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The Chaotic, Calamitous, Melodramatic Year that was 1968

Phil Egan's picture
Fri, 06/01/2018 - 08:04 -- Phil Egan

The exhausting tumult of Donald Trump’s first year in office reminds me of the year that I turned 21 – 50 years ago this month. For those old enough to remember 1968, it was a time just as colourful and full of memorable, and often tragic, events. It has been called “the year that changed history.”

The world, it was said, would never be the same.

Half a world away, North Korea was dominating world headlines – just as it does today. The USS Pueblo remains today the only U.S. naval ship held captive by a foreign government. In January, North Korean forces captured the intelligence vessel, holding its crew of 83 captive for almost one year.

The Vietnam War was raging, and that same month the North Vietnamese would launch the Tet Offensive. It would prove to be the turning point of the war.

In February, Richard Nixon announced his candidacy for the American presidency. Two weeks later, the U.S. death toll in Vietnam hit a new high, with 543 killed and 2,547 wounded.

March witnessed major upheavals in U.S. politics. Driven by an army of young volunteers, Senator Eugene McCarthy shockingly won the New Hampshire primary. Bobby Kennedy entered the race four days later. President Lyndon Johnson then declined to run again in 1968.

April was a month of both tragedy and triumph. Martin Luther Ling’s assassination sparked riots in 100 cities across the United States. In Canada, Pierre Trudeau won the leadership of the Liberal Party.

May 6 was “Bloody Monday” in Paris, as 5,000 student demonstrators rioted in the streets. French president Charles de Gaulle briefly went into hiding. The following month saw Bobby Kennedy’s assassination.

In June, on St. Jean Baptiste Day, separatists rioted in Montreal.  Rocks and bottles were thrown at Pierre Trudeau, champion of a unified Canada, as 292 demonstrators were arrested.

The following day, Trudeau won a majority government in a federal election.

July saw violence in the air. A Palestinian terrorist group forced open the flight deck door of El Al Flt. 426, clubbing the co-pilot and forcing the aircraft to divert to Algiers. It was the beginning of a wave of airline hijackings.

At the end of August, the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia. In Chicago, 10,000 students and Vietnam War protestors at the Democratic Convention sparked a police riot. People across North America watched the spectacle on television as demonstrators were clubbed and beaten in the streets by police.

The “blackest day in the history of cows” arrived in Pittsburgh in September. That month in the city, a McDonald’s franchise served the first Big Mac. So – the year was not one of total war and conflict.

In September of 1968, the first Boeing 747 was rolled out in Seattle – an event that would change the face of aviation worldwide for decades.

In October, the “year of violence” continued as hundreds of demonstrators were killed or injured in Mexico City.

Curtis LeMay, a retired U.S. Air Force chief of staff, running as a vice-presidential candidate on a ticket with independent candidate and former segregationist George Wallace, makes a stunning announcement regarding the use of nuclear weapons.

“I think most military men think it’s just another weapon in the arsenal” LeMay said. “I think there are many times when it would be most efficient to use nuclear weapons. I don’t believe the world would end if we exploded a nuclear weapon.”

In November, by a popular vote margin of only half a million ballots, Richard Nixon defeated Hubert Humphrey for the presidency of the United States. Looming ahead for America lay the agony of Watergate and the historic resignation of a president – events that still resonate 50 years later.

By the time December came, the world was displaying fatigue at the litany of violence, demonstrations, assassinations, and nuclear bomb tests. But four days before Christmas, a celestial event saved 1968 from being a year of total misery.

The world lifted its eyes to the heavens as Apollo 8 became the first spacecraft to leave earth’s orbit on its lunar voyage to the moon.

And on Christmas Day, astronaut Frank Borman’s prayer from space reminded a weary world of the power of God’s love to bring peace in even the most perilous of times.

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