1968--marching in the streets /
Tariq Ali and Susan Watkins.
New York : Free Press, 1998.
224 p. : ill. (some col.)
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New York : Free Press, 1998.
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Includes bibliographical references and index.
A Look Inside
First Chapter

Chapter 1


The bodies of Che Guevara and his comrades lie mouldering in the misty Bolivian valley where, three months before, they were secretly buried by a CIA enforcer. But as 1968 begins, the note they sounded of brave-hearted, revolutionary generosity and internationalism is still resounding around the world. Che's call to lift the burden of American bombing on Vietnam by broadening the front, by creating 'two, three, many Vietnams', has found an echo in many hearts. Guerrilla groups are already fighting in Columbia, Uruguay, Venezuela and Guatemala; in Mozambique, Guinea, Angola and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe); student-led protests are assaulting American embassies in Europe and Asia; while in Vietnam itself the guerrilla fighters of the National Liberation Front are planning an offensive for the New Year's Têt celebrations which will leave the US military reeling and dramatically alter the course of the war.

The year begins with the world's major imperialist power in crisis: the ruling circles of the United States are floundering and openly split about the conduct of the war in Vietnam. It is a crisis that will deepen, week by week, as the fiascos pile up: the huge crowds battling to keep the US aircraft carrier Enterprise from docking in Japanese harbours; the US Air Force plane crashing in Greenland with a cargo of nuclear bombs; the chief US naval intelligence ship Pueblo blundering into surrender to North Korea; and finally, the trauma of the sight of the Vietnamese NLF flag planted on top of the US Embassy in Saigon at the start of the Têt offensive.

Meanwhile, in the USA, the whole of the young generation seems to be in revolt. Long hair, weird clothes, loud music, wild sex, drugs, Indian religions and psychedelic light shows -- the seeds of anarchistic self-discovery planted by the Beats and the Merry Pranksters have blossomed into a rebellion against the whole American Way of Life, and opposition to the government, to 'the pigs' -- the police -- to the horrors of the US war machine and the bombing and napalming of the people of Vietnam, are all an instinctive part of this.

By the start of 1968 the exigencies of the Cold War are in temporary abeyance, given the upsurge of 'hot war' against imperialist domination in the Third World. The one thing the US rulers fear most is that the Soviet Union or China might put their principles into practice and come into the war on the Vietnamese side, turning a 'local quagmire' into the Third World War. Compared with the revolutionary ferment they see elsewhere, the cautious bureaucrats in Moscow seem relatively safe and reliable to US eyes.

In fact, the Soviet bureaucracy is floundering, too. Krushchev's post-Stalin reforms have given the Soviet intelligentsia some space in which to act, but the Brezhnevites are wary of losing control. The development of Czechoslovakia's 'socialism with a human face' over the coming months will convince some sections of the Soviet bureaucracy that this is the future. Other, more powerful, sections of the élite will be terrified at the prospect of losing power and privilege, and of the dangers of opening up to the West. With the country far poorer militarily and economically than it can afford to admit, the façade of a united 'Soviet bloc' is crucial to retaining the Soviet Union's role on the world stage.

It is impossible not to be struck by the diversity and vitality of the Communist-ruled countries in 1968 -- as also by their complete failure to make common cause against the enemy. In China, the Cultural Revolution the great wave of mass agitation initially sparked off by Mao Zedong to get rid of his critics -- has resulted in such civil disorder that Mao is sending in the Army, while the Beijing People's Daily speaks of the danger of civil war. American journalist Andrew Kopkind, in North Vietnam early in 1968, asks a government guide how much help the Chinese are giving in the fight against the American bombs. Usually guarded about Vietnam's allies, the guide bursts out: 'They're crazy. They've stopped the trains and they're holding political meetings instead of sending supplies. They're completely hopeless.'

Nevertheless, the mere existence of such a large country, seemingly to the left of the Soviet Union, affects the world's balance of power. In Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, too, there is diversity and dissent; intellectuals are debating cultural and artistic freedom. Meanwhile Cuba, the newcomer, is still resolutely independent of the Soviet bloc, denouncing the Kremlin's supporters in Havana as 'dwarfs guilty of servility to Moscow's ideas' and determined, like Che, to push for its own internationalist agenda for change, 'a revolution in the revolution'. By the end of January such a revolution will find a new generation of supporters all across the world. General Westmoreland, lantern-jawed Commander-in-Chief of US military forces in Vietnam, hands in his New Year's report on the progress of the war to President Johnson, proclaiming: 'There is a light at the end of the tunnel!'

According to Westmoreland, the 'Search and Destroy' strategy implemented by half a million American troops has forced the Vietnamese guerrilla army back to their bases deep in the jungle: there is now no chance of a major attack on the towns and cities. All the General needs in 1968 is more troops, more arms, more bombs, more tanks, more battleships, more planes, in order to finish the job for good.

LBJ's face is tired and anxious, lined with all that he knows -- or does not know -- about the assassination of his predecessor, John F. Kennedy.

There is a crisis in United States policy, right at the top. The ruling circles are split. The President is trapped between the hawks, like Westmoreland, who want to go for broke in Vietnam, take the war into Cambodia and Laos, go nuclear if need be; and the doves, who point out that, after billions of dollars spent and 20,000 US servicemen dead, the United States is no closer to victory now than it was three years ago. The doves want to negotiate a compromise settlement before the price gets any higher. They argue that the US armed forces are already overextended: 500,000 men are now tied down in south-east Asia, well over half of all US combat-trained troops; more than half of its Air Force fighter-bomber squadrons; and one third of all its Navy combat vessels, including aircraft carriers, are involved in the war. And now even airborne units earmarked for the defence of the United States itself are on their way to Vietnam.

Pentagon chiefs are saying that they will win the war before the end of the year; but as the doves point out, they have been saying this since 1965. Meanwhile hundreds of ancestral South Vietnamese villages have been destroyed and the villagers moved to 'strategic hamlets' -- barbed-wire compounds guarded by troops. This is supposed to prevent them giving succour to the guerrillas of the Vietnamese National Liberation Front (NLF) in their fight against the South Vietnamese government, whom only the foreigners support.

In reality the strategic hamlets are a breeding-ground for NLF recruits. The stockaded villages of Vietnam have for centuries been run on a communal, self-governing basis. Tending the pools and paddy-fields and of reinforcing the dams and dikes have always been collective tasks. Within the dense bamboo hedges that protect the ancient villages, low mud and brick houses surround the temple complex where village elders confer, collect taxes, settle disputes and recall legends of the ghosts and heroes of days gone by. Once this basic unit of Vietnamese society has been destroyed by the US invaders, the sullen, dispossessed refugees have nothing left to lose. For many, the choice is between selling themselves, their mothers or their sisters to the galumphing invaders, or slipping off to the forests to join the NLF.

The United States has been spending $100 million per year on herbicides and defoliant sprays to kill off the dense forest trees that shelter the guerrillas. The most ancient trees, some of them fifty metres tall, pose a particular problem to the chemical industries. And hundreds of thousands of tons of bombs have rained down on the paddy-fields and villages of independent North Vietnam, in an effort to force the people to abandon their southern compatriots.

Yet despite all this, and despite the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese dead, the 'enemy's' strength still seems to remain the same. The South Vietnamese regime, whose rule the Americans are fighting to support, remains a byword for corruption and inefficiency. The official South Vietnamese Army remains unwilling to fight even in defence of its own government, despite all the American training and guns.

President Johnson has other problems on his plate. The diplomatic community has been unnerved by the protests against the Americans' conduct of the war erupting outside US embassies from Tokyo to Paris, London and Berlin. The President's initials have given birth to a universal chant on the streets of the world: 'HEY, HEY, LBJ, HOW MANY KIDS DID YOU KILL TODAY?'

At home, a whole generation of disaffected American youth is in revolt, blowing their minds, dodging the draft, occupying the colleges to protest against academic links with the big corporations and the war machine. The students, black and white, are angry, their eyes displaying a manic integrity which frightens the establishment, who ask each other in tones of disbelief, 'Are these really our kids?'

A massive budgetary crisis is looming: the cost of the Vietnam War has sent the balance-of-payments deficit out of kilter and the dollar's gold price is way too high.

As if this was not bad enough, the past two summers have seen the black ghettos of over half a dozen American cities explode in flames of protest against white cops, the housing crisis and black unemployment, with rioters smashing and looting everything they can grab. To loot is to liberate. The riot police are busy preparing for the summer of '68 by stocking up on high-powered rifles, dum-dum bullets, machine-guns, tear-gas, Mace, armed helicopters and armoured cars.

What's more, in the United States 1968 is also an election year.

5th Moscow, USSR The Heirs of Stalin

The trial of four young intellectuals opens in Moscow. They have been charged with spreading anti-Soviet propaganda in support of two writers, Andrei Sinyavsky and Yuli Daniel, who had been jailed in 1966 for publishing their works, under pseudonyms, in the West.

In the Soviet Union 1968 is to prove a crucial turning point in the cultural thaw that followed Stalin's death in 1953. The poet Tvardovsky wrote in 1960:

In those memorable moments
At the grave of the dread father
We became fully answerable
For everything in the world,
To the end.

It was the Soviet intelligentsia -- writers, scientists, academics -- who found themselves in the forefront of this 'becoming answerable'. After the successive traumas of 1930s Stalinization, followed by the nightmare of the Second World War, the great mass of the Soviet people were not united in any way and were therefore helpless to face the crisis of 1953. There was no hereditary working class (more than half the country's engineering workers, for instance, had been in the industry less than ten years). 'There was no real political and class alternative to the bureaucracy in the country,' the writer Boris Kargilitsky pointed out, 'but a cultural and moral alternative to Stalinism did exist.'

The intelligentsia had preserved some elements of unity, through its formal and informal academic and cultural organizations, friendships and family ties. Literature, as always, led the way. The trickle of new Soviet writing that began with Krushchev's famous reformist speech to the Twentieth Party Congress in 1953 had turned into a flood by 1962, when Pravda published Yevtushenko's poem 'The Heirs of Stalin' and Novy Mir published Solzhenitsyn's novella, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. 'Literature and criticism,' wrote V. Lakshin, one of the leading theoreticians of Novy Mir, 'became imbued with that vivid organic humanism which is nowhere equivalent to pleasing everybody and pardoning everything.'

At the same time a wave of strikes reveals the popular frustration over the rickety Soviet economy: rising food prices and terribly overcrowded housing; the production of poor-quality goods that nobody wants; the shortage of many others; the gross inefficiencies of the agricultural system.

When Boris Pasternak published Doctor Zhivago in the West, the Soviet bureaucracy had contented themselves with giving him a mauling in the press; putting Sinyavsky and Daniel on trial for the same error is intended as a warning threat to the intelligentsia. But the government has miscalculated: as so often this year, repressive tactics backfire. The mood has changed. The intelligentsia are united in outrage. A demonstration of 200 gathered in Pushkin Square in December 1965. The protests -- small-scale but highly committed -- gather pace after the two writers are jailed. Of the four young intellectuals being tried in January 1968, one, Alexander Ginsburg, will receive a five-year sentence for the White Book he has compiled on the case of Sinyavsky and Daniel. Another, Yuri Gadanskov, the young editor of an underground pacifist magazine, will get seven years.

A curious and largely sympathetic crowd gathers outside the court. The protests will continue until the trauma of August 21.

Meanwhile a new wave of Soviet economists (together with like-minded colleagues in Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia) are beginning to work out theories of 'market socialism': incorporating elements of market relations (buying, selling, the fluctuation of prices) within an overall planned economy. This would involve a process of economic democratization, more rights for individual enterprises, more control from below. Whether this control would be in the hands of the enterprise managers or in those of the workers is one of the matters for debate. Reformists in the Soviet Communist Party (including the young Mikhail Gorbachev) support these ideas. But they are outgunned by the conservative supporters of General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev, who has taken over from Krushchev. The Brezhnevites are putting their faith in technocratic reform and computerization as the shining solution to all the USSR's economic problems. 'Cybernetic Socialism' will be the bright new dawn -- and allow lazy, bloated managers and party bureaucrats to keep their jobs and privileges.

The Brezhnevites stand for conservative stability: they have no wish to return to the terror of Stalin's time, when ruling Party members themselves quaked in their boots. On the other hand, they will make no concessions to democratic political or economic reforms that might threaten their own positions. It is a policy that can only lead to a lethal stagnation.

Brezhnev himself is the epitome of this tendency: a cold, grey, lecherous creature, corrupt, small-minded and incapable of seeing beyond today. He really believes that, provided all dissent is stifled, the rule of the bureaucracy will last for ever. None of his minions has told him that the word he hates, 'intelligentsia', was first coined in his own country, or that numerous Tsars, too, hated the people it describes. Like all bureaucrats, old and new, Brezhnev fears independent minds. Above all, he fears those who refuse to be bought.

Brezhnev is informed that the sentences in today's trial will be harsh, just as he had wanted. After being fellated by a female employee, he returns, sated, to his apartment, a stone's throw from the Kremlin. He sleeps comfortably.

Prague, Czechoslovakia Socialism with a Human Face

It is fitting that the first real challenge to the apparatus in Moscow will come from this city, the most beautiful in Europe, and possessed of a real sense of history. Here it was that, a full century before Luther, Jan Hus fought fiercely for the reformation of the Church and against the sale of indulgences. Hus was executed and the Hussite rebellion crushed. But the memory of that struggle lives on: Moscow is only the latest equivalent of the Vatican.

At last, a victory for the new Hussites, as Alexander Dubcek replaces First Secretary Antonin Novotny at a stormy Central Committee meeting of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia.

It is the culmination of four years of struggle within the Party over reform of the stagnating industrial and economic system, more say and more autonomy for the minority Slovaks, and greater political and cultural freedom.

The struggle has intensified dramatically since the end of October 1967, when a small student demonstration sets out one wintry evening to protest about the lack of heat and lighting in the University dormitories. The students are in high spirits as they make their way up towards the seat of government at Hradcany Castle. Their young faces are illuminated in the darkness by the flames of the candles that they carry: all they have to study by.

The cobbled streets are blocked by armed police. The students are shoved aside, roughed up, clubbed to the ground and dragged off under arrest. Some fifty of them are hospitalized. Next day the Government press describes them as hooligans who launched the attack on the police themselves.

The sense of shock and outrage at the Government's crack-down and its blatant lies draws many more people into the protest.

What sort of socialism is it that breaks the bones of its young people when they ask for light-bulbs to study by?

What sort of socialism is it that cannot provide light-bulbs for its young?

The students align themselves with the dissident writers who have spoken out against the regime at their 1967 summer congress, and been sacked for it.

Before long debate turns into active protest. The sight of students handing out leaflets on street corners that winter, and getting into intense discussions with passers-by about the police behaviour and the Interior Ministry's role, reminds foreign correspondents of a scene from Berkeley or some other turbulent student campus in the West.

Dissenting students, rebellious intellectuals, industrial modernizers, Slovak representatives angry and impatient with the delay of the reforms and far broader. layers, yearning for improvements: Dubcek and the reformers seize the controls of the Communist Party on a crest of popular feeling. Dubcek himself is a surprise choice for some. Josef Smrkovsky, a Central Committee member soon to be elected President of the National Assembly, recalls:

'A whole lot of people were tipped for the First Secretaryship; one Novotny opposed, in another case the Slovaks were against, until finally the only candidate with a hope of being accepted was Dubcek. So finally the Praesidium all agreed on Dubcek. Only, as far as I know, Dubcek was unwilling to accept. People told me afterwards how in the night from Friday to Saturday, when the meeting ended, Dubcek protested. Cernik [another leading reformer] begged him to take the job, promising him that they would all back him up. In short, they literally shoved him into it. Dubcek was not prepared for a post like that, and suddenly it fell on his head.'

For the next month Dubcek shuts himself up to read, in an effort to prepare himself for the mammoth tasks ahead. The socialism which he and the others are proposing is one which embraces democracy and economic reform. A socialism which protects the many but does not exclude those who wish to start their own small shops, restaurants or industries. 'Socialism with a human face.'

There is already stiff opposition. Brezhnev himself has flown into Prague on December 8, barely four weeks before, to twist arms in Novotny's favour.

This is not just a matter of political principles. The reformers have made it very clear that they are determined to sort out the huge old party apparatus whose veterans have frustrated so many reforms. Jobs, power and status are at stake. The conservatives have everything to lose. Among the heads of the armed forces there is talk of intervening themselves: Defence Chief General Sejna points out that it would only take a couple of arrests for the Central Committee Praesidium vote to go against the reformers.

(Two months later, on March 8, Sejna will defect to the United States, bringing about Novotny's final fall. Has he already consulted Washington when he proposes blocking Dubcek's rise?)

New York, USA The Rational Mr Spock

Dr Benjamin Spock, world-famous paediatrician and author of the best-selling book Baby and Child Care, is indicted by a federal grand jury for sponsoring resistance to the draft and urging young men not to fight in Vietnam. Also charged are William Sloane Coffin Jr, chaplain of Yale University; Marcus Raskin, co-director of the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington dc and a member the White House staff of the National Security Council during the Kennedy administration; and several others.

The US government's decision to attack some of the most respected -- and respectable -- opponents of the Vietnam War is seen as an indication that the hawks are winning the battle for a head-on confrontation with the anti-war movement at home.

Dr Spock insists that his action is legal in the highest sense: he is opposing his government's crimes against humanity, in line with the decisions of the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal. Despite this, he will be convicted, although his conviction will be overturned on appeal once the growing protests have turned the tide on Vietnam.

Havana, Cuba Cultural Revolutionaries

A week-long Cultural Congress opens in Cuba, the baby of the non-capitalist world. Post-revolutionary Cuba is a very different place to Eastern Europe. Here there is every colour of the rainbow and a new music and exuberance, instead of the grey monotone and bureaucratic inertia. Fidel Castro and his comrades are very critical of the Soviet model.

The new Cuba attaches a great deal of importance to art and literature, and to the intellectuals and artists who produce them. Castro has personally received Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir when they visited Havana. According to legend, it was the French philosopher who suggested the idea of a gathering of the radical intelligentsia.

The Cultural Congress is designed to bring together progressive intellectuals and artists from all over the world to discuss politics and culture and how writers could and should intervene to help the struggles of the oppressed. The problem of going beyond a purely backward-looking religious or nationalist culture in the fight for national liberation is one that will still haunt the world thirty years later, whether in Ireland or Tibet, in Yugoslavia or the Islamic world. Nineteen sixty-eight is a moment when it is possible to begin to imagine where an alternative solution might lie.

As the British Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm reports in the Times Literary Supplement on his return from Havana:

'Cuba was, of course, an ideal setting for such a Congress. It is not only an embattled and heroic country, though as Castro himself observed, a long way second to Vietnam, but a remarkably attractive one, if only because it is visibly one of the rare states in the world whose population actually likes and trusts its government. Moreover, the free and flourishing state of cultural activities at present, the admirable social and educational achievements and the endearing excursions into anti-materialist utopia, can hardly fail to appeal to intellectuals.

'The shelves of the shops may show large gaps, but telephone calls are free. Petrol is rationed, but the State provides posadas where couples can go to make love. The visual arts are unexpectedly brilliant, given the unvisual tradition of the country: witty, entertaining and, above all, public.

'Perhaps the most interesting discussion was on the problem of developing a genuinely autochthonous culture in underdeveloped countries; interesting both for the acute analyses of the process of cultural penetration under colonialism and neocolonialism it produced, and for the very general rejection of the simple nationalist-populist response to it.

'As Mammeri Mouloud of Algeria put it, the intellectual of the Third World finds himself faced with the double necessity of assuming an inherited native culture and using an acquired, colonial culture. Neither can simply be put on like a ready-made suit. Traditional culture, the product of a cultural system which is already in part disrupted, cannot be the basis of the new culture, whatever elements may be preserved of it.

'Attempts to make it so either fail, as in sub-Saharan Africa, or produce the espectáculos folklóricos of the modern tourist trade, or the even more dangerous "accelerated indigenization of the violence and tribulations of other times" of which M. Depestre of Haiti spoke with comprehensible feeling.

'On the other hand, certain elements of traditional and popular culture -- Dr Belail Abdel Aziz of Morocco suggested that the concept of community in the Maghreb might be one such -- could be essential parts of any anti-capitalist society, or any society unwilling to subordinate itself entirely to the logic of technology.'

Also at the Congress is the renowned Mexican painter and muralist, the veteran Stalinist, David Alfaro Siqueiros, notorious for his part in a machine-gun attack on Trotsky's home in Coyoacán, Mexico in 1940. Siqueiros is greeted with cries of 'Murderer!' by young French delegates when they spot him outside the Havana Gallery of Modern Art. The young poetess Joyce Mansour then lands a kick on Siqueiros' backside, crying, 'That's from André Breton!'

Two young delegates, editors of the London-based New Left Review, Alexander Cockburn and Robin Blackburn, are confronted with a novel dilemma. Blackburn has written an ultra-left Trotskysant speech, but cannot deliver the diatribe himself. He has no idea that the lovely Cuban comrade he has seduced is the girlfriend of 'Baba Roja', the Cuban Chief of Police, not best known for his generosity of spirit. In Blackburn's improvised absence, Alexander Cockburn delivers the speech, his hands shaking as he realizes the depth of the anti-Stalinist rhetoric. Once finished, he flees the podium.

18th Washington DC, USA 'No wonder the kids rebel...

Fearful of the rising tide of violent protest and anxious about the disillusioned and rebellious youth, Lady Bird Johnson, the wife of the President, hosts a Ladies' Lunch at the White House on the theme of 'What Citizens Can Do to Help Insure Safe Streets'.

The yellow and white dining room will be set with five tables, ten women at each. There will be bowls of spring flowers on every table, gold, green and ivory dinnerware, golden spoons, forks and knives, golden ashtrays, golden mint plates and a five-course lunch served from silver trays: crab-meat bisque, Breast of Chicken White House, fresh asparagus, garden salad, white wine, peppermint-candy ice cream with hot fudge sauce, cookies, mints and a demitasse.

In the spirit of the President's new civil rights initiative (currently bogged down in the House by Congressmen objecting to the bill on desegregated housing), black singer and recording star Eartha Kitt is included on the guest list.

Eartha was the daughter of poor sharecroppers, born in South Carolina to a world of Deep South rural poverty and murderous racism. As a teenager she had supported both herself and her aunt, working in a Harlem sweatshop stitching uniforms for the Second World War, before going on to build a career for herself as a slinky cool, multilingual cabaret star among the ultra-sophisticated audiences of Paris's Left Bank.

The singer has not lost touch with her people. Growing more and more impatient as she sits through the set-piece speeches lamenting the criminality of the youth and calling for more pay for police, Eartha stands up during the question-and-answer session.

'Many things are burning in this country,' she begins, and there is a stunned silence from the ladies present at the White House lunch, shocked to be hearing such a different point of view.

Emphasizing every word, Eartha continues: 'Young people and their parents are angry because they are being so highly taxed and there's a war going on, and Americans don't know why. The youth is not rebelling for no reason at all. They are rebelling against something and we can't camouflage what it is.

'Boys I know across the nation feel it doesn't pay to be a good guy any more. They figure that with a criminal record they don't have to go off to Vietnam.

'You're a mother, too, Mrs Johnson. I'm a mother and I know the feeling of having a baby come out of my gut. I have a baby and then you send him off to war. No wonder the kids rebel and take pot. You send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed -- so they rebel. They rebel in the street. They will take pot and they will get high, because they are going to be snatched away from their mothers to be shot in Vietnam.'

USA Hell no! I ain't gonna go!

A serious blow to the machismo of the desk-bound Pentagon chiefs: Muhammad Ali, heavyweight boxing champion of the world and the strongest man in the US, is refusing to fight for them in Vietnam.

'I ain't got no quarrel with the Vietcong,' he tells the press.

The American establishment will never forgive the treachery of this uppity nigger.

On January 18 Muhammad Ali's appeal is thrown out of court.

18th-21st Sasebo, Japan The Student Samurai

Protests erupt in Japan against the imminent arrival of a 75,000-ton nuclear-powered American aircraft carrier, the USS Enterprise, on its way to Vietnam. Demonstrators besiege the US Embassy in Tokyo; students occupy the Japanese Foreign Ministry.

Forty-seven thousand protesters converge on Sasebo harbour, home to the massive US Navy base, where the Enterprise is due to dock. In addition to the island of Okinawa, the United States has 147 mainland bases in Japan, including harbours, air bases, supply depots, hospitals and rehabilitation centres: all are being mobilized for the war in Vietnam. Japanese industry has been turned into a massive supplier of equipment for the war: vehicles, ammunition, spare parts, napalm, phosphorus -- even body bags for the corpses are stitched in the clothing factories of Japan.

The demonstrations at Sasebo are led by the ultra-militant Zengakuren student faction. They have good reason to protest. In 1941 their parents' generation was dragged into one unjust and murderous war, against their own interests; the young students are determined to make sure that it doesn't happen again. The Japanese know what it is to have American bombers in their skies; why should they side with the US war machine against the Vietnamese?

To have their country used as a major base for the war is both humiliating and dangerous: what if the hawks have their way and the conflict does go nuclear? What if China is dragged in? There is widespread anger at the humiliating terms of the Security Treaty signed with Washington in 1960 which has turned Japan into a virtual military fiefdom of the United States, and at Premier Sato's complete prostration before all the Americans' demands.

To cap it all, the Enterprise is powered by nuclear reactors and believed to be armed with nuclear warheads. Sasebo is in the Nagasaki prefecture, in the south-west of Japan. The Japanese government has been under heavy pressure from the US military for many years now to rid its people of their 'nuclear allergy', their total antagonism to all forms of nuclear war. Now the Pentagon has decided to embark on a homoeopathic solution, hoping that persistent small doses of the 'allergen' in the form of nuclear-powered submarines and warships will cure the Japanese.

The protesters are determined that it will not. The Zengakuren have come to Sasebo armed with ten-foot wooden staves, equipped with helmets, and with handkerchiefs across their faces to protect them from the gas. They converge on the narrow bridge that leads to the US naval base on the far side of the harbour, chanting and snake-dancing, their helmets glistening white in the pouring rain. Five thousand riot police confront them. They charge forward, armed with clubs, hoses and tear-gas.

Spurred on by the rhythmic whistles of their comrades, the Zengakuren fight to hold their ground but are beaten back. Those who are caught are clubbed senseless by the police. Altogether, there are 450 casualties. The police are ruthless in pursuit: wounded demonstrators trying to escape into the local hospital (from whose windows patients and hospital workers have been watching the confrontation) are chased and clubbed; tear-gas is thrown into the hospital building and the place is flooded by water-hoses. The patients' sympathy is overwhelmingly on the demonstrators' side. One student, wounded in the eye, is deluged with gifts of milk, fruit, toilet paper, even underwear, by the other patients on his ward.

The Enterprise docks in Sasebo harbour, a day later than planned. The huge grey hulk of the flat-top, powered by eight nuclear reactors, bristling with warheads, take-off point for up to a hundred fighter planes, dominates the whole harbour, a visible emblem of the subordination of Japan to America's military ambitions.

Makoto Oda, a member of the anti-war Beheiren Peace for Vietnam Committee, circles the aircraft carrier in a tiny dinghy, calling through a megaphone for the crew to desert. He promises them a safe haven: the Beheiren group is already sheltering a group of US Navy men who deserted the previous autumn.

A dozen taxis carrying sailors from the Enterprise to the Sasebo brothel district are halted by a crowd of thousands, banging on their roofs and windshields. Riot police have to be sent in to ensure that the sailors can complete the task of military penetration. There is another clash between police and demonstrators on the bridge leading to the base: 150 people are injured. All shore leave is cancelled. The US sailors are restive: they have been promised a good time.

The Enterprise leaves Sasebo four days earlier than originally planned. Crowds of protesters along the shoreline shake their fists at her as she steams off southwards, towards Vietnam.

22nd Greece Blood on the Acropolis

The long, dark nights of the year are darker and more soul-chilling still in the prisons of the military junta which has seized power in Greece.

At the end of the Second World War it had been the Greek left who stood poised to take power, having built up enormous popular prestige and support through their leadership of the Resistance during the Nazi occupation. But the Great Powers' agreement in Yalta in 1945 (which laid the basis for the division of Europe between the USA and the USSR for the whole of the Cold War period) had allocated Greece to the West. In their moment of need, Stalin abandoned the Greek communists and their allies to their fate, and the forces of the left were crushed first by British and then American arms in a bitter civil war (1946-9) which left hundreds of thousands dead and the country politically traumatized and economically wrecked. Greece was saved for the 'free world' -- although not, as it was to prove, for Western-style democracy -- and was integrated into NATO in 1952. The old right seemed firmly entrenched in power.

But by the mid-1960s a new spring seemed to be blossoming in Greece. Georgios Papandreou, himself a former anti-Nazi imprisoned by the Germans during the Second World War, united liberals and democratic forces in a new political party, the Centre Union, and swept to power in 1964, largely supported by the villagers who still made up fifty per cent of the Greek population. The Centre Union began a programme of mild reforms, including checks on the power of the police, and began to openly question whether Greece's total subservience to the United States' wishes was always in the interests of the Greek people. Meanwhile the left of the Centre Union, led by Papandreou's son, Andreas, was calling for more far-reaching reforms.

In 1965 Georgios Papandreou clashed with the King, formally the head of the Greek army, over the question of disciplining right-wing army officers. King Constantine dismissed him. This led to such a period of political instability that, by 1967, it was clear that fresh elections would have to be called -- elections which only the Centre Union would win. It was to forestall the will of the people that a military junta, composed of the most virulently authoritarian colonels, seized power on April 21, 1967.

The Colonels combined their hatred of the liberals and the left with an abhorrence of sexual tolerance, a vicious religious obscurantism and a belief in the supremacy of physical force, especially torture, in imposing their views. Amnesty International detailed cases of booted interrogators jumping up and down on their victims' stomachs, tearing out fistfuls of their hair, pulling out their fingernails and toenails and administering a variety of electric shocks to the 2777 political prisoners being held in jail without trial.

The petty-bourgeois Colonels have resentments against the traditional right-wing establishment, too, which has kept officers' pay so low in the Greek Army. They also pick quarrels with the monarchy and the old Army and political elite. Nevertheless, Greek big business -- the owners of shipping lines, oil refineries and the like -- are soon hand in glove with the new junta, while the prisons fill up with all those who dare to stand up for cultural and political freedom. Writers, artists and musicians are well represented in these notorious cells. Mikis Theodorakis, composer of the soundtrack of Zorba the Greek, is one of many.

'I am proud to have done my duty as a citizen, politician and artist,' he announces on January 22, 1968, on the way to his appeal against imprisonment for having spoken out against the junta. 'I have always struggled for freedom and dedicated my life to my work as a composer. I should like to be the last political prisoner in this country.'

Thule, Greenland Radioactive Payload

A US B52 jet bomber carrying four hydrogen bombs crashes in Greenland. Local workers are drafted in to help servicemen shovel the radioactive snow into sacks, but no matter how deep they dig, the Geiger counter won't stop ticking...

23rd Hamburg, West Germany To Conform is Evil

Radical students in West Germany are fighting for the right to argue, for the right to question their professors at the end of lectures, the right to disagree. Living on the front line of the Cold War, they have begun to question both the myth and the reality of the 'free world' to which they are supposed to belong. Protests over student living conditions, tram fares and hostel regulations have been met with arrests and police violence, leading to wider protests. In June 1967 police in West Berlin opened fire on a demonstration against a visit by the Shah of Iran, killing a young student called Benno Ohnesorg.

It is the authorities' indifference to Ohnesorg's senseless death, as much as the police's behaviour, that has spurred the student movement on to a much greater and more far-reaching radicalism, and a much more deeply felt rejection of all the values of the West German state and the world system of which it is such a cornerstone.

The intellectual left in the Marxist study groups of the SDS (Socialistische Deutsche Studentbund) has been developing a thoroughgoing critique of the whole system, exploring psychosexual, social and cultural aspects of the repressive society as much as political and economic ones.

Theology students, in the land of Luther, are arguing for their right to question the pastors' sermons, especially when these involve support for what many students believe to be an unjust social system and an immoral war. Rudi Dutschke has been one of the theology students in West Berlin trying to turn the churches into discussion forums for ideas about morality and the State. On January 23 the right-wing pastor of the Church of St Michael in Hamburg, Dr Helmuth Thielicke, calls in West German troops to clear his church of students who wish to question the ideas in his sermon. The students have been distributing leaflets with their own version of the Lord's Prayer:

Our Capital, which art in the West, amortized be Thy investments,
Thy profits come, Thy interest rates increase,
In Wall Street as they do in Europe.
Give us this day our daily turnover,
And extend to us our credits, as we extend them to our creditors.
Lead us not into bankruptcy, but deliver us from the trades unions,
For Thine is half the world, the power and the riches,
For the last two hundred years.

North Korea War Games

The key US intelligence-gathering ship USS Pueblo is captured by North Korean naval units and escorted under guard into Wonsan harbour after she is discovered operating deep inside North Korean waters.

This is a full-blown crisis for Washington: the Pueblo is the only ship equipped to intercept and decipher all US naval codes; its radio transmitters are primed to communicate with US naval units all round the world.

The US Administration comes under heavy fire from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for permitting the Pueblo to operate illegally in North Korean waters at a time of such high tension. Delighted, the Soviet Foreign Minister, Andrei Kosygin, is piling on the agony by refusing to use his good offices in Pyongyang. The Pueblo was, after all, in clear breach of international law.

The USS Enterprise is turned around, halfway to Vietnam, and sent steaming north again to the Straits of Korea.

30th-31st Saigon, South Vietnam The Têt Offensive

Night in the South Vietnamese capital. From the roof bar of the Caravelle Hotel, American correspondents can look out across the city that was once the Pearl of the Orient, the Paris of the East, lined with long, shady avenues, pagodas and parks. Saigon, built for 350,000 people, has swollen to three million over the past three years. It is crowded with refugees from burnt-out villages, living in shacks of tin and cardboard, getting by on the street.

The air is dense with the smell of cheap petrol and rotting sewage, the smoke from Vietnamese cooking fires and the sharp, spicy scent of food. It is Têt, the national New Year holiday, celebrated with firecrackers, gifts and flowers. Among the crowded shacks and alleyways, the city is tense with a million hatreds. Beneath the advertising hoardings and the neon lights lies the ever-present menace of war.

Suddenly a barrage of gunfire bursts out. Another follows soon afterwards. Then there is a third.

From the South Vietnamese Army barracks, the Presidential Palace, the government radio building, from police stations and arms depots, from the crowded Cholon district and the suburb of Hanh Xanh, the city erupts with sniper fire and machine-guns, artillery and exploding mortar shells.

It is the start of the Têt offensive.

Across a front over 600 miles long, the National Liberation Front launch their assault on 140 towns and cities, from the Seventeenth Parallel in the north all the way down to the Ca Mau peninsula in the extreme south. They attack South Vietnamese Army bases, airfields, radio stations, prisons, naval headquarters and administrative centres.

On the morning of January 31 the world awakes to find the red, blue and yellow flag of the National Liberation Front flying all over the country. The ancient citadel of Hué is taken and a daring team of NLF guerrillas temporarily captures the US Embassy compound in Saigon. The Stars and Stripes is hauled down and, for one glorious hour, the NLF colours fly over the Embassy itself.

One thing is now certain. The United States will never win this war. America understand this and the number of anti-war protesters trebles overnight. General Westmoreland is seen on television throughout the world. The bravado is gone. He is a broken man.

Copyright © 1998 by Tariq Ali and Susan Watkins

Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Library Journal on 1998-06:
These two intense works attempt to convey the importance of a remarkable year that now seems so distant. Ali (Street Fighting Years, Collins, 1988), a former radical leader, offers an idealistic and uncritical survey of the student uprisings that swept through the world in 1968. His month-by-month approach works well for his narrative descriptions but limits the identification of over-arching themes or root causes of the rebellions. His strongest and most compelling recountings describe Alexander Dubcek's failure to sustain the Prague Spring movement in Czechoslovakia, the devastation and death caused by American bombings of North Vietnam, and the near toppling of the French government by an alliance of students and workers. Unfortunately, Ali's depictions of the American student movement are sketchy. He incorrectly identifies Senator Eugene McCarthy as the winner of the Democratic New Hampshire primary, and he demonstrates not unexpected bias by referring to Richard Nixon as "shifty and ghoulish." An optional purchase, suitable for large collections adding works on international student movements. The photographers of the 50-year-old Magnum Photos agency have compiled a powerful visual rendering of 1968. Although accompanied by essays and a useful chronology, the stark, full-page black-and-white photos are what capture the brio and angst of the times. Pictures of antiwar rallies, hippies and communal living, the aftermath of the King and Robert Kennedy assassinations, and victims of My Lai and the Biafran War are blunt reminders that if Ali views the Sixties as the best of times, they were also among the worst. Strongly recommended for large libraries seeking a photographic remembrance of this tumultuous year.ÄKarl Helicher, Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
This item was reviewed in:
Library Journal, June 1998
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