1968-Fifty Years Ago Or Yesterday?

By

Leonard Zwelling

It’s June 6, 2018. Exactly fifty years ago, I awoke in my small bedroom in my parent’s house on the south shore of Long Island. I was home from Duke for a summer job at Long Island Jewish Hospital to get my resume ready for medical school. My sophomore year had just ended and I had decided to try to go to medical school after only three years as an undergrad. Since I wanted to get my degree, I needed to attend summer school at night while working counting the cries of newborns as part of a study for the Chief of Pediatrics.

My parents had won a small black and white television at an auction at some benefit and it was parked in my room. I flipped it on. My world changed forever.

Bobby Kennedy had been shot in the head after declaring victory in the California Democratic primary for President of the United States. He was gunned down crossing a kitchen in a hotel in downtown Los Angeles. There is now some debate and controversy as to whether the sole convicted assassin, Sirhan Sirhan, acted alone. It didn’t matter. The hopes of my generation that had been boosted by the candidacy of Eugene McCarthy and that of Kennedy, as well as by the decision of Lyndon Johnson not to run again, were dashed. Probably 25,000 American servicemen and countless Vietnamese died because Kennedy was killed. Had he lived, I believe that he would have defeated Richard Nixon and become president. He would have ended the Vietnam War and tried to heal the wounds that were visible on our television sets every night during this tumultuous year.

It had started with the Tet Offensive, moved on to Johnson deciding not to run, then came the assassination of Dr. King and then Kennedy. And this was just the first half of the year. Janis Joplin, the White Album and man’s first trip around the moon awaited the latter half of that year. No matter how bad things have gotten now, the country is not in the kind of turmoil it was in 1968. With the election of Richard Nixon came the Moral Majority, more war and eventually, Watergate. Many of us believe that the country has never recovered from the events of this year, fifty years ago.

But this is also a different country now.

There were no tweets out of the White House in 1968. Pardoning criminals was not a major activity of the president. Congress still functioned. So did the Supreme Court.

We never really emerged from the shadows of 1968. Man landed on the moon the next year and Woodstock purported to be an epic occurrence. The facts seem to suggest that the political winds that blew through America from the streets of Chicago and the violent Democratic convention to the rise of Richard Nixon, dirty tricks and what appears to be a direct line to Donald Trump, allowed the country to spin out of control. There have been moments of sanity. George H. W. Bush was ready to be president and Ronald Reagan before him seemed to rise to the occasion. There was great prosperity during the Clinton years, but this was followed by 9/11 and all that has transpired since.

Like 1945 before it, 1968 was a year that remade the world. I don’t think this will be the case of 2018. But it might of 2020.

Leonard Zwelling