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1968: A Year of Extremes.

The USS Pueblo
For as long as it has existed, dealing with North Korea (the Democratic People's Republic of Korea) has never been easy for the U.S.A. So, since the end of the Korean War (1950-53), other than watching Robert Altman's "M*A*S*H" (1970) and then later the television show, we have mostly averted our eyes. With regard to the Pueblo Incident, in 1968 so many other shocking things happened it became easy to look away.

Maybe our government should have handled North Korea's piracy differently. Then, too, maybe there were really no good options. No doubt, America's armed forces were stretched so thin in 1968 that all options weren't on the table. So 53 years ago, 15 years after the end of the Korean War, America was humiliated by North Korea. And we sucked it up, pretending there was nothing to see.

From Smithsonian.com:
The Johnson administration considered several risky courses of action to retaliate for the Pueblo seizure. They included a blockade of North Korean ports, air strikes on military targets, an attack across the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas, a phony intelligence leak to the Soviets that the United States planned to attack North Korea, and a "show of force" by U.S. naval and air units outside the port of Wonsan, where the Pueblo was being held.

Click here to read the entire article in the Smithsonian.

Jan. 23: The USS Pueblo was seized on the high seas by North Korean forces; at least that’s the story the U.S. Department of Defense told. (Where the Pueblo was is disputed.) Subsequently, as captives, the Pueblo’s 83 men endured an ordeal that was shocking to an American public that had naively thought its Super Power status meant such things could not happen.

Jan. 30: The Tet Offensive began, as the shadowy Viet Cong flexed its muscles and blurred battle lines with simultaneous assaults in many parts of South Vietnam. Even the American embassy in Saigon was attacked.

Mar. 16: In what came to be known as the My Lai Massacre, some 500 Vietnamese villagers -- women, children and old men (animals, too) -- were killed by American soldiers on patrol. However, it would be another 20 months before investigative journalist Seymour Hersh would break the horrifying story of the covered-up massacre, via the Associated Press wire service.

Mar. 31: Facing the burgeoning antiwar-driven campaigns of Sen. Eugene McCarthy and Sen. Robert Kennedy, President Lyndon Johnson suddenly withdrew from the presidential race, declining to run for reelection by saying, “I shall not seek and I will not accept the nomination...”

Apr. 4: America’s most respected civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, was shot and killed in Memphis, Tennessee. Riots followed in cities coast-to-coast. Collectively, this assassination marked a particular turning point for my generation, to do with race. For instance, in Richmond, culturally, it ended an era. Young adventurous whites who followed rhythm and blues music could no longer go in the black clubs they had once patronized. (No more Sahara Club for me.)

May 13: The U.S.A. and North Vietnam began a series of negotiations to end the war in Vietnam that came to be known as the Paris Peace Talks. Ironically, as a backdrop, France, itself, was in chaos. Workers and students had shut down much of the country with a series of strikes. The trains weren’t running, the airports were closed, as were schools, etc.

May 24: Father Philip Berrigan and Thomas Lewis (of Artists Concerned About Vietnam) were sentenced to six years behind bars for destroying federal property, stemming from an incident where duck blood was poured over draft files at Baltimore’s Selective Service headquarters.

June 3: Artist Andy Warhol nearly died from wounds received from a gunshot fired by Valerie Solanis. She was a sometime writer and one of the many off-beat characters who had occasionally hung out at Warhol’s famous studio, the Factory, where aluminum foil served as wallpaper.

June 5: Having just won the California primary, Robert Kennedy was assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan in Los Angeles. The hopes of millions that the Vietnam War would end soon died that night. It’s still hard to imagine that Richard Nixon would have been able to defeat Kennedy in the general election. Kennedy's death meant the gravy train being enjoyed by big corporations supplying the war effort would continue to chug along.

June 8: James Earl Ray was arrested in London. Eventually, he was convicted of murdering Martin Luther King. Yet, questions about that crime and Ray's role linger today.

July 1: By an act of the General Assembly which was signed by Gov. Mills Godwin, Virginia Commonwealth University was established by a merger that seemed awkward at the time. The School of the Arts the new university inherited from RPI was already the largest professional art school in the country. The Medical College of Virginia was showing the world how to do heart transplants.

July 23: After watching “2001: A Space Odyssey” at the Westhampton Theatre, I saw The Who play live on stage at the Mosque (now the Altria Theater). Looking at the long line to get into the concert, I was surprised at how many hippies there were in Richmond. This was in the period the band was into smashing up its equipment to finish off shows. (The acid I took an hour before seeing the movie served me well that day.)

Aug. 20: Soviet tanks rolled into Czechoslovakia to crush what had been a season of renaissance. As it had been with the construction of the Berlin Wall and the Cuban Missile Crisis, talk of World War III being one button-push away was commonplace.

Aug. 28: In Chicago the Democratic convention that selected Vice President Hubert Humphrey to top its ticket melted down. With tear gas in the air and blood in the streets 178 demonstrators/bystanders were arrested. Many were roughed up on live television. As cops clubbed citizens in the streets, CBS reporters Mike Wallace and Dan Rather were punched on the convention floor. To many bewildered Americans, perhaps for the first time, it seemed possible that our society was coming unglued. 

Oct. 18: At the Summer Olympics at Mexico City, American track stars Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists during the medal ceremony for the 200 meter race. Smith and Carlos wore black gloves (and other symbolic accouterments) for a protest gesture that was widely seen as a “black power” salute.

Nov. 5: Richard Nixon narrowly defeated Hubert Humphrey. Although Humphrey, himself, was for peace, out of loyalty, he refused to denounce Johnson’s failing war policy. Disillusioned liberals stayed at home and it cost Humphrey, dearly. Also elected that day was Shirley Chisholm from Brooklyn. She was the first black female to serve in the House of Representatives.

Dec. 21: The first manned space mission to escape Earth’s gravity and orbit the moon began with the launching of Apollo 8.

Dec. 24: After having its way with them for 11 months, torture and mock executions included, North Korea released all of the members of the Pueblo’s crew but kept the ship. The U.S. Navy seemed to blame the Pueblo’s captain, Commander Lloyd M. "Pete" Bucher, for the entire fiasco. Mercifully, the Secretary of the Navy called off any official punishment.

Today, for many of my vintage, 1968 is remembered mostly for its daunting explosions of violence, in particular the assassinations. We Americans have never liked remembering the Pueblo.

*

 -- Words by F.T. Rea. The Pueblo image was stolen from the Internet



This post first appeared on SLANTblog, please read the originial post: here

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1968: A Year of Extremes.

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