The 1960’s was generally seen as the decade that brought about a lot of social change. However it was events in 1968 that made this more than apparent. Indeed the generation gap between young and old had never been greater.
Many attribute this to the fact that the first grown up generation born during or just after the war. Critics believed that they were given a better insight into the events of the world thanks to radio and the new technology of television. Furthermore public education was becoming more widely attended and standardized. Added to which the world was becoming a much smaller place as people either mixed with people from different backgrounds or through television. It was a generation that was more self-aware and more united as a group than the generations before it.
Added to which this was the generation that was first brought up during the opening of the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Consequently they were aware that a nuclear attack could end their world and consequently became more anti-war as a result.
There was also a big determination of equal rights throughout the 1960’s which also helped create this social movement. This was seen through the Civil rights movement and feminist movement.
In many respects it was an era of ideology of wanting to make the world a better and more equal one. Everything from music, fashion, and politics was seen as experimenting with something new and exciting. Even in the Eastern blocs there was focus for change. They too wanted a world of equality, free speech and something new from the lives of their Parents.
Although not all protests were successful it did bring around a change in social attitude and in many ways influenced the way we live in today. Below are some of the main protests of that year with the key at the bottom.
Recently made First Secretary of the Czech Communist Party Dubcek wanted to bring in a wide range of policies which he ‘dubbed,’ ‘Socialism with a human face.’ Thus he launched an ‘action programme,’ of liberalisation including freedom of the press, freedom of speech, & movement as well federalizing the CSSR into two equal nations. The Soviets took a dim view of this as they feared it may weaken the Communist bloc during the Cold War. Consequently five countries from the Warsaw pact countries (Soviet Union, GDR, Bulgaria, Poland & Hungary sent in the tanks along with 200,000 troops entering the country. Despite protests the Soviets ensured that Dubcek was replaced by Husak to repeal the reforms with Dubcek given a job as a forestry official.
Anti-war demo in Grosvenor Sq. gets heated
With the daily TV news beaming reports & graphic images of the US fighting the Viet. Cong into people’s living rooms, many people questioned the American involvement in the Vietnam War. Consequently protests (not just in the USA) but across the globe erupted with anti-war groups arranging demos. The trouble followed a rally in Trafalgar Square, when an estimated 10,000 demonstrated against US action in Vietnam.
Initially the mood at the rally was good-natured until the Police cordoned the US embassy in Grosvenor Square were the actress Vanessa Redgrave had earlier handed over a petition against the war.
Tensions rose as the crowd refused to back off and mounted Police charged at demonstrators. Bedlam then ensued as protestors broke through with a battle ensuing with the Police. Reports at the time spoke of protestors using their flags as spears by throwing them at the Police who in turn fought fiercely with protesters before finally dispersing them.
Black Civil Rights Movement
Following the assassination of leading civil rights activist Martin Luther King in April 1968, a wave of riots broke out most notably Louisville, Baltimore, Washington, & Chicago were the City’s Mayor ordered the Police to shoot anyone in the act of looting or committing arson. The death of King saw the American black power movement become more militant in their fight for civil rights. It was during this period that the Black Panthers rose quite prominently which started the slow change in trying to end racial discrimination in America. There was controversy in the 1968 Mexican Olympics when the two Black American athletes Tommie Smith & John Carlos gave the black power salute on the podium after winning gold and bronze respectively.
Anarchy French Style
Although the May protest of 68 could be deemed as a failure, the repercussions were seen as a water shed by the French. It saw a shift of Conservative morality to a more liberal morality which dominates French society today. The protest started out due to student protests of the political bureaucracy that controlled the Universities. Matters came to a head when the University of Paris was shut down by officials with the threatened expulsion of 7 students. On the 6th May over 20,000 students marched in protest towards Sorbonne University which had been closed by Police due to an earlier student protest. This turned into a full-scale riot with the Police’s heavy handedness making matters worse as the protest lengthened with the students getting support from the populous with large strikes and marches appearing to be bringing down the French Government to the point that the President De Gaulle had left the country. Instead workers returned back to work and De Gaulle won the following election in June.
The Viet Cong made what is now known as the Tet. Offensive and although the US and the South Vietnamese claimed victory it was the world-wide media coverage that changed American opinion of the Vietnam War. In 1965 the majority of American’s were in favour of the war but as coverage of the war and most notably the Tet offensive were broadcasting television reports (with some critics calling it a “living room war,”) to millions of Americans and even the world, people were shocked at the brutality of the conflict and for the first time questioned why the USA was involved in a war that was no threat to the US. A wave of anti-war protests broke out in America and the world, eventually leading to the US withdrawal in 1973. The legacy of the war in terms of media coverage ensured that future Governments kept a tight rein on what the press covered lest that there should be a backlash.