The Most Interesting and Important Things We Published in 1968

The Most Interesting and Important Things We Published in 1968

The Most Interesting and Important Things We Published in 1968

The Nation’s coverage of a pivotal year.


Note: These excerpts have been edited and condensed.

Hearts and Minds in Vietnam,”
editorial, January 1, 1968

In the long annals of hypocrisy nothing can exceed, nothing can remotely equal, the pretense that we seek the allegiance of the ordinary people of Vietnam. No doubt we should be glad to have it, but as for doing anything to deserve it–either we don’t care enough or we believe that if we win militarily the peasants will forget what we did to them in the course of winning. The full story of the ordeal of civilians in North and South Vietnam has not been told, and probably never will be known in all its horror.

An Appeal to the President,”
editorial, March 11

Lyndon B. Johnson should not seek re-election. The Administration is in a truly alarming state. Irrationality spreads through Washington like a contagion. The nerves of key officials are frayed. They are no longer thinking, only reacting, and their reactions are mechanical and predictable.

Their troubles are bound to multiply, for they are prisoners of their own views, of the outdated and inapplicable dogmas of the cold war, and of the war in Vietnam in which they have invested so improvidently and recklessly that they can no longer see a way out. The President is jeopardizing not only the country but his own party, even while he keeps insisting that only the Democratic Party (with himself at its head) can save the country.

The fact is–and now it must be obvious even to President Johnson–that he himself is the divisive issue in the country, and matters have reached a pass where nothing he can say or do will change the situation. He is more keenly and universally disliked and distrusted than any President in modern times. Franklin D. Roosevelt was indeed hated, but there were millions who loved him, Who loves Johnson?

He can plead ill health or whatever will make the pill less bitter to swallow, but he should take the medicine that thoughtful and patriotic men prescribe.

by John Horn, March 18

Television is a fifth column bringing into Negro homes white nonsense, white violence, white affluence, white materialism, white indifference to fellow Americans of color. To all human beings television is a continuous assault on the heart, the aid and the spirit. To Negroes, as to all racial minorities, it is a major alienating force.

The promise of television was that of a window on the world. The reality of television today is a shop window on a world of commercial-studded frivolity created by broadcasting and advertising interests. Negroes in the ghettos look at this artificial world and see that it 1s white, hedonistic, violent, affluent and exploitative. The situation comedies, the game shows, the Westerns, the adventure tales, the dramas, the movies, variety, comedy, discussions and commercials just about all the fare is aimed at the white middle class. Black viewers did not need the Kerner commission to tell them that “our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white-separate and unequal.” Television by and large excludes Negroes. It denies them the public air waves. It tells them the great white society does not care for them. It gives them a false image of themselves.

The world of television, of course, is a false image of the white world as well, but it is a true reflection of white values. Affluent whites who have control of television employ it to their own economic ends, not for human communication. It is a deprivation of grave consequence.

The Complete Demagogue,”
editorial, March 25, 1968

Let us give Richard Nixon his due. The astonishing way in which this man has rebounded from the humiliations of 1960 and 1962, when after defeat in California he took out his rage on the press, is proof that he is a phenomenon even among politicians of his type.

In contrast to those dark days, he is now a model of equanimity; he even looks better. Credit for this must be given to his TV make-up and the cosmetics industry in general. Inside his head, where his political thoughts swirl, he is of course the same, old Nixon.

The marks of a demagogue are many, but the principal ones are an appeal to the emotions, the lower the better; a contempt for consistency–which also implies a contempt for the voters–and reckless promises so worded that they will sound plausible to the inexperienced. Drawing on the last, the new Nixon promised to “end the war.” He gave no details. When asked just how he would end the war, Nixon came up with the most impudent of all his ploys–that since he may well be the next President of the United States, it would not behoove him to say what his plans were at this time. Voters are a smart lot on the whole, but the ones who swallow that excuse must be at the lower end of the intelligence curve.

Martin Luther King,”
editorial, April 15, 1968

Within the shock of the murder of Dr, Martin Luther King, Jr. rests the additional shock of realizing that he was only 39 when the gunman found him. Dr. King emerged as the leader of his people’s strength and dignity in Montgomery in 1956 (he was 27), and since then his has been the senior voice of, moral integrity and humane determination in the United States. As Dr. Kenneth Clark said on the night of the slaying, “You have to weep for this country.”

And it is by the grace of Dr. King’s spirit that this whole country may mourn its loss. His generosity excluded no one, not the most complacent, not the most heedless, not the most bigoted, from the dream he had. He was a man capable of magnificent anger, but hate was not in him; he denounced the act, never the man. Hatred, indeed, was his single foe–both the hatred that steamed out of prejudice and the hatred which, in retaliation and frustration, the black people have been calling down on white society. Violence is now expected, but if Dr. King’s spirit can live with us in the next few weeks it need not occur.

The road is still long and hard, and this terrible killing, which could be motivated only by the malice of ignorance, makes it the more difficult to a degree no one can yet estimate.

But one thing is certain: we must march. We must march all together and in his name; violence is always irrelevant, in the context of Dr. King’s life it is obscene. As the country knows, he had planned to enter Washington later this month at the head of a “Poor People’s Crusade.” That appointment must be kept–it is the solemn duty of the government to see that it is kept and that it goes forward in the spirit of magnanimous determination to let justice roll down that animated every action Dr. King took. And we should all be there, for now that Dr. King is slain, the title of his crusade takes on a different meaning: in his shadow, we are all “Poor People.” Decency is all he ever asked of the country, and only by the decency of social justice and human respect can the country heal itself of this intolerable deed.

Out of the Blue,”
editorial, June 3

There are many kinds of revolution and for each one can find more than one explanation. But there is always a radical shift in mass consciousness. Suddenly, it seems, people begin to perceive socio-economic situations in a new way. The perspective shifts, the shift is momentous, but it is not as abrupt as it appears on the surface. The change has been gestating over a period measured in years, not in weeks or days.

The happenings in Paris are a case in point. It is a revolution less against the state as state, than against the current form of society, against the whole technological-bureaucratic pattern of civilization. Somewhat the same thing is happening in Prague as in Paris: we may be seeing a world-wide uprising against repressive institutions. The institutions are called on to respond, to mesh gears with what people want, feel, need as human beings.

We should take warning from the events in France. Here, a party system that masquerades as a true democracy, but is nothing of the kind, cannot endure. It is a fraud; some of the people know it for a fraud; others will find out; still others will resist any adaptive change in institutions. Our political system must be infused with the life and vitality it now lacks, or sharp civil strife lies ahead.

Films (Review of 2001: A Space Odyssey),”
by Robert Hatch, June 3, 1968

[O]nce deep space itself is invaded, it becomes apparent that a conflict is brewing between the two human astronauts and the computer that operates the ship and is known as Hal.

Here the picture shows signs of shifting over from social criticism to melodrama–the natural habitat of science fiction. Hal, we are told, may have had “feelings” programed into its circuits, the better to communicate with its flesh and blood lieutenants. It soon develops that the computer, which talks in a voice suggesting a too great attachment to its mother, is motivated primarily by feelings of paranoia. Disaster, of course, follows, but the plot does not. We are left to confuse ourselves with the semantic dilemma of whether or not a sufficiently sophisticated “electronic brain” could develop an identity. Some independence of operation can be built into computers and man may thus in time condition himself to assume their autonomy, but if Hal was indeed a homicidal psychotic it was because someone back there had coded the mania into its transistor. Some promising suspects were to be seem tramping about the moon in their snappy space suits, but we shall never know–the threads are all lost in fog. I prefer that thrillers should unmask the villain.

Finally, the mock-ups of astronomy and space technology are beautiful (the great rotating wheel of the way station between earth and moon is magnificent) and the expediencies of weightlessness are amusing. A great deal of skill and ingenuity went into this amazing voyage to nowhere.

Dogged by Fate,”
editorial, June 17, 1968

Long ago, the American Presidency became a dangerous office. No one attacked the persons of our first fifteen Presidents, but from Lincoln on four have died by the assassin’s bullet and three others–Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman–have been shot at. In the past few years, killings at a lower political level have been numerous; witness the martyrs of the civil rights cause, with Martin Luther King, Jr., the latest victim and the greatest loss from the standpoint of a nonviolent solution to the race problem. And now, Robert F. Kennedy, the most senseless killing of them all. It is tragic for the victim; tragic for the Kennedy family, so blessed with ability and wealth, so dogged by fate; tragic for a country which must seem to the world as lethal for all who aspire to give it leadership as is the Congo or Haiti. Two hours after Senator Kennedy was shot, the British Broadcasting Corporation offered its listeners a prayer: “We pray for the American people that they may come to their senses.”

Conservation for Survival,”
by Robert and Leona Rienow, August 26, 1968

Conservation is no longer a “cause”; it is a crisis. Under the impact of a robketing population, an insatiable spiral of economic expansion, as well as a gargantuan and pitiless technology, the very character of the concern of conservation has shifted. Once preoccupied with the quantity of resources, its attention is now focused on the quality of environment. Once a question of supply, conservation is now an issue of survival–of species, of habitat, of mankind. Daily, the country is, or should be, shocked by the brinkmanship of the exploitation we live by. This generation is experiencing the convulsions of a dying nature. Only mouth-to-mouth resuscitation will revive her now.

However, to be realistic, it must be repeated that these actions are not solutions but expedients, and their most drastic implementation now promises, dismally, to offer little more than temporary relief. The real solution to this whole complex of civilized afflictions is a package of such cultural intricacy–it calls for revolutionary shifts in values and social goals–that time and intense effort alone can bring it about. In the long run, the conservationist cannot really save any natural wonder, any threatened species, any significant open space, breathable air, potable water, or the amenities of civilization unless he grapples with the self-destroying expansionism doctrine.

Worrying About Wallace,”
editorial, September 2, 1968

It is difficult to feel sympathetic toward the Wallace following, and emotionally gratifying to refer to them as boobs and jerks, as some commentators are in the habit of doing. But it is better sociology to see the issues as Wallace supporters see them. They feel they are being “squeezed,” as in fact they are. They see a great fuss being made about the blacks, but no one is making a fuss about them. They feel excluded from the two-party system, and to a large extent they have been.

Their insecurities are heightened by fear of losing status. After all, the only status they have is the fact that Negroes are below them on the ladder–Negroes and welfare recipients. They may feel fairly confident that they can keep off welfare (so long as they stay healthy), but they want also to stay above the Negroes. George Wallace conveys to them (in the code language which he and they understand) that as far as he has anything to say, they will do so.

What underlies this form of racism is the fear of failure–the cardinal sin in American society. Failure may take many forms, some real and some phantasmal. When they listen to Wallace, these workers feel their worth. When he attacks “smart folks who have been looking down their noses at you in Washington,” they love it. For the moment, they feel as good as anybody.

A Watcher in Prague,”
by Jiri Mucha, October 14, 1968

I believe that the crisis in the Communist world, which culminated in the occupation of Czechoslovakia on August 21, was inescapable. The old guard in the central committees of all the Communist countries still employed a way of thinking and working which might have been appropriate to an uneducated, poverty-stricken proletariat. That dissatisfied and poorly educated mass provided nothing but strength. Intelligence had to come from elsewhere, and with it an iron discipline. A totally different situation exists today when a worker has a far better education and a higher living standard than dlid a schoolmaster or official fifty years ago. The authorities are no longer dealing with an easily manipulated mass but with a large number of independently thinking individuals And the moment man starts thinking, his first indispensable need is freedom.

Tragedy thus became inevitable: those in power, who should have kept their fingers on the pulse of the people, lost their touch, they failed to see the essential transformation of the working class and drove it into battle against itself, against a spontaneous need for freedom which they saw as counterrevolution.

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