This year, 2018, marks the 50th anniversary of one of the most turbulent years in recent American history: 1968. Here is a selected listing of that year’s most talked about happenings.
January 1: The New Year’s Day Battle of 1968, a military engagement during the Vietnam War involving units assigned to the US 25th Infantry Division and a regiment of the North Vietnamese Army (NVA).
Want to learn more about the battle? Watch the 1986 Oliver Stone film Platoon. Stone was serving in one of the American units during the battle. The final battle scene in the movie is a dramatization of the real battle as experienced by Stone.
January 23: North Korean patrol boats capture the USS Pueblo, a US Navy intelligence vessel along with its 83 man crew on charges of violating the communist country’s twelve-mile territorial limit. This crisis will dog the US foreign policy team for 11 months, with the crew of the Pueblo finally released on December 22.
January 31: At half-past midnight, the North Vietnamese launch the Tet Offensive at Nha Trang. Nearly 70,000 North Vietnamese troops will take part in this action, taking the battle from the jungles to the cities, attacking more than 100 towns. The offensive lasts for weeks and is seen as a major turning point in American attitudes toward the war. At 2:45 that morning, the US Embassy in Saigon is invaded. It’s held until 9:15 AM.
February 2: Richard Nixon, a republican from California, enters the New Hampshire primary and declares his presidential candidacy.
February 18: The US State Department announces the highest US casualty toll of the Vietnam War. The previous week saw 543 Americans killed in action, and 2547 wounded.
March 16: Senator Robert Kennedy, brother of former president John F. Kennedy (1961-1964), announces that he will enter the 1968 Presidential race.
March 16: The My Lai Massacre: US ground troops from Charlie Company rampage through the hamlet of My Lai killing more than 500 Vietnamese civilians including infants and the elderly. The massacre is not public knowledge for more than a year.
March 22: In Czechoslovakia, Antonin Novotny resigns the Czech presidency, alarming Moscow, and setting the stage for the Prague Spring.
April 4: Martin Luther King’s assassination in Memphis shocks and outrages the nation, sparking rioting in Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Kansas City, Newark, Washington DC, and elsewhere. 46 deaths with be blamed on the riots.
April 11: The Civil Rights Act of 1968 (also known as the Fair Housing Act) is enacted during the King Assassination Riots.
April 23: Protestors angered over Columbia University‘s links to the Department of Defense occupy university buildings for more than a week to protest the Vietnam War. Police storm the buildings and violently remove the protestors at the Columbia administration’s request.
May 3: US and North Vietnamese delegations agree to begin peace talks in Paris on May 19.
May 6: In France, “Bloody Monday” marks one of the most violent days of the Parisian student revolt. 5,000 students march through the Latin Quarter. Riots ensue.
June 3: Andy Warhol is shot in his New York City loft by Valerie Solanis.
June 4/5: Robert Kennedy is shot at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles at 12:13 AM after addressing a large crowd of supporters. The shooter, Sirhan Sirhan, was apparently angered by several pro-Israeli speeches given by Kennedy during his campaign.
June 6: Kennedy, age 42, dies in the early morning.
June 27: The Prague Spring continues in Czechoslovakia with President Ludvik Vaculi releasing his manifesto “Two Thousand Words.” The essay criticizes Communist rule in Czechoslovakia and concludes with a threat to “foreign forces” trying to control the government of the country. The Soviets (who conducted ongoing military exercises in the the country and who are planning an invasion later in the summer see this as a direct challenge).
July 7: Abbie Hoffman‘s “The Yippies are Going to Chicago” is published in The Realist. The Yippies will be in the center of the action six weeks later at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
July 24: Folk singer Arlo Guthrie performs the 20 minute long Alice’s Restaurant at the Newport Folk Festival. He gets rave reviews.
August 8: Republicans nominate Richard Nixon to be their presidential candidate at the Party convention in Miami Beach.
August 20: The Soviet Union invades Czechoslovakia with over 200,000 Warsaw Pact troops, putting an end to the Prague Spring.
August 26: Mayor Richard Daley opens the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Demonstrations are widespread, but generally peaceful. The city’s police attempt to enforce an 11 o’clock curfew.
August 28: Chicago police take action against crowds of demonstrators. At least 100 people are sent to emergency rooms and 175 are arrested.
September 1: Democratic nominee Hubert Humphrey kicks off his presidential campaign in New York City.
September 7: Women’s Liberation Groups target the Miss America Beauty Contest in Atlantic City. Protestors engage in a “symbolic bra-burning.”
October 2: Police and military police in Mexico City react violently to a student led protest. Hundreds of demonstrators are killed or injured.
October 11: Apollo 7 is launched from Florida for an 11 day journey. It will orbit the earth 163 times.
October 18: Tommie Smith and John Carlos, US athletes and medalists, disrupt the Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City by performing the Black Power Salute.
October 31: President Johnson announces a total halt to US bombing in North Vietnam.
November 5: Election Day. Nixon wins 43.4% of the total vote, Humphrey brings in 42.7% of the total, and Wallace gets 13.4% (o.4% goes to other candidates).
November 14: National Turn in Your Draft Card Day is observed with rallies and protests on collage campuses country wide.
November 26: The South Vietnamese government agrees to join in the Paris Peace talks.
December 21: Apollo 8 begins the first US mission to orbit the moon.
1968 was an eventful year for Popular Culture too. Here are a few of the things that happened:
April 29: “Hair” — known for its nudity and drug use — opens on Broadway. This may be the quintessential “period piece” of 1968.
August 1968: The Beatles release “Hey Jude.”
September: The first Big Mac is served in Pittsburgh by a McDonald’s franchise owner named Jim Delligatti. It cost 49 cents.
September 24: “60 Minutes” debuts on CBS.
November 1: A new movie ratings system was introduced with four categories: G, M, R and X.
December 3: The Elvis “comeback special” airs on TV. It’s widely considered one of the great rock ‘n’ roll moments.
The Rolling Stones stage a comeback also with their recording of “Jumping Jack Flash.” Here was the year’s real rock ‘n’ roll comeback.
As the year progresses, Cold War Studies will post frequently on this year of RESISTANCE and PROTEST. I hope you’ll check back often. If you want to make sure not to miss a post, why not SUBSCRIBE using the form below. We’ll never share your information. Meanwhile, HAPPY NEW YEAR!