August 20, 1968 — The Prague Spring is crushed by the Soviet Army

For eight glorious months in 1968, it appeared that some of the liberalisation that was sweeping the West had taken root in Czechoslovakia. The Prague Spring, as it was called, was a period when political controls on the populace of the nation were relaxed: restrictions of movement, speech and commerce were all reduced or removed, and the people rejoiced.

The Prague Spring came to an end when the Soviet Union decided to demonstrate why it had absorbed the easternmost portion of Czechoslovakia at the end of World War Two: without the defensible mountains of the Carpathian range to protect, there was little to stop the tanks of the Soviets – and those of Poland, Hungary and Bulgaria – rolled into the country, and restored Soviet control and Soviet oppression. It would be another 21 years until the Velvet Revolution fulfilled the promise of the Prague Spring.

July 22, 1968 — The Doors release “Waiting For The Sun”

“Waiting for the Sun” was the third studio album released by the Doors, although ironically, the title track of this album does not appear on it. (It was later released on their fifth album, “Morrison Hotel”, in 1970.) There were two singles from this album, “The Unknown Soldier” and the #1 hit, “Hello, I Love You” – other tracks included “Spanish Caravan”, “Five To One” and “Love Street”.

The album itself also went to number one on the charts – and it’s not even the Doors’ best-selling album. It is also the shortest of all of the Doors’ albums, with a total running time of only 32 minutes and 59 seconds.

January 30, 1968 — The Tet Offensive commences

The Tet Offensive – so-called because it began during the Tet Festival of 1968 – was a major offensive mounted by North Vietnamese forces that spanned nine months of 1968. Its primary goal was to inspire uprisings behind South Vietnamese lines, but in this respect, and in most traditional military respects, it failed. The offensive over-estimated Vietcong capabilities, especially in terms of arms and manpower, and under-estimated the resolve, mobility and firepower of American and South Vietnamese forces. Particular battles of the campaign were fought at Hue and Khe Sanh in January 1968, while later attacks would involve infiltration behind American lines, even striking in Saigon.

However, it was a major propaganda victory for the Vietcong in America, as the attack came as a complete surprise and demonstrated just how much America as a whole had under-estimated their foe. The Tet Offensive and the heavy casualties it inflicted – both among the American and allied forces, and among the civilian population – made the war in Vietnam a major issue in the 1968 Presidential election, and spurred opposition to the war among the American public.

Ultimately, the results of the Tet Offensive can only be seen as inconclusive. Both sides took heavy casualties, but little territory was lost on either side, and both sides soon reinforced. The war itself would drag on for another seven years before North Vietnam finally achieved victory.

Black smoke covers areas of the capital city and fire trucks rush to the scenes of fires set during attacks by the Viet - NARA - 541874

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Article IV — Good Riddance

January 23, 1968 — Prudence Farrow arrives at Rishikesh

Prudence Farrow (younger sister of Mia Farrow), came to study under the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi at his ashram Rishikesh for the same reason everyone else did in the late Sixties: seeking enlightenment via Transcendental Meditation. The members of the Beatles arrived there a few weeks later, and became fast friends with her – especially John.

Farrow was notoriously serious about her meditation practice, and routinely stayed in her room meditating long beyond the assigned times for classes and sessions – up to 23 hours a day, in fact. Lennon in particular made efforts to drag her out into the world, to remind her that the point of meditation was ecstatic union with the world, not separation from it. She would need to be reminded to attend meals at times.

April 4, 1968 — Martin Luther King is assassinated

Martin Luther King won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, after years of non-violent struggle for civil rights. By 1967, he was moving on from that. While it remained an important part of his goals, he had also become a vocal opponent of the Vietnam War and in 1967 established the Poor People’s Campaign – both of which reflected an approach to social justice that was increasingly based on class rather than race.

King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee as he stood on the balcony of his hotel. A single shot fired by James Earl Ray caused a remarkable amount of damage, and although King was raced to a nearby hospital by his friends, the doctors were unable to save him. His death led to riots in many American cities (other than Indianapolis, where Bobby Kennedy made one of the greatest speeches of his career, and found his plea for cooler heads heeded), and a national day of mourning was declared by the President.

March 16, 1968 — US troops massacre civilians at My Lai

The Mỹ Lai Massacre is the best known American military atrocity in history. It was committed by U.S. Army soldiers from the Company C of the 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 11th Brigade of the 23rd (American) Infantry Division. Estimates of the total death toll vary from 347 (the American estimate) to 504 (the Vietnamese estimate), and included men, women, children and infants. Some of the women were also raped.

The army initially was quite successful in covering up the massacre, and it was not until October 1969 that the first reports of it appeared in the American media. Public outcry was swift and vociferous. 14 officers were court-martialed for the killings, but only one – by the merest coincidence, the same one who had talked to the media – was convicted. Lt. William Calley was convicted on 20 charges of murder, and served a total of three and a half years for these crimes before being paroled.

February 10, 1968 — Andy Warhol introduces the concept of 15 minutes of fame

Andy Warhol understood one thing about the general acceleration of life and culture in the self-reinforcing media spiral of the twentieth century: that there would be no more ‘nine days’ wonders’. We wouldn’t have time to be that patient any more. We wouldn’t have the attention spans. We would lose interest in things much more quickly, a bottomless appetite for novelty that even the internet struggles to fill.

In particular, he saw this as happening to celebrities: to them, he alloted 15 minutes apiece. It’s almost like he foresaw how debased the currency of ‘celebrity’ would become in the face of the relentless banality of reality television. Which makes it all the more remarkable that he first wrote the words “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes” in the program for a 1968 exhibition of his work at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, Sweden.

January 2, 1968 -– Battle is joined at Khe Sanh

On the evening of January 2, six men were captured outside the fences of the US Marine base at Khe Sanh, in the Quang Tri province of Vietnam, apparently performing reconnaissance for a planned North Vietnamese attack.

A defector carried information about the attacks to the US forces on January 20, and the attacks themselves began the following day. The US and allied forces quickly joined battle, but were surrounded and besieged. For the next two months, the siege went on, until American forces broke through and relieved the base in March.

The American forces recorded a total of 730 soldiers killed in action, with a further 2,642 wounded and 7 more missing in action. Casualties on the North Vietnamese side are estimated as between 10,000 and 15,000.

February 8, 1968 — Police shoot black protestors in Orangeburg, South Carolina, killing three

About 200 protestors gathered outside a bowling alley in Orangeburg, South Carolina to demonstrate in favour of the civil rights movement and in opposition to the Vietnam War. After the demonstration moved on to the South Carolina State University campus, police intervened. Accounts of what happened next varied – the police have always claimed that they were returning fire after being fired upon, but no other witness to the events has ever corroborated this, and the majority stated that the police fired first, and so far as can be determined, the protestors were not carrying any firearms.

In the chaos that followed, three African-American teenagers – Samuel Ephesians Hammond Jr., Delano Herman Middleton, and Henry Ezekial Smith – were shot dead by police. At least 26 other protestors were injured. Although nine police officers faced charges as a result of the shooting, all were acquitted. On four occasions since 2003, the South Carolina state legislature has failed to hold a vote on whether to mount an official investigation into the killings.

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2020 — Ben Folds