and behavior. “For those who come to San Francisco; Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair; If you come to San Francisco; Summertime will be a love-in there (PBS).” Then in 1969, the following year, there was Woodstock, the other bookend, a music festival in upstate New York which attracted some 400,000 young people for days of music, sex, and drugs.
50 YEARS LATER – 2018
Fifty years later, we see many things that can be traced to those days of 1968. For example, “In 1968, two African-American Olympic sprinters stood on the victor’s platform in Mexico City, as “The Star-Spangled Banner” was played, with a gloved hand raised in the “Black Power” salute of defiance against white privilege. Today, NFL players defy convention by taking a knee when the national anthem is played (Star Tribune, Time Magazine).”
The riots among African Americans of the sixties can now be seen in anger over the perceived unjust killings of African American men, which has brought forth the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement.
The political divisions and fighting, both within and without our two main political parties have only become worse in the last fifty years. The cultural battles have intensified, with the issues of abortion, homosexuality, gay marriage, sex education in schools, bathrooms battles and on and on.
1968 was a key year from which a forerunner of issues and events were to evolve that would be still impacting us today.
In Ecclesiastes 1:9, Solomon declares, “And there is nothing new under the sun.” What has been around, comes around. The question arises, “What was God doing in the midst of all this?” We will seek to answer that question in the next Langstaff Letter.
- Blame It on 1968 – http://www.startribune.com/our-chaotic-culture-blame-it-on-68/468186713/
- Walter Cronkite/Vietnam – https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=106775685
- Robert Kennedy Assassination – https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/01/us/politics/robert-kennedy-assassination-bobby-rfk.html
- The Real Legacy of 1968 – https://2lffqo2moysixpyb349z0bj6-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Thinking-MN-Issue-12-Sum18-Optimized.pdf
- Summer of Love –http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/Songs-of-the-summer-1967/
- Woodstock – https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/woodstock-music-festival-concludes
- 1968 Mexico City Olympics – http://time.com/3880999/black-power-salute-tommie-smith-and-john-carlos-at-the-1968-olympics/