Many folks with graying (or thinning) hair and achy joints remember 1968. With apologies to Ervin Drake, composer of a song that was a hit for Frank Sinatra in 1965, it wasn't a very good year.
Oh, it ended all right for fans of the Detroit Tigers (who won the World Series), the Beatles (the "White Album" was released that year) and the space race (the first two Apollo flights took place in the fall and winter, capped by Apollo 8's gutsy lunar orbital mission at Christmastime).
However, those highlights were preceded by assassinations (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy) and world crises (the Vietnam War reached peak ugliness with the Tet offensive; North Korea captured a U.S. ship, killing one sailor and holding 82 others in brutal captivity for nearly a year; and the Soviet Union and its allies put down reform efforts in Czechoslovakia).
There also were massive protests (against U.S. involvement in Vietnam and for civil rights) that, unfortunately, flared into violence, particularly following King's murder and at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. (No one who saw the scene outside the International Amphitheatre, broadcast in real time on TV, will ever forget it).
So, why are we offering a history lesson about what Smithsonian Magazine has called "The Year That Shattered America?" Consider the news of the last month:
- A man allegedly killed two African-American shoppers at a grocery store in Jeffersontown, Kentucky, after trying unsuccessfully a few minutes earlier to enter a black church.
- A Florida man was charged with sending mail bombs — forget what you've seen on social media; they weren't duds — to a bunch of prominent Democrats, including former President Barack Obama.
- A Pittsburgh man with an assault rifle, three pistols and a history of virulent and repugnant anti-Semitism is accused of slaughtering 11 worshippers, most of them elderly, at a synagogue in the city's Squirrel Hill neighborhood.
So, it's not floating into the ether to think back to 1968 — 50 years ago; imagine that — and wonder if history is on the verge of repeating or even topping itself, especially approaching a midterm election that's being spun as Armageddon by some of our brethren in the national media and by opposing political forces who are convinced that this is good vs. evil and the very survival of mankind depends on their respective side prevailing.
Some will call that hyperbole; we increasingly see reality. Some will accuse us of saying "both sides do it." No, we aren't; this country is so polarized right now, you could present the exact same information and variables to a group of people and they will see, hear and believe entirely different things.
Such polarization also contributes to dislodging the tenuous governors that, up until now, have kept cretins like the three who became infamous last week, and others who have committed violent acts in the past, from acting on those impulses.
It's not going away. Neither will the 'round-the-clock discussion of the political implications of these horrific crimes, which of course commenced before the police tape had been secured at the crime scenes. Neither will the passions over the ultimate direction of this country, whose citizens increasingly aren't able to connect on any level.
So this likely will fall on deaf ears, but we've got to try. Everybody from the White House to residents of the country's smallest voting precinct needs to tone it down, because this particular trip "back to the future" doesn't need to happen. We fear the consequences if it does.
The Gadsden (Ala.) Times