The year 1968 represents a watershed year in modern American history, with enough tragedy and triumph to last a lifetime.
Those tumultuous 365 days took place 50 years ago this year, and there have already been numerous remembrances of the historic events that took place a half-century ago.
The year started with Vietnam, of course, a terrible war after which the politicians claimed we won peace with honor but Baby Boomers knew we lost. The unraveling of the war came in January 1968, with the Tet Offensive, coordinated attacks by the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong throughout South Vietnam. Even the U.S. Embassy in Saigon came under fire.
If you go by body count, which is how U.S. officials at the time determined whether we were winning or losing, we eventually won that battle. But we were losing the war when Walter Cronkite, the most trusted newsman in America, said so on the CBS Evening News.
Within two months, Eugene McCarthy won more votes than expected in the New Hampshire Democratic primary against President Lyndon Johnson. A few weeks later, LBJ announced his withdrawal from the race and the nation was shocked.
It was only March.
Still to come was the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King., Jr., in early April, and the rioting that followed.
But one of the most significant blows to politics in our nation, at least for young people and progressives, came in June.
After winning the Democratic primary in California, something many thought would lead to his nomination that summer in Chicago (perhaps you’ve heard about the 1968 convention?), Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated.
It was a stunning blow. The verb “to stun” means “to render unconscious” and shouldn’t used to express surprise. But I find no other word to describe the feeling of awaking on June 6 to learn the news that RFK had been shot.
It was more than deflating. It was more than disturbing. It was the loss of our last, best chance to be a decent people.
A new Netflix documentary, “Bobby Kennedy for President,” takes us back to those days in the political spring of 1968 and to the aftermath of Kennedy’s death.
Anyone who wants to understand what Baby Boomers are longing for today politically and to know their inherent grief over what’s wrong with America should see this four-part series.
There’s some great, never-before-seen footage of Kennedy, and the color footage from those days brings the times and Bobby back to life.
It’s heartrending to watch RFK transform from the ruthless younger brother of JFK to an adult leader compelled to seek justice and the promise of America.
The best of the interviews comes from Rep. John Lewis, who breaks down remembering that fateful night, and Paul Schrade, a then-young campaign aide who was also shot in the assassination.
Finally there is Juan Romero, an old man today, who as a young busboy cradled Kennedy’s head in his hands after he was shot and gave Bobby a rosary from his pocket.
Kennedy’s fateful campaign was perhaps doomed from the start, but it was filled with passion and idealism like no other in American history.
What were we who followed him so fervently and still mourn him today so passionate and idealistic about?
That we could solve those problems that still plague us today.
We believed that we could feed the poor, end poverty, bring peace to the world and instill justice for all, no matter the person’s race, national origin or status.
His final public words are still a cry for those goals:
“What I think is quite clear is that we can work together, in the last analysis. And that what has been going on with the United States over the period of that last three years, the divisions, the violence, the disenchantment with our society, the divisions — whether it’s between blacks and whites, between the poor and the more affluent, or between age groups, or in the war in Vietnam — that we can work together. We are a great country, an unselfish country and a compassionate country. And I intend to make that my basis for running.”
Then, it was over.
• Randy Blaser is a freelance columnist.