1968: A Year of American Transformation

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In the duration of one year, 1968, the American national mood shifted from general confidence and optimism to chaotic confusion. Certainly the most turbulent twelve months of the post-WWII period and arguably one of the most disturbing episodes the country has endured since the Civil War, 1968 offers the world a glimpse into the tumultuous workings of a revolution. Although the entire epoch of the 1960's remains significant in US history, 1968 stands alone as the pivotal year of the decade; it was the moment when all of the nation's urges toward violence, sublimity, diversity, and disorder peaked to produce a transformation great enough to blanket an entire society. While some may superficially disagree, the evidence found in the Tet Offensive, race relations, and the counterculture's music of the period undeniably affirm 1968 as a turning point in American history.

The political and societal ramifications of Vietnam's Tet Offensive indubitably illustrate the historical oddity of 1968. 1967 had not been a bad year for most Americans. Four years after the profound panic evoked by the assassination of John Kennedy, the general public seemed to be gaining a restored optimism, and even the regularly protested Vietnam War still possessed the semblance of success (Farber and Bailey 34-54). However, three short weeks following the eve of ‘68, Americans abruptly obtained a radically different outlook. The Tet Offensive, beginning on January 30, 1968, consisted of a series of military incursions during the Vietnam War, coordinated between the National Liberation Front's People's Liberation Armed Forces (PLAF), or "Viet Cong," and the North Vietnam's People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN), against South Vietnam's Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) and the United States' armed forces (Farber and Bailey 34-54). The introductory attack began spectacularly during celebrations of the Vietnamese Lunar New Year and left global lungs breathless (Farber and Bailey 34-54). Widely seen as the turning point in the Vietnam War, the NLF and PAVN won an enormous psychological and propaganda-associated victory, which ultimately led to the loss of popular support for the War in the United States and the eventual withdrawal of American troops. Additionally, the events surrounding the Tet Offensive piloted American citizens to increased polarization. Attracting members from college campuses, middle-class suburbs, labor unions, and government institutions, the anti-war movement was swollen with aggrieved affiliates (Farber and Bailey 34-54). The observable pathos of the protesters delivered the distrust of a growing population to the White House doors; the budding doubt in governmental affairs was difficult to discard and impossible to ignore. Indisputably, the Tet Offensive of 1968 cleaved the fragile harmony of the public and birthed a political skepticism that continues to subsist in modern American minds. Civil rights, a significant issue of the ‘60s, reached a climax in 1968 and hatched a novel approach racial strive. Even though Martin Luther King Jr. had waged a successful campaign of peaceful protests in US southern states, a growing number of younger activists began to feel that nonviolent tactics could not right every social and political injustice (Farber and Bailey 13-22. Blacks may have won the right to vote, eat at white lunch counters, sit at the front of the bus, and attend white colleges by the mid-1960's, but most still lived in poverty (Farber and Bailey 13-22). True social change, many argued, would emerge only with revolution—not mere verbal objection. These embattled enthusiasts grew progressively powerful and came to dominate the civil rights movement in its entirety. Malcolm Little, the son of a civil rights worker who had been murdered by a mob of racist whites arose as one of the country's most vocal advocates of black nationalism and militancy (Farber and Bailey 257-258). Changing his surname to "X" to...
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