classical gas in a time of chaos
As much as the flower children hoped for peace on earth, the chances of achieving it in 1968 were slim. The world was still in the grips of the Cold War when in an unprecedented move North Korea seized the US Navy ship Pueblo and held 83 on board as spies in a drama that would take 11 months to resolve. During that period the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia, the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops launched the Tet offensive and in one of the most horrific atrocities in American military history soldiers massacred over 300 civilians at My Lai.
Social unrest manifested all over the world – the issues that Martin Luther King Jr. had fought so hard to bring to the forefront became that much clearer on April 4 when he was shot down while standing on the balcony of a motel in Memphis, Tennessee by James Earl Ray. As news of the assassination spread, violence broke out in cities nationwide. This and the ongoing “Poor Peoples Campaign” that King had had a guiding hand in organizing gave President Lyndon Johnson the necessary impetus to sign the Civil Rights Act of 1968. Murder of public figures did not end with King, less than two months later Sen. Robert F. Kennedy was shot and critically wounded in a Los Angeles hotel after winning the California primary and died June 6.
The young and disenfranchised everywhere felt the pinch of authority – in May the Paris Student Protest triggered a nationwide crisis and was followed by a month of protest by the National Labor Unions which shut down the Sorbonne, paralysed communication and transportation network and brought the country to a virtual standstill. In one of the largest protests in a single city, 800,000 teachers, workers and student protesters marched through the French capital during a one day general strike. War-weary Americans must have taken note of how numbers could elicit change for later that summer anti-War protesters mobilized against the Police in a street battle at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
Despite the chaos some success was achieved throughout the year – the first manned mission Apollo 8 orbited the Moon restoring hope in the space programme, the invention of amniocentesis made advances in reproductive science and the Emergency 911 Telephone service was started in the USA. Proving once more that England could export more than Rolling Stones and Beatles chart-toppers, Reg Varney, the comedian, in a nice bit of publicity used one of the first ATM machines at Barclays Bank in North London, they would soon crop up all over the US.
In 1968, Andy Warhol coined the expression that would become an enduring concept for generations then unborn – “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” He would have laughed if he knew how true his words were to become…
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