1968 put into perspective

1968 put into perspective
By   Karen March 26, 2015

Originally published by Seacoast Newspapers,
Exeter News Letter, Exeter NH
January 13, 2006

1968 put into perspective

Much ado is being made about the coming of age of the Baby
Boomers. Social scientists note that the Boomers “pig in the python”
demographic is approaching critical mass in retirement. We can prepare
for plenty of insipid “edutainment” generational theory talk, most of
which is just plain insulting all the way around. For those with real interest
in a rigorous, academic treatment of generational theory, blessedly free
from pop culture, there is no better book than William Strauss and Neil
Howe’s Generations. At 500 plus pages, it is no light read, but neither is
the topic. For this junior Boomer, it puts 1968 in perspective.

The mention of the year 1968 is often described as the year
America changed. It does cause the memory banks of many boomers to
fire with images. It was in January of that year that my brother left for
Vietnam, arriving in country on the day the Tet offensive began.
Historians would later mark Tet 1968 as the turning point in the war. My
widowed father pinned a National Geographic map of Southeast Asia to
the kitchen wall and we broke an inviolate family rule and began to
wordlessly eat supper while watching the evening news. We tried to
locate places on the wall map with exotic names like Khe Sahn, Hue City
and Phu Cat. Walter Cronkite offered a macabre weekly scorecard of KIA,
MIA and wounded.

Spring came and just as the dogwoods were blooming, we got an
unexpected day off school. Martin Luther King had been assassinated in
Memphis, and it seemed the world was on fire. The ugliness of racial
hatred was far removed from my corner of America. Bus boycotts,
segregation and racial riots were things that did not taint the innocence
of my life until 1968. Suddenly that window to the rest of the world, the
television, showed little else.

But there was hope. My family of New Deal Democrats was pinning its
dreams on the heir to the Kennedy dynasty. With our portrait of JFK in
the living room, we rooted for Bobby. His victory in California seemed to
make his nomination in Chicago a sure thing. Camelot would be
resurrected. But a strange man with a strange name ended that dream
with a bullet to Kennedy’s brain, and 1968 claimed one more casualty.
The riots at the Democratic convention that summer offered yet one
more surreal image of a year that was destined to defy imagination. It
seemed at times like the world was coming to an end. Richard Nixon was
elected that fall, and the rest, they say, is history. But the themes of
1968 remain.

We are still here, with our facelifts and Viagra, SUVs and iPads.
Describing these black and white images after so many years falls
dreadfully short in translation. Perhaps it will be that way when today’s
youngsters describe September 11th to their grandchildren. They can look
to the first half of the twentieth century for inspiration. In 1936,
Franklin Roosevelt described it thus when talking about to our elders on
the cusp of the Second World War:
“There is a mysterious cycle in human events. To some generations
much is given. Of other generations much is expected. This generation
has a rendezvous with destiny.”
For us and the generations yet to come, the truth of Roosevelt’s
words remain. Shallow prattle about generational inconsequentials such as
clothing styles and music trends should not obscure the abiding values of
liberty, rule of law and resistance to tyranny. Our grandparents
understood it, perhaps more astutely than we, and our children must learn
it as they navigate the twenty first century.

Copyright, March 2015
Karen Baetzel
BattleAxe Consulting Services, LLC