It was after midnight and I had school the next day but I was still glued to our black and white TV flipping between the three networks.
I was a sixth grader back in the days when the school year went to mid-June — almost the actual start of summer — and didn’t start up again after Labor Day.
My mother said I should go to bed, noting the election results were over. She didn’t try too hard knowing I was a 12-year-old political junkie.
Shortly after midnight, Robert F. Kennedy ended his California primary victory speech after saying his last broadcasted words — “So my thanks to all of you, and now it’s on to Chicago and let’s win there.” He had stepped out of the ballroom of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles and CBS returned to its talking heads. Most would have turned off the TV then but I wanted to hear their insights on what Kennedy’s surge in the primaries could mean at the Democratic National Convention where Vice President Hubert Humphrey already faced a tough challenge from Senator Eugene McCarthy. Then there was a stunned anchor saying Kennedy had been shot.
It was well after 2 a.m. before I went to bed. I must have seen the same blurry footage shot in the crowded kitchen three dozen times if not more.
The year 1968 was already one for the books. The sitting president — Lyndon B. Johnson — dropped out of the race on March 31due to divisions in his own party about the Vietnam war that came into homes with graphic footage via the nightly news. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4. In the ensuing weeks riots broke out in more than 100 cities in what was described as the greatest civil uprising since the Civil War. When it was over, 45 people were dead, more than 2,500 were injured, 15,000 plus arrested, and endless neighborhoods were destroyed.
Yet to come was the rioting during the Democratic Convention in Chicago.
I’d like to say I was stunned by the events of 1968.
But as a 12-year-old you really don’t have enough experiences, a strong grasp of history, and/or time on the planet to establish a proper perspective whether we were going to hell in a hand basket, if it was an aberration or just the norm.
Today it seems the age of blissful naivety has increased. We’ve been hearing how the world is coming to an end since Nov. 8, 2016. If this much breathless handwringing had happened back in 1968 civilization as the smartphone generation knows it may never have gotten as far as it has. And certainty if the same “the-sky-is-falling-down” ranting coupled with zero tolerance of those who think or see the world differently had driven people in 1968 we would have rioted our way back to the Stone Age.
If you judge the so-called “Resistance” by the ultimate modern yardstick — the Great Depression that segued into World War II — we are in many ways a less kinder and tolerant nation than we were back in the dark days of the early 1940s. One can only imagine if we had been a nation led by people who were convinced that the only way to accomplish change is to literally and figuratively beat those we disagree with into submission. Instead of following victory up with unprecedented undertakings for winners of war to do such things as implementing the Marshal Plan, had “The Resistance” mentality that dominates both sides of most issues today prevailed we would have planted the seeds for World War III with Germany and Japan likely starting things rolling looking for revenge.
Things have gotten better for almost everyone since 1968. Yes, there is injustice and bigotry, racism, intolerance, and hate still exist. Did anyone really think we were going to remove all traces of those poisons in 50 years that the human race has been inflicted with for more than 3,000 years?
You do not decree tolerance, legislate the end of hatred, or end racism with proclamations. You have to work at it day in and day out. It requires you to be offended at times while holding your tongue so you can work toward the goal.
How anyone believes getting in someone’s face and spewing all kinds of vile at them because they don’t have carbon copy values or views that you do is beyond me. The problem is if you believe you are absolutely right so therefore you can cram your views down someone else’s throat you become a textbook example of intolerance, hatred, and bigotry and even racism and sexism depending upon how myopic and blind you are to your own actions when it comes to others that aren’t as self-enlightened as you’ve convinced yourself you are.
And if you believe violence justifies the means reflect on what James Earl Ray and Sirhan Sirhan did not accomplish. The rigid walls that once separated the races now have countless windows and doors. It may not be ideal yet but it certainly has not gone in the direction James Earl Way thought it would when he assassinated King.
Sirhan Sirhan, who made it clear he didn’t like Kennedy’s support of Israel at the time, may have killed a man whose changed views on the Vietnam War may have evolved as well regarding the Middle East if he had been elected to the White House.
Maybe we haven’t learned much in 50 years.