It appears these days our nation is coming apart at the seams. It’s helpful to remember we’re been through this sort of thing before. Consider the events of 1968, fifty years ago.
The year 1967 had been a rough one, with campus unrest and urban riots. However, it was just a warm-up for 1968.
One of the first things that happened was the Tet Offensive in Vietnam. After agreeing to a temporary cease-fire, the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong launched attacks all over South Vietnam. Images of the conflict were beamed into American living rooms by television, and Americans got a shocking look at the reality of war.
We now know the offensive was a disaster for North Vietnam and the Viet Cong. However, according to what the administration of President Lyndon Johnson was saying in the months leading up to it, the offensive should never have been possible in the first place. Johnson’s “credibility gap” on Vietnam had become a credibility chasm.
Unrest grew on the nation’s campuses, fed by opposition to the Vietnam War. Demonstrations became violent, with clashes with police. Students denounced America as “fascist” and “imperialist.” They openly embraced Communist leaders like Ho Chi Minh of North Vietnam and Cuba’s Che Guevara.
In politics, many thought the Democratic Convention in Chicago would be a Johnson crowning ceremony. Then, Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy challenged him. Although Johnson won the New Hampshire Primary, it was not the landslide that had been predicted. Then, to everyone’s surprise, Johnson announced he would not seek re-election.
The Presidential race was suddenly wide open.
In April, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis. This set off a new round of urban rioting. The Civil Rights movement took on an ugly and violent tone.
Barely two months later, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated just after he won the California Presidential Primary. He had come to symbolize the hopes of many young Americans for a better, more just nation. With his death, it looked like the nation was unraveling even further, and that peaceful protest and trying to work within the system was futile.
On the Republican side, former Vice President Richard Nixon won the nomination and said he had a secret plan for ending the Vietnam War. Apparently, it was so secret, even he didn’t know what it was.
The Democratic Convention in Chicago was an unmitigated disaster. Anti-war demonstrators descended on the city, and there were violent clashes with the Chicago Police Department. The police over-reaction to one evening’s demonstrations were broadcast live to the nation, and they left Democratic leaders decrying the “Gestapo tactics.”
The Democratic nominee, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, faced a monumental task against Nixon, but he almost succeeded in catching up. His campaign reminded everyone of Nixon’s “Tricky Dick” reputation, as well as the very shady reputation of his running mate, Maryland Gov. Spiro Agnew.
In the end, Nixon won a very close race, edging out Humphrey and a third-party candidate, former Alabama Gov. George Wallace, who had run on a campaign of “law and order.”
It wasn’t all bad news. In October, America returned to space for the first time since the Apollo fire in January 1967 with the launch of Apollo 7. The success of the mission and the humor provided by the crew gave the nation some badly-needed light moments.
The year ended with the successful mission of Apollo 8. As the spacecraft orbited the moon, the crew sent back spectacular pictures of Earth from space. People were awed as they saw our world from the point of view of another. These photos put our world and its place in God’s creation in a new perspective. For a nation weary of the events of 1968, it was just what was needed.
The year 2018 is not 1968. However, it helps us to remember our nation has faced tough times in the past. Maybe we need that bit of perspective on our world that Apollo 8 gave to the world.